Heading off solo to walk and wild camp has never been an issue for Stephie Boon. Her resilience has had its fair share of use however, particularly with bringing up a son with Asperger’s. Stephie’s need to be outside and her first-hand experiences with her own mental health are discussed, including the darker side of depression. Although a confident hiker, Stephie shares her fears about backpacking and the grisly moment she was faced with the realisation that she had embarked on a new journey – that of early menopause.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 00:17
Hello, and welcome back to the HeadRightOut Podcast. This is the show that hopefully will launch you into doing something that is way beyond your comfort zone. Something that you never believed you were capable of doing. Perhaps there’s just a little seed of an idea growing and hopefully this is going to be the show that will spur you on that will give you the encouragement that you need to HeadRightOut. Now today, I have a lovely, lovely guest, somebody who I’ve been friends with online for many years. Her name is Stephie Boon, and I have to say she is so honest in her conversation with me, particularly about her experiences with mental health. I should add here that we do talk about the darker side of depression, anxiety, and feelings of suicide. So if you are not in the right frame of mind to listen, please feel free to skip this episode for another day when you’re feeling in a better place. That said, Stephie is still very keen for women who suffer with depression to hear her story and understand that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. There ARE ways of coping and learning to manage this debilitating illness. We also touch on early menopause and living with a son with Aspergers and how above everything else, hiking just fuels our souls… and challenges… well, they help us to push us out of our comfort zone and they help to give us focus. There’s a lot of things that Stephie and I have in common, and in addition to we both love hiking, we both feel the same about challenges, and funnily enough, we both have a degree in Fine Art in fact, Steffi has got post-grad in Fine Art. So we just have very similar viewpoints. It’s a wonderful conversation, go and have a listen. Enjoy.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 02:21
Okay, and welcome everybody, back to the HeadRightOut Podcast. My name is Zoe Langley-Wathen and I am here today with another wonderful guest. Today I am going to be chatting to Stephie Boon and I have a wee bio here to read out for you so Stephie lives in Cornwall, she spends a lot of time on the coast path. A woman after my own heart. She’s been a walker and backpacker for as long as she can remember. One of her most significant past challenges was to hike the Inca Trail, before her fortieth birthday. She made it at thirty-eight! It was a charity track and the biggest part of the challenge was the fundraising.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:00
Nowadays she solo hikes and wild camps in the UK. At the moment her goal is to backpack all the national trails before she reaches sixty. So far she’s completed the South West Coast Path, Offa’s Dyke Path, the Cotswold Way, the South Downs Way, the Pedders Way and Norfolk Coast Path, and she says she’s gradually working her way south to north. Stephie has an MA in Fine Art and always takes a sketchbook with her on her hikes. She plans to make a series of national trail paintings and possibly sell or publish them. Stephie shares her expertise and guides over on her website and on her blog, 10MileHike. She also suffers with serious episodes of depression, which was first treated for her in her early twenties. She’s very open about this on her social media and within her blog, and she hopes that by sharing her experiences, she may inspire others to overcome personal difficulties and step out of their comfort zones. After all, life is just too precious not to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. There’s also an article over on the 10MileHike blog called ‘Fears Laid Bare‘ and I’ll put the link to that in the show notes. It really does bear all, particularly about the biggest challenge that Stephie is facing at the moment, that she says is literally scaring the living daylights out of her. And that’s something we’ll come to in a moment. Stephie, welcome to HeadRightOut.
Stephie Boon 04:23
Hi Zoe, and thank you so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 04:29
It is an absolute pleasure and delight for me too and I should let the listeners know that we have been friends on social media for how long? Probably four or five years maybe?
Stephie Boon 04:39
Yeah, long time.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 04:41
Feels like a long time and we feel like we know each other so well. We’ve had lots of conversations back and forth, and lots of support for one another and lots of Insta love. And now this is the first time that we’ve actually spoken… I want to say face-to-face.Well, this is as close as face-to-face as we’re gonna get at the moment – it’s Zoom-to-Zoom.
Stephie Boon 05:04
Live, I think is what we can call it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:08
Stephie Boon 05:08
In real time.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:10
So, Stephie, where did it all start with your love for hiking? You know you’re setting out to cover all of these trails, but have you been hiking from a really early age?
Stephie Boon 05:20
Actually, this is quite interesting. I was sixteen when I went on my first backpacking trip with a couple of school friends, and we went to the South Downs Way. It was just a few days and we were just wandering around, as teenagers do completely clueless, just having as much fun as possible. But then, earlier this year, I realised it was forty years since my first backpacking trip, and I decided to celebrate that by going back to the South Downs. And I walked the South Downs Way, which is part of what I walked when I was a teenager. So I decided I’d stay at one of the youth hostels that we’d stayed at when I was young, as it was a bit of an anniversary. An anniversary hike.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 06:17
And a trip down memory lane too.
Stephie Boon 06:20
Yes, yeah. It was really funny actually, because my memories of that trip was bright sunshine, and hot and beautiful scenery. And this time it just rained. And storms, big winds, forty-fifty mile an hour winds. So a very different experience.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 06:42
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because very often, when people are recounting their stories from their teenage hiking experiences or camping experiences, very often it’s the other way around. You know, they had an awful time and their feet hurt, they had blisters and it rained like the devil, and they swore they would never, ever do it again. And “how dare they” whoever ‘they’ were, you know, perhaps it was parents or school, “how dare they make me do this”? So you had an amazing experience by the sounds of it.
Stephie Boon 07:15
It was. I always have really good memories of it. Just getting out into the countryside, just seeing these amazing views, that I’d never experienced before. And just feeling completely at home really. That was realising I think that I was most at home in the outdoors, and walking, cycling, whatever it might be.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 07:40
Yeah, I can relate to that. At home in the outdoors. Definitely. So how long was it before you then went off and did another hike?
