Nature is my lifeboat and always will be

Since making the commitment to lead the Nature Play SA program in South Australia it’s become very clear to me the power of nature and the positive effect it’s had on my life. To be honest I have done a lot of reflection over the last few months, reason being I am not getting any younger and I have definitely been thrown many challenges and obstacles to overcome.

I feel at times I am judged by others as I have everything from a successful sporting and working career, to a loving family.  On the outside, my life can seem perfect. Don’t get me wrong I am grateful for what I have achieved and who I am, but it has not been an easy journey.

Five years ago, when I started as CEO, mental health wasn’t a topic of conversation around the dinner table or even in the office, but now it’s a topic that’s being discussed daily. We, as a society are learning every day more and more about mental health and unfortunately some of us know or have read about people taking their own lives. I lost one of my dearest friends a few years ago to suicide and her death has had a huge impact on my life and has made me look deeper into my own mental health.

I will be honest it’s only been the past couple of years that I’ve realised the positive impact that nature has had on me. I still have a period of my life that haunts me, and I now know from my own understanding and talking to professionals that I was in a bad place 13 years ago.

I remember sitting in the rocking chair in San Francisco with this new baby and I was just crying and feeling numb. When you look at media new mums are often portrayed as post baby weight, strolling down the street in their active wear, pushing their baby with the cup of coffee and just loving life. That was far from my reality.

My thoughts were completely different. I was isolated, had no family or friends and didn’t know what to do and how to stop the crying. My husband would leave for work and I can remember just sitting in the chair crying with a feeling of emptiness. Everything was hard, I was exhausted, sleep deprived and had no connection to anything. I felt so alone. I grappled with thoughts that spun around my head as my baby wouldn’t stop crying. I was so tired. I just wanted to make it stop.

I had a realisation that I needed a place to calm my spinning head. I put my baby back into the cot and went outside to sit in the garden. I watched the trees, listened to the birds, took a few deep breaths and gathered my thoughts. I am so thankful that something compelled me to go outside. That something gave me the strength to put the baby in a safe place and seek mental strength to fight the negativity that plagued my mind.

I look back at my time in San Francisco and now believe I used the powers of nature to help me overcome my post-natal depression. My routine consisted of daily walks in the park where I’d sit on the wooden benches and watch squirrels scamper up the trees with their nuts, and I would spend time in the garden with the warm company of my dogs. I didn’t have hours to spend in nature, but every second counted.

As I reflect on the role of nature in my life, it’s always been part of my mental health ‘medicine’. When I was dropped from the Australian Netball Team, I would escape to my parents shack at Black Point and spend endless times sitting up at the point, thinking and reassessing my life. I have always been able to think clearer in nature and there’s something so special about the sand between my toes and the smell of the sea air.

Recently I’ve been thrown personal challenges and there have been moments where I’ve thought, I don’t know how I can get myself out of this. It’s been difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel. But, again my routine has included daily walks on the beach where I reflect and find strength. The sea breeze and distant horizon helps me think clearer and put life into perspective.

I’ve always said that I do this job because I want to make a difference in children’s lives. Every child has the right to access nature and build a connection to it. It’s that connection that has a positive effect on their wellbeing – but as they move into adulthood, nature may very well become their anchor or place of healing like it did mine. Their lifeboat.

Why did I write this?

Because it is ok to be vulnerable.

It is ok to talk to people when you are feeling down.

It is ok to seek professional help when you need it.

And finally, it is ok to not be ok.

In your life you may have many things that help you overcome mental health challenges – let nature be one of them.

If you a struggling with your mental health there are support services available that can help such as Beyond Blue, Reachout, Headspace or Lifeline is just a call away 13 11 14