It was a crisp day last Autumn. The air was just nippy enough for my breath to be seen. Sun peaked through the gaps in the trees where leaves had started falling and the bronzing bracken covered the ground. I was walking my German Shepard in the woods behind my house. A walk I did a couple of times a week. But this time was different...
I got lost.
INTO THE WOODS
It had been a stressful few months. My marriage had been in serious trouble. I’d started a new job. The baby had become a toddler and was causing chaos. My anxiety was through the roof.
I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which means I’m on edge a lot of the time. The smallest things can trigger mental chaos.
That day, as I walked through the wood, the anxiety followed me. Like the Big Bad Wolf, it hid in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. I could feel its presence. My heart started bashing against my rib cage. I started to sweat heavily, even in the cold temperature. I kept looking behind me, as if something physical was about leap out from behind a tree trunk.
Then, a familiar feeling came across me. It had been a while since I felt it.
A warm, vague feeling. I could hear every noise in the trees. Birds, although sparse, could be heard clearly. Deer barked in the distant woods. Leaves rustled, ever so gently, in the breeze. The sun became bright as it shone between the vast expanse of pines, causing me to squint my eyes in temporary blindness. My body felt as if it was ever so slightly higher than it was before.
For several minutes I wondered around the woods, in awe of the changing scenery and heightened senses. I felt calm in that moment. My thoughts weren’t whirring out of control. The pain behind my eyes that I live with daily, seemed to fade for that brief period. I’m sure I felt a slight smile.
And then crash.
I was back in the bracken with a bang.
“Where the hell am I? How did I get here? I don’t remember this path. Oh god I’m lost!”
My out of body experience had gotten me into a bit of a pickle! I was dazed and completely confused. Even more panicky now, I frantically called the dog. She too had been wondering around in complete freedom, chasing every squirrel she could find.
The panic rose. One of the things that causes me great anxiety, is the concept of being lost. And there I was, lost in the woods. If I thought logically I would have been able to tell myself, “You’re only a mile from home”, “You’ve walked this route a hundred times”, “You’ll be fine”. But when you’re in a state of panic, logic leaves you.
My eyes widened in fear. I could feel the pounding heart return. I wanted to sit down and cry, like a lost child wanting her mother.
BACK DOWN TO EARTH
But I’ve learnt to stop. And breathe.
I attached the dog’s lead to my belt like a balloon weight, somehow thinking that perhaps if she was attached to me, I might not float off again. We forced our way through branches and puddles. There were many paths, all of them seemed foreign to me.
I listened for the sound of cars. If I could find the road, I could follow it home. In my head I felt like participant in a Bear Grylls series. Braving the wild outdoors to make it to safety. If anyone had been watching, they would have thought I was on drugs!
As the dog squeaked and pulled, desperate for freedom, we approached a road. Something about the road looked familiar. I recognised a “No Fly Tipping” sign and as if a hypnotist clicked his fingers, I knew where I was.
And home I went.
I’d experienced dissociation. This symptom can be experienced in many mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s basically your body and brain saying, “ENOUGH” when trying to cope with too much stress.
You mentally 'check-out' so to speak.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE:
Using a GPS tracking app on my phone helps me avoid getting lost.
I always keep my phone charged in case the battery dies while I’m trying to find my way home.
I struggle to deal with too many stressful things at the same time. Something has to give. If I don’t want it to be my mental health, I need to push back and re-prioritise.
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