Stephie Boon 07:48
Oh, probably quite a long time. Years, I would think. I did a cycling/bike-packing trip afterwards, which again wasn’t particularly far. I think it was about a week, something like that, again along the south coast, all along the Seven Sisters. Then I went to art school, and most of the walks that I was doing then really were around the coast path and still cycling, but no major goals, I suppose. Everything else seemed to be… my focus was very much art at the time. That was just my absolute passion, I think was art. But I was still drawing the landscape walking in and drawing. You know, taking everything with me and drawing outside. Then we did the usual holidays. Walking holidays just in this country – Lake District mostly.
Stephie Boon 08:50
Then I had my son and it became family camping holidays on Exmoor, wild camping on Dartmoor. I think the first time I went solo wild camping was probably twelve years ago now and haven’t looked back since. That’s when hiking became a thing I felt I needed to do.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 09:16
So in some ways, then although you had met and identified with hiking a long time ago, would it be correct to say that you didn’t really feel the need for it – you didn’t identify with it as something that made you feel better in your life until midlife?
Stephie Boon 09:33
I think I did realise that, but I don’t think I realised that it could give me the challenges that it does. And it’s the challenge that I thrive on now. I think previously it was mainly enjoyment, you know about being outside and just loving nature and knowing that when I was feeling ill that was where most people might think you retreat inside, but I retreated outside. It’s just where I felt the need to be. And I’ve always escaped to the outdoors. on my own.
Stephie Boon 10:12
It was my way of just being – allowing myself to just be. It wasn’t, I think, until I started really wild camping on my own, that I saw that I could create these challenges, which is what excites me now. And how you can overcome personal difficulties, it’s a wonderful place to step outside your comfort zone, and to show it’s a really odd phrase, but to prove to yourself, what you’re made of, really, and what you can do. And it’s funny, I’d never thought of myself as a resilient person at all. I’ve never felt that I bounced back from things particularly quickly. But I realised over the years, I’m actually a very tenacious person, and I will hang on and push myself through when things are very difficult, whether that’s hiking or life in general, I feel the need to just grip hard onto things. And just a sheer determination will get me through difficult things.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 10:20
It’s so wonderful to hear you talking like that Stephie, because I, actually in hearing a lot of what you’re saying, I feel it could be me talking, there are so many things there that I connect with, and in particular, the needing a challenge. I mean, I didn’t discover until I was forty, that it was actually the challenge that I thrive on. So yeah, doing, yeah, going off long distance walking, facing some of those things that are perhaps out of my comfort zone, and that I had perhaps avoided previously, suddenly, it’s like, oh, gosh, this is this is what I need. I love being outdoors. But the challenge is definitely what I need. And it sounds like yes, that it is for you too. It’s fabulous.
Stephie Boon 12:08
I think when I hiked the Inca Trail, I’d run a business for fourteen years, and we made hand-painted kitchens and furniture. So time was very precious, you had very little free time, and I was just determined that before the age of forty, I was going to do something that was challenging, and was something I’d always dreamed of doing, which was trekking or hiking in an environment that I had never been in before. And I think when I did that, and the physical challenges are huge, you know, hiking at altitude, that you’re not used to. People dropping like flies from altitude sickness, and that’s really not something that you can predict. You either get, it or you don’t. It’s just one of those things. It’s got nothing to do with fitness or health. And I was lucky, I didn’t have that. So I did plod along these really high places, and the feeling of euphoria that you have when you get to the top and you look down and you think, ‘I’ve done that, I’ve walked that’. That was the realisation, I think that it’s actually the challenge that I love.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 13:35
But it took a while then I think to find other challenges, because of other life difficulties. Now I had a long term relationship just fell apart. I was with my son’s father for twenty-three years. After the business collapsed, then we collapsed, and I think it just took a long time to find who I was amongst all that fairly negative, extremely stressful part of life. Yeah, I feel like I’ve come out of all of that on the other side, but there are lots of other challenges and that’s due to health and finances, basically. Yeah.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:22
Wow, there’s a lot in there that I’d like to just tease into if that’s, okay?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:28
All of those things that you go through as well in life, particularly that relationship split, and I can totally relate to that, because that happened to me some years ago, and at the time, I was just in the wilderness and didn’t know where I was going, who I was, what I was going to do, and I just felt like my whole world had fallen apart. That was a long term relationship too. But I think now in hindsight, I can see how I’ve learned from it, how I’ve benefited from it and each of those painful episodes have just added to my colorful tapestry of life. And I talk about life as being like a tapestry. And it’s a bit floppy to begin with, because we don’t have many skeins of thread in that tapestry. But the more skeins of thread that are added, the stronger it becomes, and the more resilient we become. And it just builds up our coping mechanisms and our ability to be able to manage a situation next time, it might not be a similar situation. But I think it just builds us and it also makes us more aware of other people’s situations, it gives us more empathy, which I think is also important as people, you know, we obviously need that.
Stephie Boon 14:28
Zoe Langley-Wathen 15:40
It’s interesting, so you’ve talked about going through some difficult times, and then finding things that would help you. Finding yourself. Finding challenge. But you talk about fears, things that scare you on your blog, and I’d like to tease back into that in relation to what you’ve just been talking about. How have those fears affected you, and would you like to talk to us about what those fears are?
