The Natural Health Service

11 Jul 2020

I’ve just finished The Natural Health Service by Isabel Hardman, a book about how the great outdoors can do for your mind.

I’m so interested in this, having made my own version of a routine that involves observing nature and the change of the season as this has affected my mood in the past.

Firstly, Isabel can write. You may know her as the political correspondent for the Spectator magazine-and indeed this may inhibit you from reading – which frankly, would be a mistake. Isabel is upfront and unashamed about her Surrey upbringing – think ponies, flute playing, learning ballet – you get the picture. If you can forgive her that, she talks frankly about her wrestling with her own mental illness – PTSD and indeed refers to herself at times as quite mad which I relate to.

But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve been following Isabel’s exploits in the digital and journalistic world for a while. She set up #WildflowerHour on twitter which is a delight of mine on a Sunday night. She gardens, wild swims AND she studies the ups and downs of Westminster – an aspiration I once held. So, she’s someone I want to follow; want to find out about and so forgive her some of her home counties ways.

So, her book talks about her own mental illness but also each chapter addresses a different antidote – gardening, mindfulness in nature, the therapeutic benefits of pets, running, cold water swimming – all of which have worked to help her – not all the time and not a ‘cure’ but a means of managing her illness.

So, what do I think as someone whose been sectioned five times and am not yet 45? I was impressed, inspired and for the first time, felt empowered to ask my psychiatrist and GP (who btw I haven’t heard from throughout the entirety of lockdown) why these activities weren’t socially prescribed to me.

I can’t wait for my new activities to start. I will be heading to the Munros and Corbetts, the lochs and all that is beautiful about Scotland. I have the means; a car, wetsuit and a bobble hat which I will wear in honour of Isabel on my first ice cold dip of the season.

The last two nights, I have made the effort to leave the house after work and visit a small plot of land in the middle of the city I live in. it’s wild and as a result, buzzing with wildlife. I’ve filmed bees, taken photos and effectively, documented my time, learning about some of the flowers and fauna I’m not au fait with. It’s been wonderful.

I also intend to get an assistance dog.

In all, this book has the ability to change lives – and for the better. There seems to me to be no better way to ease out of lockdown than to consider my habits and patterns previously and assess. This book has certainly assisted me in finding a new roadmap – a code – and one that I hope will keep me well, stable and perhaps most importantly, happy.

Isabel, I salute you. From one mad woman to another, bravo.


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