God, where do I start.
My name is Darren Edwards and I have been running my own design agency, by myself, for the past 25 years (started 1993). I had built a solid business with a good mix of regular clients and had plenty of work to keep me occupied for more hours each day than I had hoped for. So much so that I often had to compromise my family time in order to keep ahead of the work load. Over time, I started to become resentful of my work but had to keep soldiering on as I needed the work to fund a few investment properties we had purchased along the way. I had created a giant wheel and I was the little mouse keeping it going and could not get off. I guess a lot of people feel this way in life, that we live to work.
One day my world came crashing down. I was beside myself with grief and felt overwhelmed by everything in my life. I could not understand what was happening to me as my life had been so great. I had fallen into a deep depression. A depression so deep, that I felt nothing but despair. I just didn’t know any other way out and was in so much pain. I know people who have lived with depression, but until you have experienced the black dog for yourself you will never know or truly understand the absolute darkness that surrounds you or sickening pain that enters your heart.
On reflection, I think it was the feeling of being trapped by what I had created that made me feel depressed about my life, although I did not realise at the time. I just thought that everything around me was falling apart and I started to think that I would never get out of the hole I was in.
At the time I lived on the edge of a state park in Melbourne’s west so one day I dragged myself out of bed and went for a walk by myself in the bush. I returned quite a few hours later feeling more alive and refreshed than I have ever felt. So the next day I did it again, then again, and again.
For the following two years I hiked by myself every weekend (sometimes both Sat and Sun). Sometimes I stood on the edge of a cliff, contemplating the reasons for life, sometimes I stayed away from the cliffs, not knowing what I would do. Despite having these thoughts I kept hiking as it gave me purpose, it seemed to give my life meaning and ultimately it allowed me to somehow clear my mind of all the negative thoughts that were continually racing through it. I felt like I could relax, that no-one was watching me, judging me, questioning my decisions or expecting something of me. I was at peace in the bush and above all, I felt really insignificant and connected to something greater than myself. That may seem like an odd feeling to rejoice in for someone with depression but when I was at my worst I felt like the world was revolving around me and the feeling that I was but a mere spec on this earth made me stop and realise that there is more to life than just me and what I was going through. It made me stop to consider my family, my friends, my two lovely boys.
Hiking made me alive again.
I know that hiking saved my life, so I do it as often as I can. I do still prefer to hike alone but being the organiser of a 4000+ member hiking group in Victoria and running the Trail Hiking Australia site means I still need to hike with other people. It is a lot more noise and doesn’t offer me the same level of relaxation but I understand that I need to be social so push myself to do it.
As this was all such a personal journey for me I started to think that maybe hiking could help other people who are suffering as I was. Not knowing how to help, I did what I do best (as I am a web developer) and built a website. Initially the site was filled with only the hikes I had done and within two years had over 150 trails throughout Victoria. I felt like I was limiting the site based on geography so started a three year project to get the site to where it is now with over 2300 trails throughout Australia. I don’t know if what I have built has helped others but I like to think that it has.
Part of me has always wanted to share my journey in the hope it would encourage other people to silence their mind and heal their heart through hiking but I was not sure if my story was too personal to put out there for the public to scutinise. But I guess I feel ready now to share how much hiking has changed my life, in the hope that it will change at least one other persons.
It is for this reason that I am passionate about our wilderness and are passionate about Keeping It Wild. I started hiking in order to escape from the real world for a while. To reconnect with nature, switch off from the hustle and bustle of life and disconnect from technology. The further I explored, the more I could see that the world I was trying to disconnect from was increasingly invading these natural spaces.
That is simply not acceptable and it needs to STOP NOW!