Stephie Boon 16:09
Yeah, when you suffer from regular bouts of long periods of depression, and feeling suicidal, I’ve had significant periods of my life where I’ve been in the mental health system with CPNs (community psychiatric nurse) for years and years, and one of the things that being in that situation is that it’s very difficult to have a regular income, because there are periods where you can’t work. I haven’t worked for a very long time, because of illness, and because of another issue that I have. This is something I don’t talk about a great deal, but my son has Asperger’s, and it affects him mostly with really high anxiety. And that puts constraints on what I can do. I spend a lot of time anxious about him, I spend an awful lot of time being anxious about money and finances, and I am living on the bare minimum, basically, you cannot say, at all. So I have this little pot of savings. And I’ve been keeping it as an emergency fund. But it’s really strange because this money is tiny. It’s sat there for a couple of years doing nothing. And you suddenly think, ‘well, what am I going to do, am I gonna leave that there for another five years and do nothing and not experience life in the way that is meaningful to me? Or am I just going to overcome the fears that I have of spending some of that money on investing in myself and my own wellbeing mental health?’ And this year, I have walked three national trails using some of those savings, and it has scared the living daylights out of me. I mean, it really has because you feel well, I have nothing, what if something else goes wrong. And now I just think Well, as I said to I think a word I’ve always used to describe myself is ‘tenacious’, and I just think if something else happens, I’ll just hang on in there until I can find a solution. So why not just invest in in myself and go out, jump in feet first, and do something that hopefully will inspire other people or might inspire other people. But even now just talking about spending some of that money doing hiking, I can feel myself shaking, thinking ‘oh my god, what if, what if!’
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:01
But I’m so pleased that you did actually take some of that, to go off and do those trails. I mean, I was following you throughout the summer, and even up until just a couple of weeks ago when you finished your last walk and I could see how much you were benefitting from it. Did the fear subside whilst you are actually out on the trail?
Stephie Boon 19:21
Oh, I didn’t give it a thought. Not a single thought! It’s just when I get back home and my world feels very, very small, when I’m at home. I don’t have a car. Travel is not easy using public transport. So I think when your world is small, you tend to… I particularly… focus on the negative or I focus on the more difficult things, whereas when I’m outside and you’re looking at this beautiful, spacious environment, you become spacious yourself.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 20:02
I love that. I absolutely love that. When you’re outside, you become spacious. And it fills your soul, doesn’t it?
Stephie Boon 20:09
It really does, it feels like your whole body is this space to fill it up with wonderful things, whereas when I’m at home, I feel small and withered. I’m sitting here and I’m imagining a funnel on the top of my head, and trying to fill that funnel with good things. But when I’m at home, my body feels so small, and that there’s not enough space to put anything else in, because I’m constantly worrying about how I’m going to get through the day, how I’m going to get through the next week. Whereas when I’m outside that just goes and you can fill up with life; with what life actually is. Where it’s meaningful, where you are, where you really feel you ARE part of nature, you ARE nature. You’re not separate from it, which I think is what our society forcing us into these small spaces does. It disconnects us from what we really are, which is part of nature.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 21:21
We are one hundred percent that, and a lot of people don’t see that, because it’s very much about the material things. We’re a very commercial world, aren’t we? Sadly.
Stephie Boon 21:31
Zoe Langley-Wathen 21:32
Just then going back to how you feel out on a trail, compared to how you feel when you’re indoors. You know, you said you’re feeling very small, very withered. It sounds like you’re feeling very restricted, whereas when you’re outside, you’re feeling free. If you are planning… so let’s say you’re indoors, and you’ve been indoors for months, but you suddenly have an idea to walk a trail, but you know, you can’t do it for another, say another six weeks. If you are then focused on planning that trail, does that change your mindset? Does that change how you frame your day and how you feel.
Stephie Boon 22:13
Zoe, I plan NOTHING!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 22:15
Oh Stephie, I love you!
Stephie Boon 22:20
It’s terrible, the thing for me is complete freedom. You cannot plan for the unexpected. I think being completely free is about having no plans at all. The plans I have are the day I leave, and the day I will come back, how I’m going to travel. I’ve worked out roughly how many miles on average I will need to walk whilst I’m away. But then when I’m away, I might think I’m going to walk twenty-five miles today and I’ll do eleven the next day, because there’s somewhere I’d like to spend some time, or I might be hiking along and I’m wild camping, and you might find a wonderful place where you’d like to stop that might be, I don’t know, five miles short of where you were planning to get to that day. But because you have the flexibility, and you don’t have the fixed plans, you can do that.
Stephie Boon 23:25
So the planning for me, I think, when I’m at home is planning, when I’m going to go, how I’m going to do it, it’ll be planning, and I’m really not very good at this, but planning the things that I need to take on my back, that will sustain me, give me shelter over the time that I’m away. And I’ve only just really begun to think, ‘right well, next year, I am going to do X, Y and Z’. And I’m going to try I guess you could say that the trouble with doing what I’ve done this summer is that once you’ve had that experience, you really want more.
Stephie Boon 24:12
The only way I’m going to be able to do that is if I can afford the train fares. So I’m trying my best to put a plan in place so that I can afford some train fares, next year. That’s where my planning comes.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 24:29
Yeah, I can understand that. And you’re creative – you’re creative in so many ways. So I’m sure you’ll work out something that will make that happen for you. As far as the anxiety goes, and I’m really sorry to hear that you have gone down into that deepest, darkest pit that has taken you to thoughts of suicide. I know this will potentially be a trigger for quite a few people.
Stephie Boon 24:58
Yeah. I hope that my experiences will enable people to see that you can come through, even though in those darkest times you feel like, there’s never going to be a way out.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 25:14
Do you have people? Were you’re dealing with this alone?
