United Kingdom

Authors share their personal accounts of curing depression by putting one foot in front of the other

WAYPOINTS  

by Robert Martineau (Cape £16.99, 272pp)

A WALK FROM THE WILD EDGE  

by Jake Tyler (Michael Joseph £16.99, 320pp)

‘The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,’ writes Henry David Thoreau. The quote appears in Robert Martineau’s Waypoints, an account of his own experience of taking a walk to cure depression. Tired of long hours at his desk in a London law firm, the 27-year-old flies to Ghana, and starts putting one foot in front of the other. His stroll ends up covering 1,000 miles and three countries.

He sees men with scars across their cheeks: ‘Without doctors, people sew herbs into their faces to fight illness.’

Robert Martineau and Jake Tyler have penned books about how walking helped when they were battling depression (file image)

He hears that ‘in times of hunger, a herder will slit the throat of a cow and drink from its neck, before sewing the wound up and walking on’. Jake Tyler’s walk — around the coast of Great Britain — is less dramatic, but his reasoning for it is much the same.

A week before his 30th birthday he experienced a breakdown, with thoughts of suicide filling his head. Returning home to his mother, Tyler gradually noticed that after taking her dog Reggie for a walk, he felt marginally less depressed.

From there, it was just a short step (or rather thousands of them) to lapping the country. Neither book is really about what the walker sees on their travels. It’s about the fact that they’re walking at all.

When you’re feeling low, it’s almost as though depression becomes your friend. ‘That feeling of comfort becomes addictive,’ writes Tyler. But once you’re up on your feet, things begin to change.

Both writers value their time walking through wooded areas: Martineau points out that, in Japan, ‘woodland zones are registered as forest therapy sites’.

Pictured left: WAYPOINTS by Robert Martineau (Cape £16.99, 272pp), right: A WALK FROM THE WILD EDGE by Jake Tyler (Michael Joseph £16.99, 320pp)

Tyler rejected his doctor’s advice to use antidepressants. Drugs have their place and ‘walking it off’ won’t work for everyone. But often it does. For some, the endorphins exercise produces may well be the only drug they’ll need. However, as both discover, if you overdo it, the tiredness can bring you back down again.

My own rule of thumb is that 15 miles feels like a night out with Rod Stewart, 30 miles feels like the day after. So it’s no surprise that Martineau, after putting in some 50-mile days, spends a week in a monastery.

Neither of these books tells a mind-blowing story, but perhaps that’s what gives them their value. The point is that these two young men are ordinary: many people struggle with what’s going on between their ears but they have both found a simple solution: get walking. 

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