Landscape photographer Mark Piasecki talks about his mental health issues during lockdown and how visiting the Scottish Highlands saved his life.
I’ve tried to write an opening to this piece at least a dozen times, trying not to sound too dramatic or intense, but the reality is that the last year has been dramatic and intense. So why water it down - the highlands quite literally saved my life.
At the start of this year there were a few things that happened in my life that brought to the surface a lot of mental health issues that had been brewing for a while. I unfortunately didn’t handle them well and ended up in a hard downward spiral that pretty well broke me. I have never felt more alone in my life than I did over the next few months.
The lockdown that started just after Christmas was brutal, being locked up in my flat for months made everything worse. I couldn’t work (I am a landscape photographer) so had no way of keeping occupied or at the very least distracted. Over this period I really really struggled to be by myself, something I used to be great at. I dreaded the long days alone in the flat, but also couldn’t make myself go out and see my friends unless pushed to it. This is when my mental health hit its lowest.
Finally after what felt like an eternity, we were allowed to travel outside of our council areas and see the highlands again. I took the first opportunity I could to drive out of the city and get lost in the hills. I drove five hours out to Lochinver so that I could see Suilven and a few of the surrounding areas. I didn’t even end up hiking, just parked and sat watching the way the light hit the mountainside.
For the first time in months I felt at peace being alone. I made four more solo trips in the space of a month. Heading out to places along the north-west coast and hiking a dozen munros in the process. While hiking I lost myself in the effort, hauling my camera gear to the top of each Munro, each milestone. Despite being alone out there, I was able to breathe properly and feel mentally rested.
It was over these few months that I came to realise the importance of being able to get out into the wild. While the lockdowns had been on and I was stuck indoors my mental wellbeing tanked, but as soon as I was able to wander the hills and take in the incredible beauty this country has on offer I got some of my focus back and made headway in my mental health journey.
Of course everyone is different, but for me the Scottish highlands are a haven for healing. The land is harsh and the weather unforgiving, but without the raw feeling of nature on my skin and under my feet I don’t think I would have made it to where I am now. I have a lot left to heal, but with the hills always calling I believe I’ll get there soon.
North Hold Photography
On a related note, while I was out in the Scottsh Highlands I realised I wanted to contribute to helping preserve these wild lands for the folk who will need them in the future. Currently I am working on a project called Northern Home - a fine art exhibition featuring landscape panoramas from around Scotland with the print sale profits going directly to the John Muir Trust to help aid them in their mission of conserving wild lands. I am so excited about the project and if you would like to hear more please feel free to visit my website that has more details.