I never realised how much the weather and nature affected me until I moved to Australia – land of sunshine and 10,000 beaches. I always tell people that I feel like my base level of happiness is so much higher in Australia and I think that at least 80% of that is because of the amazing weather and the fact that I can be outside by the ocean every single day of the year. I’ve always been happier when the weather is nicer, but I thought that most people were in the same boat and it was just something you had to deal with. I’d joke about having SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but never really paid serious attention to how my surroundings were actually affecting me.
Growing up in Toronto, my family lived in a an area that was modelled after an English village so our neighbourhood had lots of huge trees and grassy lawns. It felt a bit like living in a park and i’d spend countless afternoons roaming around with my sister and our neighbours. When I moved away from home for uni, I lived in a smallish suburban town in Canada and my world consisted of maybe a 1km concrete radius around campus. The only places I really went were home, uni, gym, bar; building to building. It was winter at least 5 out of 8 months of the school year and even when the weather was nice, I barely remember there being any trees or grass on campus. Every November like clockwork as the days got shorter, greyer and colder, I’d find myself slipping into a dark place mentally. I think back then I wrote it off as early 20s angst – being unsure of my studies, what I should do with my life etc. But when I think about my environment and lifestyle at the time it all kind of makes sense.
I don’t think I consciously realised that I was missing that connection with nature but I did start going for runs. I can’t remember how or exactly when I decided to start running. I’d always liked track and field i.e. short distance sprints, but I’d never been any sort of distance runner – I was the kid in middle school who would join the cross country team for approximately 2 weeks every year and then quit. I thought my newfound will to run was motivated by a desire to keep fit but I think it was probably more my body screaming for some fresh air and what little nature I could find.
My first running route was just a simple rectangle around campus, but since then I’ve sought out a running route in every single place I’ve lived. When I was working as an au pair after my first year of uni, I went for nightly runs with the family dog through the winding roads past vineyards in the south of France and then through the city streets in Liege. During my internship in Quebec City I ran around the uni campus at Laval where I was staying. As an ERASMUS student in Paris I’d run by the Canal St. Martin, or walk across the city to explore new parks. During law school in Windsor I’d run along the Canadian side of the Detroit river at least a few times a week. Some of these runs were even in the middle of winter (rugged up in gloves, hat and my warmest hoodie)!
During my last summer at law school I lived in Costa Rica for 3 months teaching English, learning Spanish and doing some translation work for a law firm. My life in Costa was lived at least 75% outside; I basically lived on the beach and it awakened something inside me. When I landed back in Toronto and drove through the suburbs with my dad, I knew I would never be able to look at city life the same way. My first few days back I felt so antsy and realised how much of my life in Canada I lived inside and essentially immobile.
I’d never realised how important the outdoors were to me until that point, but I still had a year of law school to finish and after that 10 months of articling to officially become a lawyer. I slowly acclimatised back to my Canadian life (with lots of struggles) but I was never quite the same. After living (more like surviving) through a winter that was consistently -20 and left me feeling desperately claustrophobic, I finally made the decision to join Alex in the land down under. Lots more to that story but that’s for another time.
Basically, once I moved to Australia, it became so obvious how much weather and nature impact me. Mainly because it’s SO BEAUTIFUL here 90% of the time that when it’s not, I immediately notice the difference in my mood. The sky in Australia is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. The ocean literally sparkles and is so clear you feel like you could drink the water. Flowers and plants bloom with abandon everywhere. I can go outside all year round comfortably, touch my feet to the the earth, the sand, the ocean. It sounds so simple and it is, but it makes such a big difference in my quality of life to be able to be in nature every day.
I still work in the CBD and live a ‘city’ life for the most part Monday to Friday. But living in Bondi means every weekend feels like a vacation and in the summer I can get in beach time before and after work. I have so many moments by myself outside where I’m just genuinely happy to be alive and I feel like that was something that was really rare for me before.
All I know is that any time I dive into the ocean or touch my bare feet to the grass, I can’t help but smile and feel like a kid again.