Standing in the middle of Booths supermarket in Keswick, I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Where to go, how to fill the time. Tears of panic trickling down my face.
Outside, the rain continued to pour down in the early March gloom. I had two hours before my interview at the youth hostel. But I was gripped with anxiety and panic again.
This had been the story of the last few weeks, since returning from backpacking in South America in mid February.
On the face of it, it was a trip of a lifetime – trekking in the Patagonian mountains, hiking in the Atacama Desert in Chile, horse riding in the Mendoza hills.
But the trip also signalled the demise of my relationship, which in honesty, had been struggling even before the trip began. We’d decided to push on with it, and whilst I have some stunning memories and achievements, I lost my way during that trip.
Lost who I was and what I wanted.
I’d spent most of my 20’s travelling and working seasonal jobs, so I was not stranger to returning from a trip to “start again’. In fact, I used to thrive off the uncertainty of what would happen next.
This time, my mind could now only see failure in the situation.
But this time, it felt terrifying. Perhaps it’s an age thing, that I’m now in my 30’s, and with it that undercurrent that you should be sorted career wise and settled in a relationship, perhaps with kids.
I returned to find no grounded home, no idea what I wanted to do for work. I’d clung to a relationship and a situation which wasn’t really me. This realisation began to unravel, alongside the reoccurrence of a bug I’d picked up in Peru, which the doctors couldn’t work out what it was. A cycle of both physical and mental unease.
I’d never felt to far away from who I was before, and for someone who is usually so carefree, upbeat and positive this was really terrifying and strange to deal with.
Somewhere in the mist, I applied to a job ad for a seasonal position at the youth hostel in Keswick in the northern Lake District. I’d only between to the Lakes twice before – once on a camping trip with my two dearest friends the year we graduated from uni and another brief Couchsurfing trip to Grange over Sands and Coniston.
Both trips provided happy memories but I did’t remember the hills getting under my skin in the way Scotland had done, where I originally thought I might return to.
The night before my interview, I took the train up from North Wales where my mum lives, and stayed the night at the hostel. Taking the bus from Penrith to Keswick, I could barely see the tops of the fells, the rain poured relentlessly. But something hit me, something magic.
It was one of the first times in weeks I’d felt that magic, that excitement again.
I found the Keswick high street deserted, but charming and dived into Fellpack for a cup of tea, the friendly guy chatting away to me. Upstairs was filled with books and maps and photos from fell running adventures.
This place, it felt right.
Checking into the hostel, I chatted to the guy on reception about travelling, feeling positive. But during the evening, I began to feel poorly again and my anxious mind played with me, overthinking all evening as the lady in the bunk below snored loudly all night.
After a restless sleep, dawn broke and I began to wonder whether to just go home, whether actually I’m not the person who can just build a life time and time again. That maybe I needed to be with family.
And that’s when that weird, not sure what do panic washed over me whilst in Booths, not sure how to fill those 2 hours before my interview.I sat in the cafe supermarket in floods of tears, unable to know what to do with the anxiety I was experiencing, and sense of panic and fear had set in.
Thankfully, my best friend was on the end of the phone, calmed me down, focused me for the interview, which amazingly went quite well, but part of my felt I hadn’t done enough.
I remember sitting in the McDonalds in Penrith whilst waiting for the train home and listening to Radio 1. Scott Miles was doing that Lolathon and one of the charities they were helping was a mental health one. Greg James spoke really openly and honestly about having recent panic attacks. And I cried into my salad, that it’s OK. that people who seemingly have their shit together struggle too.
I was shortlisted for the job, but then didn’t hear from them for almost a week and convinced myself the opportunity had gone. That I would stay at home, find something here, re-build.
And then I was offered the job the following week. I convinced myself I mentally wasn’t in the right space to take the job.
Until it occurred to me, that perhaps I just needed to try.
After everything that had gone wrong recently, I was terrified of messing up again. But what was the worst that could happen?
And so I took the job.
Two weeks later I turned up with my backpack of stuff ready to begin again. I was nervous, but somehow I had found a quiet confidence.
As the weather had been so bad for my interview and I’d felt so poorly, I hadn’t even seen Derwentwater, the main lake in Keswick.
The next morning, when I went down to the lake, sat in Crow Park, tracing the outline of the fells on my brand new OS map – Cat Bells, Maiden Moor, Castle Crag, that magic I’d felt on the bus ride returned. I knew, I knew that this was my place, where I needed to be to rebuild, to begin again.
The next day was our induction in Borrowdale YHA, and as an ice breaker we had to share random facts about ourselves – and most of the people choose stories of travelling and adventures.
I had found my people. This was going to be OK.
And it was, it really was.
Over the coming weeks, I found the confidence to start hiking in the fells, explore the new places. After some initally changes, my housemates that summer became firm, supportive friends inspiring me to do mad things like starting to run, wild camping and skinny dipping in the dark Lakeland nights.
And what felt different here, in the Lake District…..these hills, these adventures….they were mine.
My memories, my choices.
They weren’t entangled in relationships, or someone else’s dreams or goals or desires. I made intentional choices, for the good of me.
There were still bumps in the road – of course (and there still are, even today) I still have the odd days of periods of anxiety – most notably on a bothy stay on top of the Honister Pass in October and a tough, dark week in December when work and loneliness overwhelmed me.
I don’t want this to come across as a sob story, and I hope this shines a light, that especially when we find ourselves in these crazy post pandemic days that sometimes when you find yourself at the bottom of the pit, you can actually find what you need most, stripe back to who you are and what you want.
This is a reminder that if you are in a dark, lonely or sad place, that it will get better, that you’ll find the light again.
Keep the faith.