Using adventure to transform my life
“Reading a book is a way to travel without travelling”
My name is Rachel White. I am a mental health and climate activist, with a background in helping young people, and have spent the last few years seeking adventure through drawing strength from the natural world.
I grew up in Essex, in a small village, just outside Southend-on-Sea. I found pleasure in the outdoors from a young age, spending a lot of time outside. My childhood dream was to travel and explore the world but when I went to comprehensive school I found myself feeling like an outsider. Most people at my school didn’t share my ambitions and I wasn’t encouraged to go to university or travel. I didn’t realise at the time but looking back I was most definitely suffering with anxiety.
After finishing school I went to college, despite experiencing issues with concentration throughout school. I think I just went to college because I wanted to be like my friends. My family and I went on holiday shortly after and I began a romance with a Spanish boy. After the holiday we kept in touch and at 17 I made the decision to leave England to live with him in Spain. I believed he was the love of my life and I stayed there for a year, until he had to go away for Spain’s compulsory military service. Around this time I found out I was pregnant, making everything even more difficult for me.
I held off telling my mum for a while because I was feeling so scared and anxious. But when I told my family they were very supportive. Although it was a complicated time my baby was very much wanted. I had my baby and moved back to Spain, with my partner, for a while until I ultimately felt very isolated so we moved back to the UK.
After 7 years together, a marriage and another baby, my partner left me. I did not see this coming and it was a massive blow to my confidence and self esteem. I was left a single mother of two and had to move back in with my parents. As a consequence of these stressful events, and my pre-existing anxiety, I began to suffer terribly with panic attacks.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to handle them so I turned to alcohol to self-medicate.
I was masking my feelings rather than confronting them and I was constantly hungover so I found little enjoyment in activities with family and friends. I met my current husband around this time and my life changed again for the better. We had a lot in common, particularly a shared passion for the outdoors. He made me realise what a balanced relationship was and demonstrated a deep love for both me and my children.
After having another baby, with my new husband, I found myself in the position of wanting to get a job. I started working in a school, teaching reading and literacy classes. I loved the adventure books provided and enjoyed sharing my passion with children who may not have had the opportunity to engage with books. I was also going through therapy at the time and I realised how important mental health management is. So I started training to be a councillor. I went on to work in counseling, volunteering in schools, and then working in colleges.
But after a few years of this I got burnt out. I left my job and felt like I needed to give my mind a rest so went back to work in hospitality. I felt like leaving my job made me feel as though I’d lost some identity. I was in a downward spiral and stopped spending time with family and friends and doing the things I had always enjoyed before. I realised that I was suffering from depression.
One day my husband recommended I listen to podcasts to take my mind off my negative thoughts. I was inspired by one of the stories I listened to about a woman who walked the Camino de Santiago on Sarah William’s Tough Girl Podcast. She said that the only thing separating those who adventure from those who don’t is the fact they actually do it. This really resonated with me and I became very interested in completing something similar.
My husband and I began walking more, I was walking 7 miles to work daily. I decided I was going to complete the Camino de Santiago. It was very scary but I took it step by step, walking about 20 miles a day. During this time I also set up a JustGiving page for my walk and I was very open about the impact of my depression. People started reaching out to me with their own stories, telling me how I had inspired them and others. So I started Rachel’s 33, asking people to write to me about their mental health journeys and using these as motivation for my walks every day. I learnt I was a lot more resilient than I’d thought and that an immense strength can be drawn from nature.
After this expedition I got a job in a university in London. I hated the commute and found myself yearning for the adventure nature offers. When the pandemic hit, despite scuppering my travel plans, I was excited about the chance to engage with nature again.
My husband got into climate activism around the same time. I ended up going to a few meetings with him and a protest, inspiring me to do more to help protect our environment. I was itching for another adventure after being stuck inside for so long during the pandemic and Extinction Rebellion posted about a walk to stand up for climate action towards the Cop 26 Climate Action Conference.
I applied for it and got on. It was a fantastic experience and I didn’t realise how much outreach we’d have to the communities we came across. We walked for 6 weeks, from London to Glasgow and we could see the impact climate change had on individual communities and businesses, through things such as flooding. The experience felt like a beacon of hope after the dreariness of the last two years of the pandemic.
Overall, I would like to encourage people to take their own small steps towards adventure. I learnt through my experiences, as a single mother and suffering through depression, that adventure doesn’t have to be on a massive scale and that everyone can begin their own small adventure whenever they want.