How embracing the great outdoors pulled Kelly back from the brink of despair

Co Tyrone woman Kelly Baxter says hiking saved her life
Co Tyrone woman Kelly Baxter says hiking saved her life

Reporter STEPHEN GAMBLE tells how hiking played a pivotal part in saving one Co Tyrone woman’s life

For some, hiking can be a great way to alleviate stress and give your mind a much-needed boost.

Members of the Soul Girls Adventure group

Members of the Soul Girls Adventure group

For Kelly Baxter, it saved her life.

The 35-year-old mum had struggled with her mental health for years, feeling deeply depressed, isolated and utterly hopeless.

“Everyday felt like a nightmare, I used to cry every morning, just for the fact I had another day to survive. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted and questioned everything about my life,” she said.

After a failed suicide attempt, the Gortin woman woke up in hospital with her family by her bedside.

It was in that moment that she realised just how sick she was and was determined to piece her life back together.

“I had a young family who needed me, I didn’t want to die,” she told the News Letter.

While she had some input from the mental services as an inpatient, Kelly said she was discharged from hospital with no follow up.

“I felt like I was entirely on my own and was determined to get better,” she said.

Desperate to get her life back on track, Kelly turned to the freedom of the great outdoors.

“Hiking became my therapy,” she explained.

“I remember climbing mount Errigal for a charity event and how much freedom I felt from it and so I dragged myself up the mountains, as much as I possibly could, I would go exploring and it was here that I finally felt free.

“The mountains asked nothing of me, they stood strong while I tried to figure my life out. I slowly started getting stronger, I pieced my life back to together, one step, one day and one mountain at a time.”

Then again six months ago, she felt her health dipping again. Those familiar feelings of depression and isolation came creeping back, and it terrified her.

She added: “I knew I may not be as lucky to survive a second time, there is a fine line between wanting to live and wanting to die when you are in that dark place and so I reached out for help very quickly.

“Turning to family and friends, I opened up about my struggles. And I turned to the one thing that helped me the most, hiking. Again the mental health service had little input, with over a year waiting list to see any therapist, it was up to me to help myself.”

She hiked whenever she could; it was the only thing that quietened her mind.

And it was on the mountains that she started to think of other women who had gone through similar struggles.

“There must be other ladies out there, feeling lost, isolated and questioning themselves,” Kelly continued.

“If I could reach them somehow, and bring them with me hiking, let them know there is hope and they are not alone, to share my experiences and what helped me.”

Skip ahead two years and Kelly has completely turned her life around from those dark days when she felt hopeless.

She has even started up her own Facebook group, ‘Soul Girls Adventure’ to allow other women to join her on her journey.

“The human species thrives with being in a tribe, and so I created my own tribe, an adventure group for women, where together we are stronger in numbers,” Kelly said.

“We hike, meditate and practice yoga. We support and encourage each other, we build each other up and make friends along the way.

“For a few hours, I’m helping them make their escape, to not feel alone, and have lots of fun along the way. I want to create a movement of women, enjoying the great outdoors, where we look out for each other and our mental health.”

The group has hiked all over, including Donegal, the Sperrins, and the Mournes and have some great adventures coming up, such as the Slieve League cliffs, a sunset hike with prosecco overlooking Binevenagh, and a hike and yoga in Fermanagh.

Kelly concluded: “Watching friendships grow is incredible. Seeing girls come solo, nervous and doubting themselves, to reaching a summit with new friends and laughter is what inspires me everyday.

“I get an incredible natural high from watching this tribe grow into something beautiful, all I can do is the best I can with what I’ve got in the world we live in, and to let others know, there is hope, you just got to look for it. “

• Soul Girls Adventure can be found on Facebook and Instagram.