Stephie Boon 25:18
I have a strong medical support. It gets that bad at times, and I know that I can always find and access that support when I need it. Whereas I think a lot of people going into realising that they need help, more help than friends or family can give, I think it’s difficult to know where to go to find that. But I’ve always had access to that through my GP, through the mental health team, psychiatrists, therapists, all of these things, but I went through a particularly low period last year, and I changed medication again, which is a constant theme. I changed medication again earlier this year. And it takes a few months for that to hit, for that to work. But I think that after so many decades of this kind of illness, I’m only just beginning to realise the thought processes or what’s happening around me that indicate that I need to seek help before I get further down into that cycle. And that can be things like, I might notice that all I’m eating is bread and pasta – so carbs. Or that I really don’t feel like going outside. That’s a big one for me, when I know that the thing that I know, helps maintain mood at a reasonable level, when I feel that the motivation to do that, the energy to help myself in that way, I know that I need to go and find help.
Stephie Boon 27:19
So, to go back to the beginning of this complete ramble, my hope is that if somebody feels that I’m talking about triggering things, that I am proof, I suppose that you can come through these things – again and again. And that’s not to diminish how difficult it is, because it’s really tough. It’s really tough.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 27:46
So you can get through it, I get a sense that you’re saying that you CAN get through it. It’s not necessarily something that goes away. It’s something that you are living with.
Stephie Boon 27:55
Zoe Langley-Wathen 27:55
But you learn to recognise the warning signs, and you now know what to do, where to get help, how to handle your own mental health, to ensure that you don’t end up in the bottom of that pit again.
Stephie Boon 28:12
Yeah, yeah and I think I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I think that if you go through cycles of depression, constantly, throughout a life, then that’s what you need to do. That’s what I’ve learned through therapy, is help to understand the changes around me to notice them, so that I can step in and help myself.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 28:41
Stephie Boon 28:41
Zoe Langley-Wathen 28:43
Yeah, well, yes, so that is an important one, isn’t it? And did you find that things became harder for you throughout your son’s childhood years, both with your mental health and being able to get outside and do those things that you needed or wanted to do? Could you get out for walks? Could you handle things when your son was young, because obviously, having children is a challenge in its own right, but having a son with Asperger’s is another layer of challenge as well.
Stephie Boon 29:18
He wasn’t diagnosed until he was seventeen, so I just thought he was a pain in the bum.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 29:29
That’s probably how half the teachers described him as well!
Stephie Boon 29:33
Yeah. Oh, yeah. When you look back and his father has Asperger’s, and again, he was diagnosed as an adult, but when you look back, you can see all the… you can see it there. I mean, it’s as plain as day. But it wasn’t really until… and I think this is quite typical of Asperger’s and autism. It wasn’t until my son went through big changes in HIS life, so changing schools, moving from school to sixth form college, and then on to university; it’s when those things happen, that the stress that you go through is huge. Because understanding what he’s dealing with, it’s like, trying to understand an alien.
Stephie Boon 30:27
Try as you might, you can never completely put yourself in someone else’s shoes, whatever their shoes might be, whether it’s chronic pain, or illness or something like Asperger’s. I split with my son’s dad when when my son was ten, and it was probably actually easier in some respects, because we co-parented. So my son was with me for a week, and then he was with his dad for a week, and we lived only three miles apart from each other. But because I had that week, that was when I was able to walk, get out on the coast, and just recharge, I suppose as batches. But it was never, I think that was definitely more walking for health, rather than walking for a ‘challenge’, and to fill my soul. I recognise that it does fill my soul.
Stephie Boon 31:34
One of the things, it’s a bit mad, really, but if I notice that my mood is dropping, I think everybody tells you that walking is good for mental health. I’ve got to go walking every single day. Then I go into overdrive and I’m walking fifteen miles every day. And it’s just getting the balance right, isn’t it? But yeah, so when my son was younger, I think walking was more about health. Obviously it was pleasurable, but it was much more about maintaining an even keel through life rather than the challenges that I know I’ve always enjoyed. And I’ve always enjoyed doing them alone.
Stephie Boon 32:25
I think actually, I was thinking about this prior to this chat with you. When I was young, I was a teenager, a young teenager. And I remember thinking, I’d asked someone to do something with me, I can’t even remember what it was now, but they didn’t want to do it. And I remember thinking, Well I have to do this on my own then, because if I don’t do things on my own, there’s no guarantee that somebody else has the same interests as me or wants to do the same things as me. So am I going to deny myself the things that might be pleasurable or fulfilling simply because I don’t have somebody to hold my hand? I think that that has been my mantra I suppose throughout my life, as you cannot expect somebody else to come along with you, because you need someone to hold your hand. You have to jump in and be your own friend. That sort of manifests itself in the simplest of things, like I will go to the cinema on my own and I have friends who say how do you do that? How on earth can you go on your own? I think ‘I go to a ticket booth, I buy a ticket, I go and sit in the dark. and I watch a film!’
Stephie Boon 33:44
Or you know, how can you get into a pub on your own? How can you go to a cafe on your own? It’s just those little things that then enable you to think, ‘oh yeah, I can do that. I can go swimming on my own I can do this on my own maybe I can do the next bigger thing on my own’. Because if I want to go wild camping, which is what I love, absolutely love and I did a fair bit of it on Dartmoor with my son and his dad. And I thought after we split up will this just stop now because I don’t have somebody to do it with? And I thought ‘no, it damn well doesn’t! You get out there and you do it on your own’. And it’s been THE most liberating, wonderful thing. To know that you’re doing something that you love and nobody else has been affected by your needs to fulfill your own needs.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 34:52
Yes, but I remember how freeing how liberating it was when I wild camped for the first time and then I just thought ‘why have I left it so long. This is absolutely amazing whatever was I frightened of?’
