The Vault Regulars

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Anxiety and a clear vision moving forward.

 27th June 2024

Anyone who has read my blog posts recently about our trip to Scotland will have probably made the assumption we had a wonderful time. In one respect there is some truth to that but there is much much more to it and it isn't all good.

In 2019 as I posted then, I suffered a massive system shutdown, as though my brain went "TILT". I was a mess, such a mess that anyone who has no experience of anxiety would be in total shock. I couldn't move much, I wasn't able to eat or even speak at times. As I wrote then if it wasn't for Sheila there is a high probability I wouldn't be here now.

The NHS didn't help and I went for private CBT treatment at a clinic in Manchester. It took a while but eventually I improved to a point where I could go out. When I say a while I mean the best part of a year.

Then we had the covid lockdowns which didn't help because at that time I was retraining myself to make trips away from home. You have to retrain your brain as though you are starting life again. 

By the end of 2022 I would say I was doing well, although there is no cure for anxiety i was handling most things well because of my CBT training, that is apart from having to plan trips and execute the plan. Like going to Greece for example, I would have to make the train journey to the airport the day before we were supposed to travel so that I could reduce the fear factor the next day. I slept most of the flights but once I had got to our destination I would settle down, that is until a few days before we had to come home when the dread would return.

Then in early 2023 I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. The devastating news, especially not having any symptoms at all turns your world upside down. It takes over your life. I was very lucky to have fantastic people at McMillans and Oldham Christie’s where I went through a course of radiotherapy. This knocks you for six and makes you very tired. One minute I felt great and the next I was completely zapped of energy and had to sleep. My confidence also took a hit. 

In the early months of 2024 Sheila said she wanted to do the West Highland Way. I pulled my face and said why? There's thousands of people and it's not hard. But I said ok as long as we do it early before the holiday season and the midge season.

I started packing the rucksacks, trying to find all the gear which hadn't been used for a while. Then once I had packed mine I started packing Sheila's with the same gear list. After a few days I would change the gear as all the negative thoughts started to take over. That sleeping bag will not do, those boots are too old, that waterproof is past it, we haven't got enough food etc etc etc.

I was waking up in the night in a mess worrying endlessly. Night after night.

Eventually, I said to Sheila "I cannot do this trip". Even though I knew I could do it physically and that 99% of what we worry about never happens. Sheila knew it was a hard decision for me to make but it was the right one.

So we went to Glasgow for a short break, without the stress of driving, Sheila did all the bookings, the hotel and the train. I still had a dread cloud hanging over me and the start of the train journey was not easy. But I did it and we enjoyed Glasgow a lot.

So I rekindled the WHW walk which again after a few weeks I said "its no good I can't do it".

Why don't we do another walk where we don't have to be at a place by a certain time. Where there is no pressure, we can stop or change tack at any point, Sheila suggested.

I had a think about it and decided that a 4-5 day backpack which I had planned ages ago would be a possibility. It was walk from Inveroran to Glen Etive, Walk from Glen Etive over Laraig Gartain to Glencoe, Walk the WHW back to Inveroran.  

I planned it, packed for it, bought food for it, downloaded maps, bought new paper maps, checked bus times along the A82, then bang........ it all started again, the same negative thoughts the same sleepless nights, the same old anxiety telling me that I can't do it. 

I fought it, day in and day out. Trying to beat the anxiety, telling myself over and over again that it was nothing but a nice walk where we can stop at any time, where there are lots of bail out points and nothing to be overly worried about.

Sheila thoughtfully decided that booking a hotel in Tyndrum on the day we travel would be a good stress reliever and if I couldn't do the walk we could just go home. That night I felt ok to a point, with just the usual butterflies everyone gets.

Come the morning I woke early and I realised I couldn't set off. Anxiety had beaten me.

A decision was made to book another night in a hotel and to go for a day walk which would clear my head of negativity and hopefully positivity would result. We did the WHW south from Tyndrum, walked the Sheep Trail then walked back. It was a nice day walk, I had no problems. I felt ok.

That evening though, I regressed and I said I know now that I cannot do this anymore, I cannot keep putting both of us through this pressure. We went over and over different scenario's, different ideas, different places and hotels. Just do day walks, don't backpack. It was getting all too much.

We stayed in Tyndrum another night and Sheila tentatively booked a hotel in Fort William because I said if we set off and anxiety beats me we can return and go and check in a hotel. It was agreed.

The next day we walked from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy and back. I really enjoyed it. I was positive and had the feeling that if we just set off backpacking everything will fall into place and get back to normal.

We drove to Inveroran, parked the car and set off. I felt ok but towards the end of the day I was saying to myself "why are you doing this". It just wasn't right. I was lacking patience, a bit snappy and I wasn't in my usual happy place when I'm camping in a most beautiful place. 

In the morning, even though it was such a wonderful day I wasn't interested in going on. I didn't want the weight on my back, didn't want the wet gear, didn't want to be always kneeling down or lying on one elbow and loosing everything in a small tent. I decided there and then that this trip has proven to me that it is my last backpacking trip. It is time to call it a day. The anxiety is far to hard to beat and totally unfair on Sheila and I have to change the way I live so that I reduce the pressure on both of us.

The way forward for us right now is to do day walks, with a day sack and a comfortable retreat at the end. That's the plan anyway. 

I know other people suffer from anxiety, some not as bad but some are worse and I hope they read this to know that they are not alone and making life changing decisions can be really really painful process. But all I can say is talk about it, be brave and make the decision which suits your situation......


  1. Hi, Ive jst read this at11:30pm. Will reply by email.

  2. 11:55PM - Thursday - Just replied by email.

  3. So sorry to hear this news, a frank and open account of a condition most of us can only try to imagine. I hope that the act of writing it all down will help a little to clarify the way forward.
    Single day walks may well be the best strategy initially, they are much easier logistically and you will still be enjoying the walks.
    I hope you can get settled into a workable walking plan.
    Best regards

    1. Hi Geoff, Thanks for your comment. It has taken a lot of time and a lot of thought to come to this decision which is the best for both of us. Considering what hiking trips I have done in my career it is a tough choice to accept the reality of where I am now.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear this Alan. For what it’s worth, I think your strategy is very sensible and who knows how you might feel later this year or next. Best wishes to you both.

  5. Thank you for writing that it must have been so difficult to put into words .
    Please know I am always here for you and you are loved so much by everyone who knows you.
    You do what makes you both happy
    Love Lisa xx

  6. Hi Alan, such a heartfelt and hopefully cathartic piece of writing. The contrast between media posts and the reality of the mental and physical effort that was involved is stark and a reminder (if we really need one) that all is rarely as it seems. In every challenge there is an opportunity! Keep looking out for those opportunities as that helps to take control of a situation. With the wonderful Sheila by your side I am sure you will have many more, if not different adventures. Best wishes, Jo x

    1. Thanks Jo. Your message means a lot.


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