My first day at Venture Scotland I had no idea what I was getting into. I had some notion it was just going to be weekly activities with a slight mental health angle. In a sense I wanted it to be like that, I wanted to join a homogenous group of people like me, doing things I was already somewhat comfortable with. That would have felt easier to explain to my friends, to my family and people who asked what I was doing with my life. It pains me to admit that when I first entered the office on challenge day 1, I was disappointed. Looking around the room there was nobody (outwardly) like me.
We went for a walk along Peatdraught bay, doing icebreakers and games to get to know one another. Playing games makes me incredibly uncomfortable – it’s a mental minefield. Trying to maintain the personality mask I’d been upholding so far, not applying TOO much effort, being conscious of random members of the public seeing what I was doing. Upon reflection, this level of analysis and anxiety is emblematic of what I needed to work on. Simply allowing myself to be me, to have fun and be present with people – free of bias or judgement (self or others). I had some great conversations and laid the groundwork with the group but ultimately I went home feeling strange, thinking that the program wasn’t for me.
Day 2 was more successful; rock climbing was a great vehicle for conversation and relationship building. Supporting people by belaying, friendly competition with Ezra and Kieran. I found more of myself coming across naturally – the aspects of me I like. The mask had slipped a little, allowing myself to engage more fully with something I was excited about. This only continued into the first Bothy trip in the borders. Isolation from civilisation and all of its quandaries is the perfect environment to learn and get in touch with yourself and, to me, that peace and awareness makes it easier to form relationships with people. It doesn’t feel forced or like you’re fighting an uphill battle.
There’s, seemingly, a pressure in civilisation that isn’t present there, an urgency that you need to convey your likability and charm as soon as possible in each fleeting interaction. It’s different in the bothy. It’s a small place. You are there, they are there – for a few days. Conversations occur simply, drifting together on a walk or stepping outside at the same time first thing in the morning. Prepping vegetables, eating together. Every interaction let the mask slip further. I found that although we weren’t hugely similar, the group and I had a lot in common. The true, genuine warmth I felt and reciprocated to everyone went beyond simply being peers. I didn’t have the homogenous group I envisioned but instead a diverse group of friends who taught me a lot. We all wanted to change our lives, that commonality informed so much of how I would carry on. The moments I cherish most are the quiet ones around the table, solving riddles, talking or even just half-listening to conversations while I read.
Challenge week ended up being – funnily enough – a massive challenge for me. I really enjoyed the bothy but when I got back home I was confronted head on by my own inherent hypocrisy. I wanted change, but I resisted it. I was disappointed to meet new people and have new experiences. It took me a while to work through this although I was now optimistic about the rest of the course.
The difference between before and after the bothy was striking. The group was firmly meshed now and I was far more at ease. The weeks passed and we found we were to merge with another discover group. Ross, Mila and Hayley. We worried how we would get on. Naturally another bothy trip was what it took to settle these fears.
I had already come a long way, this time I made an effort to reach out to the new members, another aspect of myself I liked. Too many times had I seen someone struggling and hadn’t reached out despite wanting to.
Jumping ahead, Etive was profound for me, it served as the final reinforcement that this program worked. After coming home I knew, not cautiously suspected, that I was invaluable to the group and to the people around me. I bring comfort, stability, insight. I can be funny, I can be supportive, I can be strong. My contributions were helpful and valid. All the way through the journey program the focus on positivity and your impact on the group was hugely helpful. We are our own best critics. It can be easy to leave a session or trip and discard or forget your impact. Etive solved this elegantly, many people will have completed the positive messages activity, many will know how touching it is. I said upon reviewing the activity that I didn’t want to forget how this felt. I haven’t. It’s been part of me since we left. Those messages tell me something I do know, somewhere deep in me, something that so often is buried and tangled in the web of thoughts or actively supressed behind a mask. It’s there, and it can shine through. I just need to allow it.
Something David said, on the Etive Bothy trip, stuck with me, to paraphrase, “What’s on that paper, removed from the real world, that is you.”.
I need to acknowledge the impact of the outdoors. It’s quiet but not in an eerie way. It’s serene. You’d think your inner dialogue would be running rampant but it’s also serene. Lying in the middle of the etive valley on the dry golden grass, having my tea outside on an overcast morning at the bothy, each sporadic raindrop on my face was a jolt, bringing me to life, bringing my awareness back to myself every time.
It’s easy to get trapped in a mental web of connected insecurities and worries, all inextricably bound and tangled in a way that is impossible to struggle out of or make sense of. When it’s so complex and prevalent it becomes even harder to escape as you baulk at the sheer scope of it, compounding your panic even more. Venture Scotland activities shift the focus onto what you’re doing, the people around you, the moment you’re in – what’s real and not imagined or speculated.
By learning to slow down and allow things to ‘be’, I found a lot more peace and clarity within myself and my place in Venture Scotland and subsequently life. It didn’t have to ‘be’ anything. It just was.