Growing up in the Yorkshire Dales, I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes. I spent most of my childhood wandering local farm land and hills seeking adventure.
I found school difficult, I am dyslexic and I was also a very shy child. So I hated every moment, of being trapped in a classroom. My shyness was picked up on by some teachers, who would make me in front of the class ask for my lunch time milk. This made it worse, the pressure of the whole class watching caused a lot of stress. I started to fake illness to get out of school. So I could spend more time exploring the woods and hills around my house.
When I finished secondary school I had an attendance of 30%, nobody had ever thought to see if I was okay.
I luckily got into a college, but my shyness had turned into anxiety. I struggled with large groups and soon as my day in college was done I would hide in my room. My second year I had to move into a student house, where I met a great friend who doesn’t know it, but helped me in a great way. He brought me slightly out my shell. I started playing sport with him and occasionally going to a bar.
But I still wasn’t happy and with the end of college, I had to find work.
My anxiety meant I could not do job interviews, if I knew it was a group assessment I couldn’t bring myself walk through the door. I would have panic attacks and just go home.
All I wanted to do was be outside walking and exploring. I had studied animal management at college, so applied for jobs working with birds of prey. Pets shops, vets and zoos, I sent my small C.V everywhere. I got one or two others for more interviews, I knew would have the same results in bringing out my anxiety.
Then out of nowhere I got an email on the email address, a young college lecturer had set up to help me. This email said they would like to offer me the role of Head of birds of prey, and that they would arrange my flights. I had no idea who had sent me this email, but I knew my anxiety wouldn’t let me do it. It got worse, a chat with the company hiring me made me aware, the job was in South Africa. I had never been on a plane, I had never left the country alone and at 18 I was about to leave all my comfort zones.
I knew I had to say yes to this, but my mind kept telling me no. It took a lot out of me, I lost a lot of weight with the stress. But I brought myself around and said yes.
I flew out to South Africa, to work in a animal rehabilitation centre. The centre was just outside the Kruger National Park, I spent my day leading a team of volunteers in caring for injured birds of prey. Leading a small group, meant I had to talk to people. I had to demonstrate things and show them what to look for. I spent a very happy year living there and when it came to leave I took a picture to remember where I had been. This picture of the centre, the trees, fences, animals and the mountains made me happy.
I returned to the U.K and started looking for work there. With pressure from peers to find a job which was local and paid well. I applied for any job I could to make them happy, I worked in pubs, cafes, chocolate factories and a auction house.
Six years of going between jobs, the stress from family members to do well, The unsure thoughts I was having, all got to much for me. I was suffering from depression, with no idea where my life was going. I felt lost, waking up day by day going to a job I hated.
Then I found the old photo, from a disposable camera I had taken in South Africa. A big grin was on my face with a warm feeling inside, I was happy I found it. But I had found something more, I knew where I should be. Not in South Africa, but outside in the mountains.
I gave up my job and spent the next few months training as a mountain leader, learning all the skills I needed.
I started sharing my passion for the outdoors and travel with groups. Leading groups through the jungles of Costa Rica, to Community work with schools in Madagascar. I found my happiness, due to finding that picture of the mountains in South Africa.
Those Mountains changed my life, turning me from a shy boy to a man passionate about the outdoors.
I have been on many adventures around the world now, walking down Central America to travelling the Ho Chi Minh Trail by bike. I now encourage people to get outside for the benefits of physical and mental health. I have also recently joined the Ordnance Survey campaign #GetOutside as a champion, where I have met some amazing and inspiring people.
So thank you Mountains I owe you one