Sometimes we just need to go on an adventure. Feel the salt spray in our hair, the recklessness of the wind in our lungs, the laughter forging wrinkles by our eyes and all that cliché stuff. It may be cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I find if I don’t quench my curiosity as often as I can, I can quite easily slip into low moods.
The repetition of routine has the potential to leave me feeling unequivocally stuck, instilling in me an urge to do something to free myself from whatever rut I’m in. I guess I’m sometimes like a truck that needs to be jumpstarted out of the mud. Last week was one of those times, and so I grabbed the car keys and set off on a little adventure, to a beautiful coastal area in Sussex called Cuckmere Haven.
If you knew me personally, the first thing you’d think having read those first paragraphs is ‘Alys?! Willingly taking the car to a new place?’ You see, I’m a pretty anxious driver: I can quite easily work myself up at the thought of mystery roads, and talk myself out of a trip just because I don’t feel up to the challenge or excess sweat that the unknown brings. I think diving into the whys and hows of car anxiety requires a whole separate post though, so I’ll try not to be too tangential today.
So. I’m in the car loaded up with snacks – you know, just in case I break down and get stranded for hours – and the further away I get from home, the lighter I start to feel. My shoulders lift, my lungs lose a certain tight pressure and a smile slips onto my face with less effort than before. This is what a sniff of freedom can do to me.
Many people cite going outside as one of the biggest defences against mental illness. And I agree, making your limbs move no matter how mechanical they feel and feeling the sharpness of fresh air spike your airways is to mental health how the multivitamin is to physical health. Not a specific medicine for anything major, but a way to ensure your mind has what it needs to function the best it can.
But fewer people seem to see newness as a defence too. At least in my experience, new events, no matter how tiny, can help to break a chain of ‘bad’ days. They disrupt everyday life and help to put things into perspective. There’s a tendency to be more actively engaged, as the brain takes everything in, and more distracted from the things that get us down. And an even better defence? Combine going outside with doing something new.
Even though I haven’t had a typical Monday to Friday, nine to five kind of routine since leaving college, I still get an extra thrill from having a weekday adventure. I guess it’s years of being subjected to the thought that the week is for work and the weekend is for fun. Going on a day trip on a Monday is like that rare snow day at school which meant we could spend the whole day sledging in the park and drinking hot chocolate instead of being cooped up in lessons.
Once I had successfully navigated numerous roundabouts and a road only wide enough for one car despite the two-way traffic, I parked on top of a hill and my boyfriend and I set off on foot down a grassy slope towards a pebble beach. The views were stunning to say the least, and luckily enough we picked the one sunny day February had offered us so far to explore.
Even though several groups of people dotted the shoreline below us, it felt quietly unpopulated. Perhaps because the chalk cliffs rising out of the sea looked so monolithically impressive, reflecting the weak winter sunshine back at us and making it seem a lot brighter than any normal day this early into the year.
We spent a while on the beach so I could practice using the manual settings on my camera before heading inland a little, alongside the meandering River Cuckmere. The beauty of this place made me wonder why I hadn’t come here more often. Scrolling back through my memories, I was only able to find two instances when I visited this area before. The first, on a miserable school trip in grey weather with a handful of unenthusiastic students to learn about oxbow lakes and the formation of rivers. The second, on an unusually hot summer’s day to take a dip in the sea.
Before leaving this time, I decided I shouldn’t wait so long for the next visit – perhaps this summer could present itself as a perfect opportunity. Getting back into the car, we took a moment to eat the majority of our hummus and brownie rations (not mixed together) in the hope that a breakdown wouldn’t occur on the way home. Then we pulled away in the opposite direction we came in just a few hours before.
Even as the cliffs faded behind us and the visuals of freedom disappeared, an unshakeable feeling of calm settled in my stomach; it is not just particular places that provide that feeling of freedom, but the actions we take to seek that freedom. And this can stay with us, at least for a little while.
Some of the photos in this post (the ones of me) were taken by Iñigo – go give him a follow on Instagram!
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