Carl has talked quite a bit about his life with anxiety on this blog but I’ve yet to open up about my own mental health journey.
It may seem strange that I’m starting a post about the British seaside with a story about mental health. But to me, the two are almost inextricably linked.
I’ve always been the kind of person that is in my feelings. And I struggled with self-sabotaging behaviour throughout my teens and early twenties. I had days where I would behave with reckless abandon, doing everything and anything I could to escape. And days where I felt more clarity about the impact my behaviour was having on the people I love.
But the first time I remember feeling like my world was ending was following the death of my stepdad. Carl and I had only been together a few months when dad’s terminal brain tumour became active again. Two months later, it ended his life.
I was bereft. I spent most of my days barely getting through with the most immense fog in my head. I smiled, but there was no real intention behind it and there were days where I wasn’t sure I’d ever be happy again.
I gained weight. At the time, food felt like the only comfort. I ploughed through at work because it was my only escape and the things I thought would be in my future – marriage, kids, a house – felt unachievable without dad by our side.
Then one day, Carl and I decided to go to Blackpool. From what I can remember it was a decision made on a whim.
As soon as I got out of the car and took a breath of the sea air, I felt an immediate sense of calm. For months my brain had been torturing me over dads death; did he know I loved him, did I say enough, would my mum be ok without him, why did I spend so much time doing destructive things to try and forget how poorly he was instead of spending time with him.
But that morning in Blackpool, a small beam of light cut through the fog.
We spent a few hours in Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and then took a stroll up the pier, stopping on the way to play shitty arcade games, drink cold beer and eat chips.
It was a good day. The first good day I’d had in a long time. I laughed, properly, for the first time in weeks.
You see, in amongst the smells, the wonderful kitsch aesthetic, the sea breeze, the fabulously crap arcade prizes, the greasy chips, the rollercoaster thrills and the cheep beer; I found the first semblance of peace I’d had since we lost my dad.
We mentioned a few months ago that we were going on a little break because of some other stuff going on.
The truth is that for the second time in my life, my mental health had overcome me. I was back to the old patterns; binge eating, lack of sleep, shutting myself up at home, fake smiles and a brain full of fog.
Last weekend, after some determined encouragement from Carl, we decided to go to the seaside for a walk.
This time in Scarborough, it happened again. That same feeling that everything was eventually going to be ok came over me. I breathed in that fresh air and watched those waves crash into the shore and I felt calm.
I’ve come to realise that there is something about the British seaside that just makes me feel better. The crisp, fresh air, the people being with families they love and the bouts of time spent doing things that take your mind off your troubles. They all come together to create a place that feels safe.
Mentally, I feel like when I’m by the sea, my brain feels a little bit clearer, my thoughts are a little bit calmer and I can take a mental breather from all the things that overwhelm me when I’m at home.
When we arrived back from our trip I slept better than I have in months, and I made some choices that have been positive for my mental health.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you need somewhere to go to get some space, try your nearest seaside town. It might just provide the healing you need.