Social isolation and a personal crisis, ten years ago

As part of our #RoamSweetHome campaign, Ramblers Scotland policy manager discusses how a health crisis forced her into a form of social isolation a decade ago, and how she maintained her physical and mental wellbeing when her access to the hills suddenly came to a halt.

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We’re living through an unprecedented time of change and it’s a lot for us all to take in and adjust to.

That’s especially true for those of us who are regularly active outdoors and are now facing months of staying close to home, missing our planned long walks, trips and holidays.

Ten years ago I faced another long period without any visits to Scotland’s wild places. 

This latest crisis has reminded me of the challenges I faced then and what I learned from the experience. 

Of course that wasn’t due to a global pandemic and I wasn’t threatened with losing my livelihood or my life, as so many people are now.

But thinking about that time has made me wonder if I’m personally better prepared to face social distancing and uncertainty than I would have been.

Helen confined to the garden. 

Ten years ago

My own crisis started in the spring 2010, as I began to experience sciatic pains down my right leg.

These made it hard to stand up or walk for too long.

Somehow, in early June, with lots of painkillers I had my last day out hillwalking with a friend near Fort William. A month later I could barely walk a few steps, and an MRI scan showed a seriously prolapsed disc.

My horizons shrank enormously. That summer was a blur of painkillers, and it wasn’t until November when I saw a neurosurgeon that some improvement in pain levels was beginning to show.

My surgery was postponed to see if the progress was real, and it was – by Christmas I could walk to the nearest post box with my cards.

The following May I climbed my first Munro in Glenshee, almost a year since the last. It took a very long time with a lot of breaks – and I was very emotional when I got to the top.

Joy on An Socach

Getting through it

The first thing was to accept that I couldn’t influence what was inevitable. 

But I could learn to be patient and also work to mitigate some of the effects, and this is true now. 

None of us can beat coronavirus but we can accept the situation.

We can make sure that we stay connected, stay healthy, support others and enjoy the pleasures which are still available to us – whether that’s baking bread or just watching the incremental signs of spring during our daily walk.

Being as active as possible is incredibly important. Back in 2010 I couldn’t stand up but bizarrely I could still cycle very slowly and carefully – leaning forward seemed to take pressure off my disc – so I managed to keep active to some degree.

Keeping fit means you retain a level of resilience which helps you to respond to life’s challenges and boosts your own immune system; something which is more important now than ever.

What I learned

It’s important to have things to look forward to for when present difficulties have passed.

Then that meant a phased return to the outdoors. 

My partner and I also decided to do something positive and get married in 2011, an excuse to bring all family and friends together for a day of celebration. 

Something we have all recognised in 2020 is the importance of our social contacts, and I’m sure there’ll be a whole series of gatherings as soon as the social distancing restrictions relax.  

But finally, I learnt that after a crisis there is a new normal, we don’t all just go back to the way things were before. 

I have permanent damage to my back which means ongoing treatment and no more long-distance cycling or walking adventures.

But we adapt to the new circumstances we find ourselves in, and I don’t dwell on what I can’t do.

We’ll all have some adapting to do in the months to come, but we should be ready for it, keeping ourselves as fit and healthy as we can while planning for the future. After all, what’s the alternative?

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