Stephie Boon 35:04
Zoe Langley-Wathen 35:05
And what I love hearing you talk, Stephie is, you know, you’re somebody who clearly was resilient as a child as a teenager. I mean, you had those foundations there already. And I know, actually, I guess a lot of children do – not all – but a lot of children do. But it does break down as we get older, yeah, by culture, or by the people we’re with, or just by chemical makeup in our body. But what I love so much hearing you talk, is to hear the fact that you still have these struggles, in one hand. You are somebody who is very open about struggling with their mental health. And yet, in the other hand, you are fighting everything that’s in this hand… in the right hand you are fighting it, and you’re saying, ‘No! I have got to go and do this. Because if I don’t do this, I might not get the chance to, because other people may not want to come with me, why should I off-load MY dreams and MY ideas onto other people? This is my thing!’ And I love that those two actually work in harmony, they work in balance with one another. Because, you know, I come from a family where my mother suffers with mental health problems and has done for years and years. So I understand, and I understand from her standpoint, that she does retreat indoors and she doesn’t go out. She can’t now because of her age. You know, she is housebound. But for many, many years, she wasn’t able to go out because her head told her she couldn’t go out. And this is what I am just so pleased that you have found that – that you have found a way to say no, my head is actually bringing me down. I know I need to go out.
Stephie Boon 37:00
Yeah, it’s just, I still go out with constraints. As I said, my son has severe anxiety. So when I’m hiking, I’m having to… I get text from him. Where are you? Where are you wild camping? He’s never happier than when I go to a campsite. And I’m never more miserable than when I’m on a campsite!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 37:32
Yes. I know that feeling.
Stephie Boon 37:35
We’ve worked out… I mean, he’s twenty-three. His is no longer a child, but he does live at home. So we have this agreement that I will let him know where I am, so that he feels safe and secure. But I still have the freedom, I suppose too. And I have to say this, Zoe – sometimes I do pretend there was no reception! Which is terrible!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 38:08
No, for your own mental health and your own sanity, sometimes you do need to switch off, don’t you? And it’s a gentle way of giving him that message that well, yeah, maybe we’ve not been in contact today, but I’m sure everything’s okay.
Stephie Boon 38:23
I have to say that most of that will be during the day. If he contacts me during the day. I just think ‘No, this is absolutely MY time, and we’ve agreed that I will tell you where I am when I’ve pitched up my tent, and I’m sticking to that’.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 38:43
So there’s something else I want to ask you about, Stephie, because I know you’ve had many challenges throughout your life. We’ve touched on those, but there’s something that we haven’t discussed yet, and something certainly for midlife women that, you know, as we go through from our forties upwards starts to become more apparent, or we start hearing more or we’re just more aware, and that is the menopause. We had a little conversation just before we started recording, and I actually WISH we had recorded that because you told me your age. There was this deathly silence because I did not know you were the age you said are, and in my notes that I made last night about the sorts of things that I wanted to touch on with you, the menopause certainly wasn’t one of them, because I thought you were in your early forties and nowhere near that yet! But actually, that was very dismissive of me. I was making assumptions and even if you had been in your early forties, from what you told me, this would have still counted. So first off Stephie, would you mind sharing how old you are, please?
Stephie Boon 39:55
No. I am fifty-six and I think when you introduced me, I think you said that I planned to walk all our national trails by the time I’m sixty. And I think that before you knew my age, you probably thought I had plenty of time…
Zoe Langley-Wathen 40:14
I did! Because I read through your bio last night and thought oh well, she’s got years to do that. Like, one a year…!
Stephie Boon 40:25
It’s creeping up incredibly quickly. I’m going to have to save a lot of money and do a lot of miles.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 40:33
How many trails? Is it eighteen national trails?
Stephie Boon 40:36
There are fifteen. But there are some in Scotland, which if you look at the Long Distance Walking Association, that you can include some of those and get some major certificate. Anyway, yes, I’m fifty-six.
Stephie Boon 40:56
But I went through the menopause early, and I was thirty-eight when I really noticed, I think, perimenopause.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 41:05
That was when you were walking the Inca Trail then?
Stephie Boon 41:07
Yes, and I remember at the time, I went to my GP, I had no idea what was happening to my body at the time. But I went to see my GP and she gave me some magic pills, that meant I wouldn’t have a period whilst I was away, so that was fine. But this is quite gross, but I discovered that I was in that phase of life actually, whilst I was wild camping in, I think it was Dartmoor somewhere. People really don’t talk about the details of menopause, or perimenopause. But heavy bleeding is part and parcel of that, and I woke up completely out of the blue, literally, in a pool of blood, that made me look like I was a murder victim. I just thought, ‘this isn’t right. This is something I need to speak to my GP about’.
Stephie Boon 42:14
So having no idea that it could be perimenopause, I went to my GP, who I knew, and she was asking all these questions. ‘Do you have hot flushes?’ I’ve had maybe a couple but you know, it’s just hot in the office. ‘Do you have night sweats?’ Yeah, but it’s just hot under the duvet. ‘Is there a history of early menopause in your family?’ Yeah, I think my Nan went through an early menopause and she said, ‘well, I’m really sorry’. And I looked at her and I thought sorry, about what what are you talking about? I mean, it really did not register at all that she was telling me that this was what was happening. And I came away in absolute floods of tears. And I don’t know why it was it felt so devastating at the time, but it really did. It was just, I think, possibly I’d wanted another child, even though I was quite late for that. But the difficult thing came and I don’t know if it’s different now for people because obviously this was quite a long time ago now. But I felt incredibly alone at that period of time because none of my friends or contemporaries were going through this. They had no idea what happens to you or how… oh my god, if I think about my moods, not just the physical things, but your mental health and how it affects you.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 43:54
Could you sleep?
