30. Surfacing from Edges of Depression and TV Debut on Lorraine (hill climbed: Meall a’Bhuachaille)

This is the 30th post of a series which is introduced here

Thursday 20 June 2019

It’s almost midday and I’m waiting to meet Jenny and Angie off the train at Aviemore. I lean against a pillar and stare out along the railway lines to their vanishing point, but I’m not really looking outwards – I’m looking in. Despite still waiting for biopsy results on my womb – and now with a date for my two-year breast check – I notice how much more relaxed I feel after the difficulties of recent weeks. I contemplate the incomprehensibility of the low I’d succumbed to then; how layers of different pressures had caused thoughts to become monsters and my mind to feel diseased. The power and depth of that blackness had taken me to a very bad place, but one which now seems a different world away. I recall how I’d cried uncontrollably in a crowded Italian restaurant the night before my first book festival talk . . . but how much lighter I’d felt when the talk, in actual fact, went well. My youngest son disappeared to Ibiza for a week giving us both some space and, at the same time, restoring equilibrium between me and Paul. And, the day before flying to London for my TV debut on Lorraine, just when I really needed it, I received a massive confidence boost by way of a review of my book. I’m not out of the woods, but edges of depression are lifting. Bit by bit I’m getting back on track. Suddenly the alarming sound of air horns pull me back to the present. A train’s coming . . .

I look anxiously amongst faces of disembarking passengers. At last I see Jenny (my agent) and Angie and feel relief. I smile and wave. Us three have never walked together before, and in fact this is the first time I’ve met Angie (she is buyer for all the Scottish Waterstones). But here we are. Brought together because today the book I wrote is finally in shops, and to celebrate this we are going up Meall a’Bhuachaille – fitting since it’s the first hill I write about in Just Another Mountain. I drive to Glenmore to the start of our walk. And from the off we all chat away openly and easily.

Signing books at Waterstones in Aviemore.

The route we take goes up by the reindeer centre and right at a fork onto a wide track, passing stands of Scots Pines. I always admire these impressive trees with their great red trunks full of knots and knurls; twisting branches and bluey-green needles hiding bug and bird life. Patchy cloud fills the sky and the wind makes it feel chilly, but the moment the sun breaks through, it’s pleasant and warm. Cairngorm dominates the view on my right. I was up there at the start of this month, when my inside self felt asleep. Thank God I’m on the up, I think, and feel the happiness and safety of being outdoors surrounded by nature again.

‘So, how does it feel to be a published author?’ Jenny asks.

‘To be honest it’s kind of like having a birthday – another year older but I don’t feel the leap. There’s been so much going on I can’t say I feel any different really. But it is super cool to have my story in print and I’m well chuffed with that as a personal achievement.’ What Jenny asked gets me thinking about the fact that people will now be reading my story. The thought fills me with dread. What in the name actual fuck have I gone and done?

‘How was the trip to London yesterday?’ asks Angie, breaking up the conversation taking place inside my head. I tell her and Jenny about the trip.

‘It was a tight schedule!’ But great to meet the team from Elliott and Thompson (my publishers) and be treated to a lush dinner.

From left: Emma, Jennie, Pippa, Moi (keeping my blurt in check), Marianne. (When I’d left home I’d had a feeling I’d forgotten something. Only as I boarded the plane it hit me. Bloody knickers! I hadn’t packed any! Decided I’d have to wear the clothes I was travelling in to dinner but, after a crowded train journey to Victoria, two stifling tube changes into central London and a sticky walk to the Strand Palace I was a hot, sweaty mess. I’d no choice but to change into the tiny yellow dress and hope there were no Sharon Stone moments.)

‘I was up early to go to the ITV studios, didn’t even get breakfast,’ I said, ‘but Lorraine Kelly was lovely. She came to see me in the Green Room before the show aired. We even had a giggle when I told her that her aunty had taught me Home Economics at school and had given me a telling for cooking the wooden spoon.’

Having a laugh with Lorraine. (I’d been fannying about with my jacket when two of the production team appear and Lorraine walks past and starts up some stairs. ‘Jacket on or off?’ I’d asked. As I swing the blazer round the price tag dangles from its collar, the women see it. ‘It’s going back to the shop tomorrow,’ I joke. They chuckle and one of them admits she does that too. Lol.)

Jenny, Angie and I continue along the trail which grows narrower as it tapers toward the wide path that runs up the valley. Lochan Uaine remains hidden by trees for now, but I know it’s there at the foot of Creag nan Gall’s steep scree slope. It’s all so familiar and safe: not like live TV. Sheesh! That was a baptism of fire! I think, as I play over the intense moments before my TV debut. Paul Merton and his wife Suki had walked by. She’d smiled, he had not. Piers Morgan’s voice had seemed to boom from the big screen fixed onto the wall behind me. Then Lorraine came on – and I was called to the studio floor. Havoc wreaking adrenaline heightened and panic seized my mind. I must’ve had the old startled rabbit in headlights look because members of the production team were doing their level best to give me reassurances, but too late, my brain was already being a total fucker and fully freaking out. Don’t swear don’t swear don’t swear it’ll be fine you’ll be fine just don’t fucking swear!

