Blazing the Trails for Mental Health
Since January 2016, Jenae Johnston has established a strong eco-brand Bushwalk the ‘Gong in Wollongong, NSW. A strong ambassador for outdoor women, Jenae embraces a healthy and nature-conscious lifestyle that encourages a tribe of followers, of all demographics, to get out and explore the local natural landscape.
Over ten years ago though her story was somewhat different. Jenae was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression three weeks post birth of her second child. Like most who suffer, her journey to recovery has not been smooth. If you think the analogies she uses to describe it, dead ends, rocky, treacherous and false pathways she has a connection to the outdoors, she does. It featured prominently in her healing.
We caught up with Jenae and she tell's us just how much being outdoors helped with her recovery.
Often the things we are close to or passionate about can lead us to pursue something beyond our comfort zone. How is it that creating awareness of Mental Health through adventure has become a purpose of yours?
As with most new things, my pursuit of rediscovering bushwalking again later in life started slowly. A walk here and there once a month, walking on trails I hadn't been on since being a teenager.
The first time I stepped back onto the trail I rediscovered my passion of nature through photography. I chose to share these private moments on social media, via my iphone. The thrill of being back in nature wholly, without preconceived ideas or notions of trying to fit into any genre or a certain look took a grip, I started craving getting out in nature more e and sharing more of my experience.
It wasn't until a few months in, that I realised it was my mental health that was craving getting back to nature. Each time I went out I became more relaxed, more adventurous, the photography more technical and the next logical step was inviting like-minded souls to join me.
Through meeting other people on my group walks I realised that many have similar personal experiences and were looking for channels to meet new people, be in a supportive environment and challenge themselves to improve their current outlook. I have an immense fear of heights and claustrophobia, but becoming more adventurous in my walks has allowed those fears to reduce over time - that has been due to the support of other people outdoors. Being honest and public with my fears, choices and personal stories has allowed others to understand that having a mental illness doesn't have to be a hidden struggle. You canbe active with other people who understand. The more I spoke out on my social pages, the more I realised that people needed to hear these local stories, they needed inspiration to get outdoors and acknowledgement that what they were feeling was in fact normal for many people. People responded, sharing there stories in return and showing support for one another.
This has been more satisfying than any popularity on social media, doing something that provides meaning and allows people to positively change their lives is the biggest compliment there can be.
What is it you hope to achieve, in what ways do you envisage it to help and/or create change?
I hope to encourage people to pursue happiness through nature. Through Bushwalk the Gong. I encourage safe, adventurous and beautiful walks, with friends, family or groups. The walks i run, numbers are small and intimate, encouraging quiet time, conversation and friendship. The support, honesty and openness has been encouraging to many people. Its important to me continue to project that through my posts, photography and blogs.
Bushwalk the 'Gong also encourages healthy body imagery and honesty. No images are photoshopped or staged. I'm wearing appropriate hiking gear with wrinkles and all.
I feel it becomes particularly inappropriate on social media when "adventure" sites become obsessed with posting sexy, unrealistic images. The obsession to show skin to get likes is troublesome. There is no shame in showing skin, but many of these images have no relationship with the environment and are clearly aiming for popularity rather than authenticity. There is no positive here. To encourage people to go outdoors, its important they feel there is no standard of what is expected from them to be, look and feel. Being in nature is about being true to yourself, within your own limitations and in your own skin. Above all I encourage this and will continue to do so, through photos of my comfortable hiking gear and cellulite.
How has the pursuit of Bushwalk the Gong helped and changed you?
Starting Bushwalk the 'Gong has been a reflection of me personally, I started this project with no expectations, no end point. By doing so I have grown immensely. I have understood what it's meant to be a role model, something I never expected. Thankfully, I haven't had to change to be this person, my age, maturity and positive outlook for women and the environment has made it a fulfilling and natural journey. By understanding my position in the media and online, I've taken on board the responsibility to ensure important messages are being reflected to the public and have actively discouraged poor environmental practices, dangerous activities and have promoted a positive body image, the importance of being real and true to yourself. By understanding these values I've felt a lot more comfortable in my own skin, comfort in my own personal views and encouragement from many people who see the value to society for what I give. Personally my place in nature has become a lot more comfortable, to the point where I have taken the plunge to travel to Nepal on my own trekking, something I had always wanted to do but never had the courage.
What would you like others to know and or understand about Mental Health and it’s relationship to Nature/Adventure/Outdoors?
In my personal journey, I've realised that maintaining positive mental health is just as important as physical health. It is something that needs regular maintenance. I believe it's unrealistic to think that anyone person can live life without having times where things felt hopeless, or you thought you couldn't make it through another day.
Thankfully there are so many options on how to deal with these times and awareness and treatment is becoming moreavailable for everyone.
It's very important for individuals to really understand the true healing potential of being in nature. For many of us the reality much of our time is spent under fluorescent lights, 5 days a week. This has a negative impact on our mental health and physical body. Just 20min in a park, near a natural water source or in a forest is all it takes to recharge your mental health and provide a solid platform for healing and strength to carry on each day.
How can others help you on your mission?
Encouraging activities that promote positive experiences in nature for all involved while avoiding and discouraging social media sites that actively promote unrealistic images of women in nature or are posting these images as a means for popularity.
Caring for your own mental health is a personal journey, don't feel compelled to announce it over social media, but encourage those who do with kindness, this is more healing for you than them. Share your adventures in nature, join an established bushwalking club or group that has all the appropriate experience, first aid and insurances to ensure a safe and supportive environment. The National Parks Association is a great starting point.