Stephie Boon 43:55
No, I was always awake. I’d sleep on towels, trying to soak up the sweat that some people have. Now, I know, talking to friends now, but that’s not unusual. But at the time, I had absolutely no idea. There were no books, everything that was written about menopause was aimed at people in their fifties and I felt I had no connection to that. They were talking about things like Empty Nest Syndrome. My child was FIVE!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 44:36
Gosh, that puts it into perspective then doesn’t it? Good grief. And so how long did that period of perimenopause last for you, Stephie?
Stephie Boon 44:46
I think I was forty-two/forty-three maybe, when I had my last period. So it’s quite common, apparently that with early menopause, that the period of perimenopause can actually go on for ten years. So on and off for a long period of time. But I say luckily, I feel quite lucky, that didn’t happen.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 45:17
Five years. Yes. Sounds like.
Stephie Boon 45:19
Yeah, maybe five, seven, on and off, it was. I tell you what, once you’re through the other side, it’s an absolute gift. It really is. I mean, especially if you’re an outdoors person, you don’t have to worry about dealing with any of that. So when younger women or women, my age, going through it now, talking about the difficulties of going on long distance hikes, and how they’re managing menstruation, I haven’t had to deal with that for so long, I’ve forgotten what that’s like! But I don’t ever recall it stopping me from getting outside and doing the things that I love to do outside. It’s whether that’s, I mean, I had a horrible experience wild camping. But it didn’t stop me going wild camping. There’s nothing in the world that would stop me doing that. You learn how unpredictable. It’s a bit like camping, or hiking, really, there are things that you cannot predict, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just have to make the best preparations that you can. It’s like whether that’s carrying everything that you might need, just in case, or knowing where campsites are, just in case.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 46:44
And it’s a level of planning – I know you don’t like planning – but it is a level of planning, isn’t it? Knowing that you’ve got that backup… mitigating risk…
Stephie Boon 46:54
An escape route!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 46:58
Well, we’ve got probably two more things that I would like to ask you before we wrap up, and we’re coming towards the end of time now. I am really interested to know, given all of the things that we’ve talked about, how do you give yourself encouragement during those hardest times? Do you have any methods of self talk? You know, what encouragement do you give yourself? What mantras, I mean, you have given us one mantra already, which was amazing. But is there is there something else that you talk to yourself about when you’re going through those difficult times?
Stephie Boon 47:33
When things are really dark and difficult. It’s the mantra I’ve already mentioned is: “you are tenacious. You have proved to yourself over and over again, that you can get through this. You are tenacious.”
Stephie Boon 47:49
Remember that. Tell yourself that, and that’s what I do. Actually, I was thinking about this the other day – this absolutely cracked me up when I heard it the first time. Janet Street-Porter, of all people, I heard an interview with her a long time ago now. And she said, “as soon as I wake up, as soon as my head comes off that pillow, I tell myself how brilliant I am. Because no other bloody bugger is going to tell you.”
Stephie Boon 48:14
I thought at the time that’s so funny, but there is no way I could ever tell myself I’m brilliant, because I just don’t believe it. So I think that for me, a mantra has to be something I absolutely believe about myself, and that maybe I’ve just forgotten and need a reminder. And it is to remind myself that I WILL get through whatever is thrown at me. There is always a way through because I have proved it to myself already. So I know that that’s a fact.
Stephie Boon 48:53
This is a bit daft as well, but when I’m in a good space, you know, I think a lot of people are very negative, that they have a very negative body image. And I know that when my mood is low, I can’t bear the sight of myself. And I walked down the streets I catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection of a shop window, and I would just berate myself. Now whenever I catch myself in a reflection somewhere, I smile. And I just think, I look at myself as if I’m meeting a friend or a stranger. I may not be able to talk to myself that way. But I will look at myself that way. And if somebody I knew was coming towards me, I would smile and say hello. So I always smile at myself. It’s probably this weird random woman walking down the street grinning at myself.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 49:52
I think that is just lovely. And actually if I can be so forward as to push that a step further. If you saw a friend walking towards you, wearing a beautiful dress or wearing some wonderful walking gear, even, you would probably say to them, “oh, hello! You look wonderful today! Oh, you look gorgeous! OR, you ARE beautiful”. And so yeah, there you go. I have said it Stephie.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 50:23
It’s that little voice on your shoulder, isn’t it and the more that the Negative Nancy on one shoulder is telling you these things in your ear, I know it seeps into your psyche. And so somehow you have to find a way of having Positive Polly, I’ve just made those two up, on the other side, that is just going to feed you with good stuff. And if saying it doesn’t work, then perhaps writing it down will. You know, maybe having something that you write every day that tells you…
Stephie Boon 50:53
I have named the negative person that I have felt pushes me up against the wall and shouts all this negative stuff so loudly that I believe it, as Benito… as in Mussolini. And now I tell Mussolini – Benito, that I’m not listening anymore.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 51:19
Get lost! Get lost.
Stephie Boon 51:21
La, la, la, la, I’m not listening. But it is hard. It’s very hard when you’re used to having that voice in your head that is so intense and so loud, I found that the only way I can overcome it is to disassociate myself from it. To call it, it’s like another person inside my head and not having that person in my head. Why would anybody want Benito in my head. It’s finding those coping strategies, those counteractions and finding what works for you, and certainly grinning at myself randomly in the reflections is positive.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 52:04
So the very last thing that I want to ask you, Stephie is the question that I ask everybody else: do you have a HeadRightOut Moment that you could share with us? Something where you have stepped out of your comfort zone and done something that you never thought possible, you never thought you were capable of? But you did it, and you’ve benefitted from it?