Click link above to watch the interview.

Rain begins to fall and the wind blows colder. We are on the main path, sploshing through puddles. Ryvoan bothy is in sight. Rain drives down harder. It’s time for waterproofs so we dive into the stone shelter. Musty, woody scents intermingle. Angie thinks it smells like peaty whisky. Jenny is more focused on getting out of the rain, but we both notice how much tidier the place is. There’s even new sleeping mats and foils neatly laid out and a tidy stack of firewood piled up. We scoff cakes Jenny treated us to before returning outdoors. It’s so dark in the bothy and as we leave I accidentally bounce my head off a low beam – be warned Ryvoan goers.

Views over Abernethy forest and Bynack More open up as we gain height, and I love how I can see the weather coming in up the valley. At the summit I see the whole sky is a patchwork of light rain and sunshine; to the north Ben Wyvis is partially obscured but behind me the Cairngorm range is free of cloud, and in the valley passing showers have rained themselves out. I breathe deeply and let my lungs fill with mountain joy. Looking out over the Speyside landscape I think about the man I met on my flight home from London yesterday – he’s down there somewhere and I like knowing that. Release of all the adrenaline in me had caused me to sleep in the plane til we were over Glasgow and the plane began its descent to Inverness. It rattled about in some turbulence. ‘I don’t like this.’ I’d said out loud. The man smiled and asked if I flew often. I explained it had only been a flying visit to London – and of course told him I’d been on the telly that morning. Turned out he was on a flying trip north – visiting Cairngorms to film for Netflix series The Crown. He’s only the director! And he tells me he’s interested in, and done, a lot of real life stories. At this point I’m convinced we were destined to meet and ask if he wants the copy of my book I have in my bag. He says he does so I tell him it’ll cost him fourteen pounds and ninety-nine pennies. Lol.

I’m in the middle of fantasising about the film of my book (a girl can dream) when a squeal of delight makes me turn round to see Jenny producing a bottle of prosecco from her bag. I get first swig. Bubbles expand and explode in my mouth. I swallow, and we all laugh.

From left: Jenny, moi and Angie. Summit of Meall a’Bhuachaille. Up and up.

I’m happy as I walk down the mountain and I hope the high will last longer than it did after being on Ben Macdui and Cairngorm with Mel. I’m well attuned to how my feelings can simmer, ready to resurface any time, and I know I need to be careful. But things are cool. I’m walking and I’m writing which are good outlets, and I’m seeing a counsellor next week – talking will also help. We all have struggles and these are ways I deal with mine.


Thanks for reading. If you want to follow my journey please click the link at the top of the page or give my Facebook page a like. Tune in next time to see what happens next.

If you are interested here is the review I was emailed the day before I went to London.













29. Edges of Depression (hills climbed: Ben Macdui and Cairngorm)

This is the 29th post in a series which begins here.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Mel and I are journeying to the Cairngorms. I avoid answering her question about what it is that’s triggered this latest episode of feeling on the edge of depression. I don’t want to talk at all, but know Mel will have none of it so instead I make the conversation about her. The little laugh noise she makes is her way of letting me know she knows exactly what I’m doing – the girl knows this girl all too well, and before the day is out we both know I’ll have spilled my guts. She understands I’m just not quite ready to do so yet.

The engine thrums, the wheels on my car go round and round and miles of grey road pass beneath. Though it’s barely audible, the radio is on. Mel chats away.  She tells me how she is having a hideously busy time at work and how full her head is – I know how that feels.

I notice my headache again – it has come and gone in greater and lesser degrees for the last five days. Heaviness continues to weigh on my chest, my stomach has a knot in it and I could cry readily. I think about Mel’s question: these terrible feelings of doom I’m experiencing have been caused by layers of different pressures; waiting for results of a biopsy on my womb, keeping on top of work, fear and excitement of having to speak publicly at my first book festival and a forthcoming appearance on live TV are causing constant adrenaline making me feel like I’m perpetually hungover, and on top of all that there’s been another almighty clash between me and my youngest son which in turn is causing problems with me and Paul. It’s all too much. But I’m en route to the mountains. And I know that by immersing myself in the great Cairngorm wilderness, of its whaleback hills and shattered cliffs, some perspective will be restored and I hope I will find the better version  of  ‘me’ again and grab her back. I don’t like this tetchy, troubled, uncommunicative Sarah.

Mel and I walk out on a gravelly path, away from the busy carpark and ski centre – away from everyday life. We gain height and views open up into Coire an Lochain. I admire the intricate architecture of vertical, dark, rocky walls under a cloudy sky and remember the last time I passed this way – the roar of an avalanche, its plumes of white powder billowing upwards like giant cauliflower florets. All lively. A different scene now. Quiet. Subdued. I draw a comparison between it and myself.

