• Robert Prendergast

The Morning Walk

Photo By: Jacob Peters-Lehm

There is one piece of advice that I have received countless times: Give yourself a break and don’t be too hard on yourself.


A great piece of advice. I hear it and give it out often, knowing full well that sometimes it is the right action to take. The issue is I just never seem to be able to take the advice myself. Sometimes the concept feels impossible to me. How can I give myself a break? I haven’t earnt one!


For example, I am not a runner. I never have been. I hate it. If my life is in danger, then maybe I’ll run. But if I see doors on the tube about to close before I get there, I know for sure I’m waiting for the next one instead of trying to make it. This isn’t a fact I’m proud of, but I’ve accepted it. I’ve always wanted to be that person who goes for runs at 6am in any weather.

But I know what I am. It’s not that. Plus a girl at school once said to me “Why do you run like that?” and to this day I have no idea what she meant but it still plays on my mind.


I’ve tried getting into it again recently, for a couple days it went adequately, for my admittedly low standards. But soon the motivation to continue faded away. Maybe the worst thing about Coronavirus is it has given me far less excuses not to do it. For 23 years I have always said that I will be one of those people who goes for morning runs and that tomorrow would be the day.


But is never is and I beat myself up about it. All the grief I have given myself over the years about something so small, looking back now seems stupid. Is this the kind of moment where I would be told to give myself a break?


So, I compromise. I have started to get up in the morning and go for a walk. I couldn’t tell you how far my route is, but I know I am out for around an hour and forty minutes each day. Or the amount of time it takes to listen to two albums if you prefer that unit of measurement.

The route of the walk I take is not the most thrilling or exciting. I don’t encounter anything that anyone reading this has never seen before; fields, narrow country lanes where I have to stand to the side to let cars pass, a horrible steep hill towards the end, and of course, being in Somerset, a farm with the appropriate farm smell.


Autumn has always been my favourite season, I love the changing colours of the leaves and the mild weather is one where I feel I am always best dressed for. Plus its home to my birthday, so there is some bias involved. But until these past few weeks when I have actually made the effort to get up and go out and witness the season, I have not appreciated it this year. With my mind too focused on either the future or the past, never the present.


But now, I get up, put on my headphones and head out. And it has vastly improved the way I feel and think throughout the day. I realised recently I haven’t daydreamed in a while. Not the same as I use to anyway. My mind doesn’t wander casually, more like it just finds things to worry about. But on these walks I daydream again and it feels great.


I rediscover the walking etiquette greeting each people I walk past, eyeing them up from a distance to judge if they are worthy of a cheery “good morning” or just a nod. Or maybe just that weird eyebrow raise people do? Perhaps even all three if I can do so without looking like some kind of maniac? Suddenly the casual hello to the stranger I’ve walked past the last three days becomes a point of excitement.


It’s a strange feeling when you talk for the very first time of the day. In the first lockdown I realised that I can end up going for so long without saying a single word out loud. Then speaking for the first time of the day by saying hello to someone on my walk feels like I’m being thrown into the deep end. My voice sounds alien in my own mouth. I need a rehearsal to make sure I say hello correctly! I find myself constantly checking the time to make sure it is in fact still morning. No one looks more foolish than the guy who says “good morning” at 12:01.


In a time of my life where I feel like I have the least amount of control, I now have an activity and a routine that is completely mine and there is no way wrong to do it. I am in control. Slowly I find it easier to think and block out the negative thoughts I have and I begin to become acquainted with myself for what seems like the first time in a while.


These morning walks have also made me realise that I don’t listen to music that much right now. This has been intentional. Usually I would play it in my room all the time. But recently, most the songs I listen to make me sad. They take me back to times when I used to listen to them a lot or remind me of memories I associate with the songs.


But on my walk things are different. I listen to songs that I listened to in my first year of Uni. Around my year 11 exams. The first songs I played in my first car. Songs I discovered through Ex’s. Songs sent to me by my Brother. If I listened to a lot of these at home in my room then it would hurt. But on my walk I am able to just enjoy them.


Time doesn’t exist. On these walks a filter is applied to my mind to see lighter side of all these memories. To make all the issues seem so small and manageable. All I have is me, the outside and the songs. For a moment, my mind is at peace. I feel as if I have fallen in love with music again, now I spend evenings before my walk searching for the right album to download and provide the perfect soundtrack to my walk.


At this stage of my life the location does not matter, it wouldn’t matter where in the world I am. I start the day by being outside, moving and being in a situation in which I can think about the thoughts in my head without letting the anxiety consume me. I’m not saying I feel unbeatable or that it fuels me to go home and have the most productive day I have ever had. But through doing this very simple thing each morning I have improved my state of mind in many ways. It has retaught me something that I had lost sight of - the difference between time BY myself and time TO myself.


For over an hour a day and for the first time in my life, I give myself a break. Sometimes that’s all we can ask for.

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© 2020 by Mental Magazine