In my mind’s eye, I see an image of the sun’s rays rising to meet a masiff. Hungry shafts of dawn-light falling on granite blades of mountain and moss. I too am eager to set foot and boot and bone on it and in it, to set my senses on nature. It is in nature that I feel truly hushed, seen, found and grounded.
Like the solid timeless rocks of mountainscapes which resist erosion so well, so too can we, by being in nature, resist the ever-increasing pace and force of modern life which so often seems to leave us wanting and for those with a disability frequently discriminates against. Yet an illness or disability does not have to separate us from our inheritance.
Walking is my axis mundi. There is a freedom on the trail, labels disappear and job titles are tossed aside, we are hikers, explorers, adventurers, equals. I haven’t always been physically able to take part in hiking, however. Between the age of 28 and 35, I spent most of my days in my home crippled by excruciating pain from which I was told I would never recover. The 500 pain killers I took each month only served to give me a window of perhaps two hours a day with which to spend time with my young daughter and husband. There was no pressure to ‘make the most of it’, honestly!
So what to do in times like this? Well, sometimes when we are unable to venture out into nature we need to bring the outdoors indoors. I started to live vicariously through artists, writers, and musicians. Some would argue, as the narrator in Proust’s, ‘the prisoner’ espoused that, “the only true voyage of discovery…would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others and to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds”. I don’t completely agree with this but it did temporarily satiate the desire to escape my restrictive reality.
However, when, as often happened, pain levels were too high to read or even listen to an audiobook I found simply gazing out of my bedroom window onto the ever-changing scene of woodland and wildlife brought me to a place of momentary peace and restoration.
Fast forward a few years and with some luck, lots of hard work and perseverance I healed from that illness and spent 3 lovely years walking locally, wild swimming and easing back into the world. Yet after planning (to attempt) a long-distance hike I’ve found myself again diagnosed with another painful chronic illness – none of us has a monopoly on health I angrily told myself. So now I find I’m falling back on my occupational therapy training adapting activities, grading them, finding a way to incorporate my meaningful occupation of walking in nature, into my current circumstance and with some mindfulness, creativity, and patience, like John Muir counseled, I am able to make sure a few of the paths I take in life are dirt.
Claire Marsden @occulife
I’m a qualified occupational therapist with a passion for nature, mindfulness, and well-being. I have a painful chronic illness that I’m learning to navigate life with, my second after recovering from a previous illness three years ago. I guess I’m a bit of an expert at living life with ill-health! I hope my thoughts will be of some use to people on their own journeys to well-being.