"A state of extreme difficulty, pressure or strain."
It sounds so mechanical when you take the dictionary definition but it's really not, its unbearable, suffocating, and sometimes just terrifying. Everyone will experience some form of stress during their lifetime; whether it be a small child hidden in the corner of the stairs, their eyes peering through the banister and watching their parents fight before their father walks out, perhaps a teenager who believes that exams are the toughest thing they will ever experience or even a grown man or woman coping with the difficult balancing act of raising their children alone.
There is no one way to cope, no handy manual that will provide you with a step-by-step instruction on how to get by. So people will simply turn to what works for them, they'll do whatever brings inner comfort to their tortured souls, they'll go wherever they find a release. For some this can a calm stroll through a picturesque park or a family trip to the local zoo, others prefer a quiet night tucked away in their bedrooms with a tub of ice-cream and perhaps a movie, then there are those who find comfort in the sharp flick of a dull razor blade drawing blood from a new wound that will eventually join a net of criss-crossing soft pink scars.
What about me? How do I cope? Where do I go when I'm about to reach breaking point, and feel like I can't take any more? Well I can tell you now that I'm not as unique as I'd like to be, and my story may be mundane and boring to some of you, but then there are those of you reading this that will understand exactly how I feel, and why my favourite place to escape stress is what it is – just a large rock on the edge of a forest. Nothing special eh?
Let me tell you about my last visit to my sanctuary.
I leave my house, a small three-bedroomed terraced property in a large village, and walk to the end of my overgrown drive way at which point I turn left and walk past each of the houses that are just the same, each one containing people that are just the same – each person just trying to get by, each one just doing what they can to survive. I cross a small concreted space where people who don't have room on their drive park their cars, and I step onto a sandy mound. I observe the "no tipping" sign that is quite clearly posted to the left of me, though because it is covered in graffiti - both old and new - and worn by time people pay it little heed. I then look to my right at the still smoking remnants of the evening's bonfire. Some people will never learn.
I make my way between the two, walking eagerly towards my destination, but not too eagerly that I miss the landscape around me. I turn right, and find myself walking on a sandy dirt-track, covered by numerous holes that have been dug out by those that want more of a challenge when racing their bikes down here.
I go left next, heading through a natural break in the bushes that adorn the track. Playing close attention to my footing, I step down a steep banking onto a narrow road that would lead me to a nursing home, if I were to follow it. I don't. I cross the road, and head in to the trees behind it. The sand is gone now, replaced by mud. My feet sink in to it as I walk, my trainers becoming coated in the sludgy substance that was no doubt created by the day's rain mixing with the otherwise solid dirt. I head deeper into the trees, what little moonlight had lit my path now blocked by the trees; but still, I wander on, my path known well enough to me that the light was not in fact all that important.
Be careful now not to mistake the point of this story, I'm not about to find some mystical clearing in which I'll frolic with abundant numbers of natures animals. No, my special place is much more accessible than that, passed by hundreds of people everyday who go by without even seeing it.
I hear the deep rumbles of engines ahead of me, and I head towards them. The path begins to curve upwards and yet my tired knees force themselves onward, my spirits having already lifted at the mere thought of reaching my rock. The trees are thinning out, and the moonlight once again begins to filter through. The engines have gotten louder. I climb a grassy banking and find myself overlooking the bypass, a dual-carriageway built to divert traffic out of our village at the cost of splitting the forest in half – behind me lay the small section I'd just walked through and in front of me waited a vast forest just on the other side of the road. For tonight though, that is not our destination. Instead, I take a left and break into a jog, the steady beat of my feet against the grass already comforting me. The soft rhythm bringing a sense of order to my chaotic life.
I reach a bridge that will take me high above the bypass and lead me over to the other side. I go across it – still jogging. Small beads of sweat sweep their way down my arms, whilst others glint across my forehead. Then, I reach my target.
It never really was the large sandstone rock at the end of the bridge that I wanted to reach, but rather the feeling that I knew would envelop me when I sat there beneath the stars, watching the cars below pass me by. Sometimes, as I sit there, I make up stories about the person or people I see in the cars – what do they do, where are they from, what are their families like. I wonder if they deal with the same pressures, and always I come to the same conclusion: the world isn't against us, even though at some point in their lives most people will begin to think like that – even if only for a little while – for stress reaches us all.
Eventually, the sound of the engines below me merge together with the purer sounds of nature– it's almost musical, and is pierced only by the occasional roar of a motorcycle engine. I begin to feel strangely liberated, invigorated, empowered.
The pressure of the stress I'd felt only a short time before is lifted all at once and I feel like I could do anything, I could compare it to being underwater, trapped by a weight – a weight that was then freed, and my body floating to the surface. The feeling I feel as I watch the cars go by would be the feeling I'd feel as I broke the water's surface and took my first breathe. I feel alive.