How the Lake District Helped Conquer My Demons: Harrison Ward AKA Fell Foodie

 

Something had to alter, I couldn’t continue like this or it would be the end of me…

I have suffered with a crippling depression for most of my life. The minute I hit puberty an irrepressible urge of self-loathing, disheartenment and insecurity plagued me and at its worst brought thoughts of suicide. At 18, whilst working behind a bar, I discovered alcohol would sedate my mind and silence the detrimental thoughts. Whilst at university, drinking became a day-to-day habit, a “medicinal” way to manage the ‘black dog’. Before long I was consuming over 20 pints daily, taken up smoking and had ballooned to 22 stone. Depression had lured alcohol into my life on the false pretence of being a saviour, it turned out to be another poison.

My secret battle became public around my 21st birthday. In the early hours, heavily inebriated, I made a call to my mother via the closest payphone to the railway tracks. I had rung to say goodbye having decided it was the end. Thankfully it wasn’t. This should have been the turning point. But I didn’t want change, I was managing my darkness the best I could by means of liquid sedation.

Four years of blackout drinking continued and I surprisingly found a girlfriend. She was somebody I didn’t deserve as I hid my double-life. Then the bubble burst when I acted unfaithfully under the influence. I came to terms that I had become an alcoholic but deservedly, it was already the final straw.

All association with the destructive life I had created was removed. I left the area, my job, my flat, friends and vowed to remove alcohol and cigarettes from my routine too. I threw myself into fitness even beginning to run, I couldn’t run a bath. A fortnight later, my friend Ryan arrived on my doorstep and said, “We are going hiking up Blencathra.”. Under the haze of substance withdrawal, I struggled to take this in. I didn’t even own any walking boots. Kindly, he stopped at an outdoor shop en route and bought me a pair.  A slow and demanding vertical plod commenced. I was never going to give up despite my struggle and eventually the summit was reached. Whilst descending Ryan said, “Helvellyn next?”.

I’m not sure I answered, yet a week later we had parked up at Swirls car park. It was a magnificent day with barely a cloud in the sky. I donned my boots once more and began marching up the steep ascent. Finally, the trig point was reached and with it a scene that sparked something in me. Looking east over Striding Edge I knew a new addiction had been ignited. Gathering breath, I heard “Scafell Pike?”

That and many other Lakeland fells followed as well as Snowdon, Crib Goch and Ben Nevis. Hiking boots were now interchangeable with trainers as slow walks advanced into technical runs. Eleven months on from my dramatic life change, I even completed a marathon in just over 4 hours. It felt like redemption.

Today, the outdoors remains a key component of my lifestyle as I have based myself in the heart of the Lake District. I’ve ticked off half the Wainwrights now, frequently wildcamp and have taken my original passion for cooking into the outdoors too via a camping stove. I was even named an Ordnance Survey GetOutside champion in 2020, a far cry from my days propping up the bar.

Now I am over 5 years sober, 7 stone lighter and smoke free. The combination of fitness and nature has been instrumental in my turnaround, boosting my mental strength and keeping darker thoughts at bay. It has been truly life changing.

Many of those initial fells can be seen from Crow Park, Keswick the location for this years Keswick Mountain Festival. In amongst the copious entertainment offerings be sure to head out to explore some of these tranquil spots of nature. There may even be an organised event encapsulating these exact fells before returning to the festival for a knees up with the likes of Ferocious Dog and Huey Morgan on the Friday and Saturday evenings respectively.

For updates on Harrison’s mental health journey and passion for cooking in the hills, follow @fellfoodie on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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