Sam Espensen, co-owner and co-founder of Espensen Spirit, a range of naturally infused gins and vodkas and Bristol Spirit, a bar in Redfield, began walking as part of her recovery from CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). Here, she shares her experiences with walking.
How did you first get into walking and what part has it played in your recovery?
I’ve always walked – partly because I have had dogs most of my life but also because I grew up in Somerset, and it’s just something everyone I knew there did. In my early thirties I went through a really bad time – my father died, I got made redundant and I split up with an abusive partner – all within the space of a few months. I became depressed, very reclusive and shut off. One of the things I did to stop the negative thought patterns and to feel less lonely was to listen to podcasts, which were a new thing then. And the thing about podcasts is that they’re not usually a passive experience – people tend to listen to them while doing something else – so at weekends I started walking again while listening.
From a mental health perspective walking is brilliant, because it takes minimal effort (when you’re depressed you often have zero energy), and is something you can do on your own if you want to be by yourself. I’ve always been a solitary person and I think walking is a way for people like me to go out and experience life without having to interact with too many people – sadly society can still be a bit suspicious of solo people doing activities – however if you’re a sociable person there are endless people to talk to when you’re walking.
How does going for a walk make you feel? In what way does it change your state of mind?
Walking is my favourite form of exercise – it’s great for your body and soul. I was diagnosed with CPTSD a couple of years ago and I’ve just finished a year of trauma counselling at the wonderful Southmead Project. The CPTSD has a very physical effect on me and after counselling each week my brain and body would feel really raw and bruised. Walking really helped with that – it loosens the brain and the body and keeps it all moving and free. It really has become my go to activity; if you’re angry a brisk walk is great, and if you’re happy a walk is just wonderful too. Basically, a walk is perfect for any occasion! Professionally it really helps me too – if I am stuck on a problem it helps jog my brain, and I come up with most of my creative ideas while out walking.
What’s your walking routine now?
My walking routine has changed massively thanks to my dog, Shecky. He’s a small sausage dog (more of a chipolata, really!) and he really doesn’t enjoy going to parks or crowded places, so I have to accommodate that on our walks. I walk every day without fail, even if it’s just to work and back. It helps me the same way it always has – it feels like sloughing off responsibility for a bit and doing something that is solely for me.
Do you have any favourite spots in or around Bristol for a walk?
I suspect my walking habits are pretty different to most Bristol walkers and ramblers because of my dog and my anxiety. I don’t go to the park because there are lots of dogs off their leads, I don’t visit many of the lovely green spaces Bristol is known for because they’re so popular. Instead, my dog and I do lots of road walking around Redfield, Whitehall, St George, Kingswood, Speedwell and places like that. That might sound a bit boring but I love walking round looking at different architecture styles and having a good nose in people’s gardens. I also have a couple of secret places that are lovely and green and peaceful in my area – but they’re staying a secret!
What tips would you give anyone thinking of getting into walking who might be suffering from the same conditions as you?
I’m not going to say ‘just get out there and do it’ because if you have CPTSD that can be impossible, depending on how you’re feeling. If you suffer from hyper-vigilance, like I do, going out into spaces where the unexpected may happen can be terrifying and exhausting. Planning ahead can help this. The best piece of advice I can give about walking is that it really does help if you can do it – walking is basically free therapy. And I know I keep banging on about them, but if you do like the idea of listening to podcasts to stop brain chatter, the wonderful thing is you can find shows to listen to that are inspiring/therapeutic/educational or just funny. If you want all this in one package I highly recommend the Desert Island Discs archive.
Bristol Walk Fest, the UK’s largest celebration of urban walking, takes place from 1 – 31 May 2018. See what’s happening and when on our events calendar page.