Mountains, Mental Health & North Wales...

Chris Jones | Capture Wales

I’m frequently asked why I spend so much of my spare time in the great outdoors, and what I gain from it for my mental wellbeing. The answer is a little bit more complex than simply exercise and fresh air.

Ever since I was 14 I’ve struggled with mental health problems and although I’m managing them much better 16 years on, I still have dark days and experience very negative thoughts. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety at just 15 and was eventually re-diagnosed with Borderline (Emotionally Unstable) Personality Disorder last year aged 28.

What this means is that I have difficulty regulating very intense emotions and experience problems with a lack of identity, a very unstable sense of ‘self‘, extreme mood swings, feelings of chronic emptiness, paranoia and an overwhelming fear of abandonment by my loved ones. It’s hell on Earth, like having an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. Or like there’s an alternate version of myself stuck inside me somewhere who hates me. It’s constant conscious conflict.

Over the years I’ve tried a multitude of different medications and therapies, often enduring less than desirable results, but there’s always one thing that helps level me out more than anything else when I need it and there are no side effects or consequences - nature therapy. My go to place? North Wales.

In my opinion, North Wales simply provides the very best that nature has to offer in an area you can travel comfortably around within a day. Maybe I’m biased, but I lived in North Wales when I was born and I grew up on the border between Wales and England before I moved 60 miles east over 8 years ago so perhaps it just feels like home for me. It has the highest mountains in Wales, the most pristine lakes, stunning coastline and prettiest little towns and villages.

But it‘s always the mountains that draw me back there. For me, managing your mental health is a lot like climbing a mountain...

  1. Tackle it a step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

  2. Try not to become overwhelmed by the idea that it might be too difficult.

  3. Shortcuts are not an option, they defeat the point of the journey which is to experience every aspect of the challenge and ultimately learn from it.

  4. Setbacks are real and can happen frequently, but they are not always your fault so do not punish yourself for them.

  5. Be prepared for any eventuality, storms strike with very little notice here.

  6. Sometimes the route you choose is impassible, it’s okay to turn around and find a different route.

  7. Take time to stop and focus on your breathing when it all gets a little too much.

  8. It doesn’t matter how long the journey is, so long as you’re heading in the right direction.

  9. Remember to take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come.

  10. The best views come after the hardest climbs.

Every mountain is different, much like everyone’s own personal mental health journey is different but each individual one must be treated with the same respect. Some are a short but scary scramble to the top and it’s all over, others are a long yet less dangerous journeys that seem to go on forever. Either way, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

But the truth about being in the mountains is that sometimes it is just an escape from reality, even if only for a matter of hours, and North Wales is the perfect place to escape to.

I find serenity on the summits.

Clarity in the clouds.

Virtue in the valleys.

Peace in the peaks.

Love in the lakes.

Relief in the rivers.

Wonder in the wilderness.

I find beauty in nature. And for a while, it allows me to find beauty in life again.

So if you’re going through a tough time in your life right now, find something that helps you see the beauty in living again.

The 'Capture Wales 2021' calendar will be available to purchase in our shop on Monday at 8am with all profits being donated to Mind charity.