For me, the conversation around improving mental health started a long time ago. I was only 14 when I had my first anxiety attack, suffering with heart palpitations and extreme mood swings. Crying in the classroom became the norm and I received next to no help from my school or doctors. For 10 years I was passed back and forth from GP to GP, getting the same recycled advice and solutions. ‘Read a self-help book’, ‘practice breathing techniques and you’ll be fine!’.
The problem was, that there was a lot more happening under the surface that never seemed to be addressed. All the breathing techniques and books in the world weren’t going to help me. 

I’ve made many bold decisions when it has come to improving my mental health, but non so bold as choosing to travel to China, to trek the Great Wall!

 

Finally understanding the underlying issues

After a few sessions of CBT therapy, and only really feeling minor improvements, I decided to do my own research into other factors that could be causing my depression. It turns out, my mental health issues started around about the same time as I started taking hormonal contraceptives. I had previously had extreme period pain, and the contraceptive pill Microgynon had been prescribed to me to help with the cramps.
The fact that mental health issues could manifest due to taking the pill was never explained to me at the tender age of 14. It was only when I took a break from it during 2016 that I could feel a huge weight being lifted!
I discussed this feeling with my new GP, who suggested we try a few different types of pill to see if that was the cause. It turns out it was a huge factor in my mental illness, completely messing up my hormonal balance – and I now stay clear of any kind of hormonal medication. It turns out that this has not just been an issue for me, but for many women – but that’s another story. This is about how I recovered, with both the help of travel and some amazing charities.

Learning to love life again

I’ve made many bold decisions when it has come to improving my mental health, but non so bold as choosing to travel to China, to trek the Great Wall!

It feels overly dramatic to say I learned to love life once I had rid my body of the hormonal influence, but that’s exactly what happened. When you suffer with depression and anxiety, it’s hard to see the beauty in anything. You live in a small, dark bubble that you feel you’ll never be able to get out of. Once that bubble has burst, you see things more clearly, hear things more distinctly and experiences become so much more rich and satisfying.
I started to have hobbies and interests again, and soon my confidence was rebuilt enough for me to do something I’d always wanted to do: Travel.

How solo travel helped rebuild my mental health

During my time away from the pill, and what I like to call my happy period, I bit the bullet and booked my first solo trip!
There were so many places I wanted to see and I soon lost patience waiting for someone to jump on a plane with me, so I went alone. Bear in mind this is something I would never have even dreamed of at the height of my depression, but here I was, heading to the beautiful city of Barcelona, ready to have my first solo adventure.

I’ve made many bold decisions when it has come to improving my mental health, but non so bold as choosing to travel to China, to trek the Great Wall!

People always talk about how much you learn about yourself when you travel solo, but no-one talks about the mental health benefits and trust me, there are plenty! For me, traveling alone was like CBT therapy (basically a concept where you have to do what you’re scared of in order to overcome that fear). Heading out on my own squashed any nagging voices that I was incapable of surviving on my own, that I couldn’t look after myself and that I was too socially awkward to make friends. By the end of my trip, I was marching around Barcelona as if I was a seasoned world traveler. On my last day, I even ended up jumping in a taxi to head down to the beach to celebrate the Feast of Sant Joan with some of my new hostel friends. I was only there for 5 days, just 5 days of solo travel made me feel like I could take on the world!

By the time I got back on that plane to England, I was a changed person. I had proven to myself that I was capable and that I could deal with whatever life threw at me and I was already planning my next trip.  

Trekking the Great Wall of China

During those dark periods of my life, when I wasn’t receiving the help and support I should have, charities like The Mental Health Foundation and Mind were pivotal in helping me cope day-to-day. I would often log on at all hours of the night to help pull me through a dark thought or panic attack and their advice and support were a lifeline in my hardest times. That’s why I decided I wanted to give back, to help them as much as they had helped me.
Looking for a huge challenge and something that would help me further my love of travel, I stumbled across The Mental Health Foundation’s Great Wall of China Trek. It wasn’t long before I had paid my deposit and set up my fundraising page. 

I’ve made many bold decisions when it has come to improving my mental health, but non so bold as choosing to travel to China, to trek the Great Wall!

Right now I’m on a mission to raise the minimum funds in order to qualify for the trip. I need all the help I can get to reach this goal and be able to give back to the charity that means so much to me. I’m more determined now than ever to knock that fundraising goal out of the park, but I can only do it with a little help from my friends! To make a donation and help me give back to the Mental Health Foundation, head to my Just Giving page!

This trek not only helps me to support the charities that saved my life, but is also the next challenge to prove to myself, and others, just how far I’ve come. It’s a way to help me see more of the world and further discover what I’m really capable of, not what my mind tells me I’m capable of. 


This is a guest post by Cat Crawford.

I’ve made many bold decisions when it has come to improving my mental health, but non so bold as choosing to travel to China, to trek the Great Wall! Cat will be trekking the Great Wall of China in October 2018 and is documenting her preparation for this huge challenge over on her blog Body With Mind. With a mix of travel and health/fitness posts, she’ll journal all of the highs and lows of trying to raise enough money in order to qualify for the trek and hopes to be able to report back on her experience trekking the Great Wall of China!