Stephie Boon 52:27
Yes. In recent years, I was going hiking, I think probably for a week on the South West Coast Path, on the north coast, sort of in Devon somewhere, and somebody I’d met and didn’t know. But I met them said, oh, I’d like to join you for a day for a walk. And I said, yeah, that would be great, come along. He was actually based in Devon and I met him on a course that I was doing, which was that I trained as a lowland leader, and he was on the same course. And I said, Yeah, come for a walk for a day. So I got this message saying, I’ve rearranged my entire work week, and I can now come for the week, and I was floored. Absolutely speechless. Dumbstruck. I just did not know what to say, or how to say, “No”.
Stephie Boon 53:25
So this man came on this walk with me, wild camping, and the entire time, I felt unbelievably passive aggressive. Was hanging behind thinking, if only it was legal to push you over the cliff, he’d be gone! He talked about hiking on a Greek island somewhere and how much he loved this, and he just constantly talked about it, which meant I didn’t feel I had the time to enjoy where I was, to be in the moment.
Stephie Boon 53:58
So when I got home from that, and I recounted this story to friends, they said, well, you’ll definitely know how to say “no” now, don’t you? And I thought, this is my HeadRightOut Moment. I now know when to say “no”, and how to say “no”. I know that that’s possibly not the kind of moment that you were thinking of, but for me, that was a major ‘I-need-to-do-this-for-myself-and-I-need-to-do-it-without-compromise’. And that was a big compromise. It was that moment of understanding. I don’t walk with people on long distance hikes like that, for this reason, and I let it happen because I didn’t know how to say “no”.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 54:46
There’s actually two sides to that, isn’t there? Because you’ve learned that yes, you need to be able to say no, and I think that will become another HeadRightOut Moment, at the point where you are put in that position – and that possibly hasn’t happened yet. But yeah the HeadRightOut Moment that I see there is actually just going ahead and walking with this guy for a week. But underneath it all you’re all gr,gr,grrrrrrrrrrr!
Stephie Boon 55:13
It was terrible.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 55:14
How on earth did you cope?
Stephie Boon 55:15
I am not an early morning person at all, and when I am camping, it takes me ages to pack everything up because I feel like a complete zombie. Just so slow, and he sent me a text one morning saying, “wakey-wakey!”
Zoe Langley-Wathen 55:35
Stephie Boon 55:36
Absolutely. I was so livid, and I didn’t say anything. I just kept silent and held all this anger. I thought why should I be doing this? I will never let that happen again.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 55:57
I wonder if he thought you were a moody wotsit.
Stephie Boon 56:00
Quite likely. Quite likely.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:02
That’s the polite version… a moody wotsit!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:07
Well, Stephie This has been an absolute treat. We’ve had a chance to catch up. You’ve shared a lot of wonderful experiences with us and with me that I haven’t heard before. And I just hope that at some point soon here, we actually get to meet face-to-face and go on a LITTLE walk together. It’s alright – not a long distance one! Just a little one.
Stephie Boon 56:30
I wouldn’t mind you Zoe, at all! I think it was just this particular person.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:36
I wouldn’t want you to be passive aggressive with me – haha!
Stephie Boon 56:39
No I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:41
Well, if I’m coming down to Cornwall, and I’m coming down your way, I will give you a ring. I have your number now.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:50
I HAVE YOUR NUMBER… hehe…
Stephie Boon 56:54
When I’m planning to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, this is my plan for next year so I will give you a call.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 57:01
That would be fabulous. So, Stephie, where can people find you on social media and online?
Stephie Boon 57:07
I have a website and blog called 10MileHike, which is all one word, and that’s a 1, 0. You can find me mostly on Instagram, where it’s TenMileHike again, but unfortunately it had to be spelt T.E.N – 10MileHike, because the number had actually gone. They are the main places that you can find me. But I’ve also just set up a Ko-Fi account and it’s like a mini-blog so I can post little bits and pieces.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 57:44
Is that where people can go and buy you a coffee if they want.
Stephie Boon 57:46
Zoe Langley-Wathen 57:47
That’s brilliant. Yes. Well, thank you so much. This has been wonderful and I hope people go and check you out on Instagram and do go and check out Stephie’s website because she’s completely overhauled it. It is fabulous. There is SO much information on there and she’s got a beautiful way of writing.
Stephie Boon 57:49
Zoe Langley-Wathen 58:01
It flows and I was chuffed to be included in her Woman Afoot Series, as well, where I talked about my walking experiences there too.
Stephie Boon 58:16
Zoe, it was a pleasure. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Nerves have completely gone.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 58:22
Yaaay! Stephie Boon, thank you very much.
