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Mallerstang Photograph by Robert Duckworth

Healing with the outdoors

Friday 10 May, 2024, by Robert Duckworth

Forward from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Communications Team 

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from Monday 13 – Sunday 19 May 2024. The theme, as set by the Mental Health Foundation, is “Movement: moving for our mental health.” We think that the Yorkshire Dales National Park can help you move physically and mentally, and when we heard about Robert’s story and saw his photographs we thought this would be a motivational story to share with everyone. In Robert’s own words, “I hope my stories and photographs inspire you to enjoy life outdoors”. 

Robert’s words…

As I am getting older, I seem to suffer with my mental health a lot more. The more responsibilities and pressures that life throws at me, I find it difficult to handle and process. I can be forgetful and confused which is extremely frustrating, causing my brain to get tired because I don’t know how to deal with my emotions. I have had a traumatic brain injury for 17 years now and when I start to feel myself getting into a depressive/confused state, I take myself off to a space where I feel safe and content. A space where I turn my negative thoughts into something positive. A space that is quiet and peaceful and won’t judge me for being me. When I feel trapped and suffocated, and the world feels like a big thick dark cloud looming over my head. It’s the Yorkshire Dales that provides me the space I need to think and breathe. It’s here that I’m not distracted by the noisy world in which we live in. Social media, computers, phones, everyone competing with everyone else. Everywhere you look people are glued to their phones. Although social media can provide positive impacts, it can also provide negative ones too and I think we have lost touch with how we interact. For me, I use social media to show my photography work that I try and capture when I am outside – especially in the Dales. It’s the reason why I love coming back to the National Park so much. The picturesque countryside is characterised by its rolling hills, traditional dry-stone walls, geological rock formations, waterfalls, quaint barns, and vibrant meadows. I love it! Especially when you capture a sunrise or sunset!

It’s my medicine and gives me so much joy – especially when the pressure of life gets too much. Life is short, very short. I have learnt this through my own experiences, and I hope that my story can resonate with others, and inspire people to get outside and see the positive impacts that the outdoors has.

My Story

In the summer of 2007, 29th July. I was in a life-threatening car accident, leading to a severe head injury. I had only passed my test 2 weeks prior. Being able to drive is a form of freedom, and I thought the summer of 2007 was going to be the best one yet. Little did I know, at 5.35 pm on the 29th of July, my whole life changed. As I was pulling out of a junction, a 4×4 Range Rover Sport hit me side-on. My car was crushed and smashed on the other side of the road. I had blood coming out of my ears, my nose, and my mouth where I lost 6 pints of blood at the scene of the accident. From the scene, I was admitted to the Neuro Intensive care ward at Leeds General Infirmary and put into an induced coma for 4 weeks, fighting for my life. I had multiple organ failures, a fractured skull, a dislocated arm, a broken pelvis, a fractured lung, fractured ribs, and many other injuries that are too complicated to put down on paper. The pressure in my head became so serious I almost had brain surgery. Full of tubes and constantly having blood transfusions, the teams at the Neuro ICU at LGI were fantastic! Without the teams, and the hope from family, I wouldn’t be alive today. 

Since being discharged from the hospital on September 17th, 2007, I have had a very long but successful recovery. I’ve had to learn to walk, swallow and regain my speech to get back to normality. I’ve also had several operations to block off one of my main carotid arteries in my head. Where an urgent, very rare, and complicated operation was performed on me called an embolization. A coiling of 14 meters of platinum was placed in the carotid artery in my head to stop any further blood leaking – reducing the pressure and shutting off the artery. I now have 3 carotid arteries instead of 4.

However, despite the trauma, heartbreak and not knowing if I’d survive. I have come out of the other side to tell the tale. Some days can be worse than others. When I can’t think straight and have a foggy brain. I have learnt what takes me away from being in a negative depressive state. I take myself outside, with my camera, to places like the Yorkshire Dales. It gives me a moment to pause, breathe, relax, and concentrate on the present and appreciate the joy of living. I’ll be forever grateful for the national park and what it has given me.

Robert is a photographer and we have shared some of his images in this blog.

Read more about Robert’s story and see more of his photography on his website

Picture of Robert Duckworth

Robert Duckworth

Robert is a guest blogger. Robert enjoys getting outdoors in the Yorkshire Dales. He is the author of the website, Life and Times of a Yorkshire Lad.

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