I think over the last ten days or so; how asleep my inside self has felt, how my mind has been dallying with dark, unhelpful thoughts. Thoughts aren’t fact, but in these states of deep doom I can’t rationalise this. Instead, my thoughts become monsters; scaring me into believing my cancer is probably back, telling me I’m a shit-useless parent/girlfriend, taunting that I’m an epic fail and undeserving. What I see as my short-comings play on an incessant loop in my head and I become my own worst critic. At my lowest ebb the blackness had such a hold over me I couldn’t even get out of bed – it was like some supernatural force was pulling me down and there was nothing I could do to help myself. ‘It’ controls ‘me’.  Cancer was, in ways, so much easier to understand than the fringes of depression I get. But I do have some knowledge, and I’m not completely powerless; I’ve been here before and know the grimness will eventually pass, and as hard as it is I make myself carry on, robotically pushing through.

Mel and I push upwards on a gentle gradient as we contour the mountainside. And then revealing itself, a familiar sight, the Lairig Ghru – a great trench that cuts through some of the wildest area in the country, and which stretches from Speyside all the way to Deeside. Turning around I take in the view north in steely grey, blue and rusty hues. I can see the highest point of the low lying distant hills.

‘That’ll be Clava, don’t you think?’ I say to Mel, pointing.

‘Yeah. Reckon so.’ Mel nods.

I picture myself standing at the summit on Clava looking south at the Lairig Ghru. In my mind’s eye I now see the views north from Clava. I know every inch of that landscape, and the connection I feel to it makes a warmth grow inside me. Mel and I are walking on when I spontaneously give her a hug. It takes me by surprise as much as it does her.

‘I feel the surge of mountain joy in me!’ I announce, as a big genuine smile virtually cracks my face for the first time in what seems to have been ages.

Deteriorating weather changes the mood and character of the mountain, but I embrace it too. The wind is bracing and I enjoy the cold sensation on my exposed skin; it’s like it’s cleaning up the guddle I feel inside and carrying it away. Low cloud now blows across the tops of Braeriach and Cairn Toul, it fills into the plunging depths of the Lairig Ghru and is obscuring the top of Ben Macdui. Visibility reduces further as we trek over what is often described as a ‘stony Tundra’. To me the landscape is lunar, it’s rocky, vast and featureless. Its emptiness is simple and pure, evocative and inspiring: and I think this is how I want to be – emptied of worries and insecurities, to feel pureness and clarity of thought, and to feel inspired by all the good things I do have going on.

Through dense mists we finally see Ben Macdui’s summit cairn and, like it’s a magnet, we are drawn to its rocky top before taking shelter in one of the many cairns dotted about up here. I notice my hunger and want to eat. I also want to throw on all my extra layers – it’s baltic, and it feels good to be driven by these basic needs.

Mel and I retrace our steps. I answer her questions now. ‘It’s no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed!’ she says. ‘You’ve a lot on your plate. I suppose there’s not much you can do except wait for your biopsy results, but hopefully they’re gonna come back clear.’ We discuss the home issues that are preying heavily on my mind. ‘But maybe you’ll have more clarity on these things once you’ve got your book talk and TV thing out of the way?’ Mel suggests.

‘I bloody hope so,’ I say. ‘You know, I should be well looking forward to going on Lorraine, it’s an amazing opportunity,  but I can’t help feeling I’m just not worthy enough to have been invited onto her show.’ A sense of gloom builds inside. Mel clocks it, and while I feel I deserve her exasperation what she gives is support and encouragement.

‘You need to remember you are no less worthy than anyone else that appears on TV. Some of them may have done something you consider more worthy of recognition. Some of them have definitely not. It doesn’t matter. They’re all just people with their own story to tell. You have written a book. The fact you wrote it for you and your boys to begin with is irrelevant. You are going to be a published author and that is a great achievement.’

‘Yeah, and that’s another thing! I’m terrified of what people will make of my story.’

Mel continues to be the voice of reason and as she talks I spy, nestled between rocks on the ground, this . . .

It says, ‘Inv rocks post pic FB keep and rehide’ 

Then turn it over and see this . . .

‘You are Amazing’

‘Look,’ I say, showing Mel the painted stone. ‘It’s like I was meant to find it.’

‘It is,’ she says, ‘now you just have to believe it!’

After a day on the hills with my friend I returned home feeling stress levels had lowered, and it must’ve shown because when my boyfriend Paul came in, and after studying me for a moment, he said,’It’s good to see you looking happy again.’ I smiled back.

So What’s the Point of this Blog?

Mountain walking is free therapy and, as far as I’m concerned, the best therapy. I don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment with a counsellor, or pop a pill. I just yank on my boots and put one foot in front of the other. It’s not to say I’m fixed in one trip, but it’s a step in the right direction and every hill makes me that little bit more mentally strong. I would recommend to anyone who is struggling with mental health issues to give hillwalking a go. If you’re freaking out about fitness, don’t. There are loads of straightforward walks (check out walkhighlands, brilliant website with detailed walk descriptions. There’s also munro magic and others, just Google!), start small build it up and you will see the possibilities for yourself are limitless.


Find out if I managed to pull my shit together or if I made a tit of myself when I went on Lorraine in my next blog.

Thanks for reading. Find me on Facebook and give my page a like – all support is appreciated. I got Twitter now too – no clue what the hell it’s all about, but if you can find me do follow me. Haven’t worked out how to add the link to that yet. ha ha ha. duh!