Stephie Boon 58:25
Thank you. Take care, Zoe!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 58:35
Oh my word. What a raw and honest conversation that was with Stephie. Perfect for World Menopause Day too, which was the 18th of October. And as this goes live on the 20th of October, it’s the same week. It’s all about encouraging conversations surrounding menopause. I know a lot of thoughts may be generated regarding mental health too, from the conversations that Stephie and I had about her difficulties with mental health. And I hope that if you have any issues or any worries about a friend that you will take a moment to contact them, ask them how they are, see if there’s anything you can do to help them, and perhaps if it’s you, maybe you’ll seek help. You will look for the support that you need… if you don’t already have that support. We are here for you. There’s so many people out there, that are here for you. And I hope that you will gain some reassurance from listening to Stephie’s story.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 59:36
Now I had a back-and-forth text conversation with Stephie, later the same evening. We recorded this last week and I’d like to share with you some of the text that I received from her, because I think you’ll find this funny. So here was the text:
Zoe Langley-Wathen 59:51
Oh dear, Zoe, did I say I was fifty-six? Ummmm… I can’t remember, but if I did, it was wishful thinking, because I’m fifty-seven!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:00:02
So I replied, No, really? That’s so funny. I’ll make a note of it in the end reflections. Am I allowed to put it down to post-menopausal brain?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:00:14
And Stephie says, I did say I was fifty-six, then… haha, what am I like? She then says I was fifty-six when I hiked the South Downs Way, so it was definitely a forty-year anniversary. That bit was right. My birthday is in mid-August so I was fifty-six when I hiked the Cotswold Way too. Anything after that, I’ve obviously blanked out. She says, feel free to blame it on dyscalculia – no diagnosis but if she had a test, Stephie says she’d be ‘off the scale’. Do you know it’s so easy to get numbers muddled up, I do it all the time. And Stephie says she gets her son’s birth date muddled up, I get numbers muddled up too. It’s just one of those things, so I’m not even sure I’m gonna put that down to post-menopause, but I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this. So Stephie is fifty-seven years old, and she didn’t realise it. That is SO funny. But oddly enough, I remember not being able to decide if I was forty-seven or forty-eight a few years back, so it’s not just you Stephie. Don’t worry.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:01:22
Now I have had a HeadRightOut Moment sent through to me by Bea, and this was a real joy for me to read:
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:01:30
Ten Peak Challenge. I still remember my first mountain. We were on a girl’s trip exploring Scotland when we decided it would be a good idea to hike Ben Nevis. I don’t think I’ve ever complained so much. How could hiking up a hill be so hard? Once down, I vowed never to do it again.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:01:51
Luckily, I’d forgotten that promise when a few years later, I felt the need for a challenge. I don’t like doing what everyone else does. So I decided to make my own. “I know, I’ll summit the ten highest Munroes, in five days.”
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:02:06
How hard could it be?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:02:09
I should add that my total mountaineering experience was still only Ben Nevis in trainers, but not one to be put off by it, I spent the next five months getting fit, buying the right gear, learning to read a map (ish), and generally falling in love with hiking.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:02:28
I thought I was ready. But I wasn’t. I was not prepared for my boots to fall apart on day three. Or to find myself in the middle of a plateau in whiteout conditions, having completely forgotten how to understand my compass.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:02:43
I did not expect for it to rain so hard that my phone would stop working from water damage, or for the map to be whipped out of my hands by gale force winds leaving me stranded with just my memory to keep me going. I had not expected my mind to fight me every step of the way: “Stop, turn around!”, “It’s too hard!”, “You aren’t going to make it.” This challenge showed me that we are capable of what we set our minds to. That physical challenges are not just about physical ability, but more so the ability to convince your brain that you DO have what it takes. That you can make it. It taught me that pain doesn’t last forever, that it fades from our memories.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:03:26
I know I was in pain for much of it, but that’s long forgotten. What I remember is the fear of having to cross the CMD arête, that’s Carn Mor Dearg arête, despite being scared of heights. And the exhilarating feeling when I got to the other side, I remember sitting on my final peak, crying tears of joy, because I had made it despite everything that had gone wrong. I remember running as fast as I could towards the last gondola of the day to get me down from Aonach Mòr, having had to change my entire route. due to bad weather. I made it to the gondola just in time, only for it to stop halfway down the mountain. It gently swung back and forth for half an hour before setting off again. I thought I’d been forgotten about I knew that the Ten Peaks were going to be a physical challenge, but I never realised I would be putting my mental resilience to the test in that way. But it turns out we CAN achieve what we set our minds to.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:04:29
Indeed we can, Bea!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:04:32
Wow! Bea has sent me three photographs which I’m going to put in the show notes. And the last photo where she’s looking up with this vast view that just falls away behind her.
She’s above the clouds and you can see a loch in the distance. And she just has that look of somebody who’s completely energy-spent but deliriously happy.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:04:58
Yes, there’s one of the pictures, she’s standing, I’m assuming it’s at the summit, with her arms raised and her poles dangling from her wrists. And it looks like it pretty much is a whiteout. So thank you, Bea, for sending that in. I really appreciate all of these HeadRightOut Moments that people are sending in. It just allows us to share and celebrate even more how important it is for us to push ourselves – push ourselves beyond what we think we’re capable of doing. And that HeadRightOut Moment has clearly made Bea a whole ton stronger than she thought she was.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:05:38
Now if you’d like to go, follow Bea she is on the socials as at B, B EA, underscore adventurous, underscore, that’s Instagram. So @bea_adventurous_ and her blog is bea-adventurous.com. And that’s actually bea hyphen adventurous.com. And she talks all about her travels and the things that she’s been up to over the last few years. It’s a really great blog.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:06:16
Okay, well I have a little request today, to ask if you lovely people who have been following and listening to the show, if you could possibly rate and review and follow the podcast to help with the visibility of the show. HeadRightOut exceeded five hundred downloads last week in nineteen countries, which I’m delighted about. I’ve been excitedly watching the map to see if we can get into the twentieth country. But I’ve just been amazed at how quickly this has grown in the three weeks since I launched. So thank you all for listening and supporting me and thank you for all of your lovely messages and your posts, your likes, your shares and even the emojis. If it’s just a few emojis, I just know that you’re there with me, and they’re keeping me fuelled and believing that this IS the right path and that HeadRightOut IS needed. It is needed to encourage you to head out of your comfort zone and create an armour of resilience, that will help keep your head right and healthy in the outdoors.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:07:30
HeadRightOut Hugs to you all.