FOR Nick Ray, the sea has always felt like home. And it is at his home that he decided to return on May 3, 2019.
The kayaker, instructor and adventurer was on his way from Tobermory to a mental institution in Oban after the latest and fiercest attack of depression.
On a clear, windy day, he quietly left his wife Karen in the atrium of the MV Isle of Mull under the pretext of going to the bathroom. Instead, he walked up the stairs to the viewing platform. Anxious to avoid the gaze of the other passengers, he found a calm part of the ship. He took off his fleece jacket, put it on the deck and put his phone on it.
Dressed only in sneakers, pants and a thin t-shirt, he stepped through the security bar and perched on the edge of the boat. “Beneath me, the ship’s wake creamed seductively,” he later wrote. âWithout hesitation, I jump.
Fortunately, the alarm was raised and a rescue operation was launched. The cry of “man overboard” rose and the captain told the passengers to search the water for signs of life.
The scene is one I remember firsthand, having happened to be on the ship that day. I was returning with my brother Iain from a family vacation to Mull. Watching events unfold with a detached sense of helplessness, the minutes passed. With every second, the chances of a successful rescue diminished. Speedboats were launched from the MV Clansman. Eventually, a pink drop was spotted rippling over the waves a few hundred yards away. Nick’s stiff body was soon pulled from the water and returned to the boat, before taking off for dry land.
For us passengers at 1:30 p.m. leaving Craignure, it was the end of the drama. For Nick, whose internal temperature dropped to 35 degrees, putting his life in danger, it was the start of his recovery. It took months of intensive treatment to get him out of his last, deepest episode of depression. But now, during Mental Health Awareness Week, he is speaking out to help the countless others who are suffering like him.
READ MORE: Two-thirds of Scots say being close to nature improves their mood
Among these countless others is my brother Iain, 29, who, just four weeks before this extraordinary ferry trip, had tried his own life. He was in the bathroom – Nick’s stated destination – when Karen barged in, desperately looking for her husband. Deep down, she later remembered, she knew her husband was the man overboard.
Two years later, Iain, like Nick, learned to cope with his depression. Detailing his progress, Nick, 57, explains, âI was fortunate to have had great therapy thanks to the Community Mental Health team, which I think has transformed my recovery. I learned to relate to my depression, rather than trying to fight it all the time. I admit that I will become depressed. But it’s something I’m going to have to learn to live with. This is much better. I relate to it rather than trying to overcome it all the time.
Key to this recovery has been her relationship with nature, fostered during her childhood in Zimbabwe. He left Africa in the late 1970s and moved to Scotland 20 years ago before settling in Tobermory, where until recently he lived in a floating house in the harbor. Over the years, he has done everything from the Outward Bound adventure company to running a hotel to training in psychotherapy. For much of that time he was plagued with bouts of deep depression, having been first diagnosed in 1996. Recently he turned to writing, starting a touching and popular blog on his. adventures and struggles with sanity.
Nick’s primary passion remains traveling at sea in his trusty kayak. Videos taken on trips around Scotland’s west coast have earned him tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, with social media users delighted with his close encounters with porpoises, sharks and seabirds In addition to providing a physical escape, the outdoors provide spiritual comfort. âI’ve worked outdoors with people all my life, been a development trainer, and actually trained in psychotherapy,â he says. âI integrated my outdoor experiences with therapy. So I am very much aware of the personal development processes that play with the outdoors and the powerful nature of the outdoor experience.
READ MORE: Link found in Access to Outdoor Space and Mental Health via Covid
NICK’s vision is undoubtedly modern, but it matches the ideas of over 100 years ago. US President Theodore Roosevelt battled depression. He would escape into the wilderness – from the American West to the plains of East Africa – to seek revival in its darkest times. As he said, “Black Care rarely sits behind a runner whose pace is fast enough.”
While not everyone can count on exhilarating trips around the world, use of the great outdoors is at the heart of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with nature being the theme for 2021. two thirds of adults in Scotland say they are close. nature improves their mood, according to new research from the Mental Health Foundation Scotland. He now calls for action to ensure the provision of “safe and accessible green spaces”.
This post is fully endorsed by Nick, who hopes that telling his story can help others. “I know it’s hard for people to hear me speak [attempting to take his own life] but I’m happy that people are ready to listen, âhe explains. “It’s really helpful if we make it easier for people to talk about it.”
The 57-year-old says he doesn’t want anyone to be “ashamed” when he brings up the subject, and hopes people can turn to him for inspiration. âMaybe they turn to someone and say something about it because they’ve seen my blog or heard me speak on YouTube or whatever, they feel a little more comfortable about turn to someone and say “I feel like that sometimes too, you know”. ”
On the way back, it happened to me just under the iconic Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. This has to be one of the happiest and most joyful wildlife encounters I have had the chance to experience. (Video of this incredible moment to follow) ð pic.twitter.com/Cn9f2KhHgJ
– Nick Ray (@LifeAfloat) April 25, 2021
Getting to the point where he can be so honest and downright optimistic about his sanity hasn’t been easy for Nick. It is not easy for anyone either, as my brother can attest. But the adventurer – who has taken part in extreme yacht races, run marathons in the mountains and kayak the 1,850 miles of the Scottish coast – found a sense of inner peace, inspired by his surroundings.
The Zimbabwean man came to love his adopted homeland. In particular, the âmagicalâ coastal kingdom of Scotland, where land meets sea. âAs you paddle through these little coves you can see where the ancients pushed rocks away to create landing spots. Nearby I’ll find an Iron Age fort or something. It really connects me to the country’s history and its uniqueness.
He adds: âAnd, you know, we think about our heritage, Scotland being a nation in its own right in the UK, because of the uniqueness of our historical formation. It can be very romantic, but it’s also very grounded for me, it makes me feel like I really belong somewhere, which is incredibly important, especially since I grew up in a different country. So I really feel at home hereâ¦ it’s really important to me.
Two years ago, Nick felt at home under the waves. He now feels at peace on their crest.
For more details on Mental Health Awareness Week, visit mentalhealth.org.uk
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