As warmer weather takes over here in Virginia, I feel a flutter in my chest and a tickle up my spine as the anticipation builds within me. Though many of my problems and stressors still exist, when the weather is nice, they almost seem out of reach, like I have to squint to catch a glimpse of them on the horizon. I feel more cheerful, and despite my introverted nature, more adventurous and eager to get out and about.
As I walk around my neighborhood, I marvel at the deep blue sky, warm air, and tiny purple flowers popping up with the promise of a fast-approaching spring. Things feel manageable, lighter, and okay. However, a few weeks ago — and pretty much the entirety of the winter season — things were much different.
Even for those without mental health struggles, the winter season can feel vast, gray, and endless. While the colder weather, shorter days, and less intense sun are nature’s ways of reminding us to rest and care for ourselves, they can also lead to seasonal affective disorder and overall feelings of depression. Emma Mitchell is all too familiar with this. In The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us, Mitchell shares her vulnerable diary entries explaining how she works hard to stay afloat during winter months by immersing herself in nature.
When I was diagnosed with depression, severe anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — which years later evolved into complex PTSD — at fifteen years old, I wanted nothing to do with nature. I holed up in my room, hiding from the world and trying to escape myself, feeling alone, misunderstood, and hopelessly low.
Despite the beautiful connection I’d cultivated with our precious Mother Nature at a young age, she didn’t call to me for a long time. Actually, she probably tried, but I certainly couldn’t hear her. My head was far beneath the sand, deep underground, where not even the sunlight dancing through the leaves on the trees could find me.
Getting out of bed, finding my breath, and forcing myself to choke down some food each day took all of the mental and physical energy I had. And going to high school surrounded by peers who not only couldn’t understand, but also judged and teased me, made getting through the day my only realistic goal.
Eventually, I began to hear Mother Nature whispering in my ear, faintly at first, almost indecipherable. Let me help you, she murmured. I ignored her, but she persisted.
So, I slowly rekindled my relationship with the outdoors by sitting in my backyard. I’d bring a blanket, water, and sit for hours with either my Walkman or a book. No matter the weather, sitting outside became a part of my routine. This simple habit eventually flowered into taking walks, hikes, camping trips, and spending entire days kayaking down the river. Relearning how to be outside felt nourishing and comforting.
Unfortunately, I’m continually battling and learning to live with my mental health struggles, even years later. There are many daily self-care practices I engage in, but nature remains constant as a powerful and effective healing modality.
When I first began reading Emma Mitchell’s book, The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us, I felt immediately entranced. Mitchell beautifully blends scientific evidence, her personal experience with seasonal depression, and her own artwork and photographs of native plants and wildlife. I fell in love with her writing style and the way she describes her relationship with nature — a vital balm for healing and maintaining her positive mental health.
Although many of the fascinating plants and animals — including birds like lapwings and goldcrests, and toadflax and nipplewort plants — Mitchell mentions differ from those in the natural world where I live, while reading her book, I felt validated and seen by someone else who got it. Someone who could explain why going into nature isn’t only an enjoyable pastime, but necessary to help alleviate mental health struggles: “For me, taking a daily walk among plants and trees is as medicinal as any talking cure or pharmaceutical,” she writes.
Mitchell’s lucid and detailed descriptions of her natural surroundings are superb. As I read, I felt like I was in the woods of Northamptonshire or the coasts of Pembrokeshire seeing what she sees, smelling what she smells, feeling what she feels. While she writes this way essentially on every page, I bookmarked her description of an afternoon spent in the woods with bees:
The sound of solitary bees visiting the bluebells to collect nectar and pollen is soporific. I feel a pull to lie down and sleep here among the flowers. I allow time to drift. This is forest bathing. I am totally immersed in my surroundings: I can smell the leaf mould, the gentle scent of bluebells; the sun is warming the back of my neck; I can hear the busy rustlings of small mammals in the undergrowth and the song of birds above me. The wood is lowering my blood pressure, lifting my mood and dialling down my levels of stress. There is no doubt that it is aiding my recovery. I don’t know how long I stay among the bluebells, but when I leave for home I do so reluctantly. (pg. 125-126)
Despite my deep connection with this book, there were moments that felt triggering. At points, while my stress levels were already up, I began to experience some of my common signs of anxiety while reading: the muscles in my stomach tightened, I had trouble focusing, and before I knew it, I began avoiding the book altogether. I realized that the vividness with which she wrote about her depression felt too familiar, too similar to how I was feeling at that moment, in the throes of winter and with what felt like the weight of the world on my back digging its heels in my ribs. Eventually, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I set the book aside and decided not to revisit it until I was in a better emotional state.
After a challenging two-month hiatus, I began to emerge from my personal darkness, and picked up where I left off, ultimately finishing the book. Once I finally did, a sense of relief washed over me. Not only due to the satisfaction of finishing a book, but because I was so grateful to have given it another chance. The Wild Remedy truly is special, beautiful, and important, and should be on everyone’s bookshelves.
Christine Bushrow is a passionate freelance mental health writer and mental health advocate. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, spending time with loved ones, practicing yoga, and exploring the outdoors in a constant state of wonder. To learn more about her, and to read more of her work, feel free to visit www.christinebushrow.com.
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