Mindful caving

I started caving about 8 years ago now. I did a walk in an area called the Mendips which walked past various cave entrances. This triggered an interest to find out what it was like inside them. My Dad had been a caver, but had never taken me caving. I contacted his old caving club who offered to let me join them on some trips. I was a pretty useless prospective member – I didn’t drive a car, I had no kit of my own, I needed to arrange a baby sitter as I was a single parent at the time and I was scared of heights/deep water and confined spaces. Despite all this they took me under their wing and taught me to cave. I will post a long blog another time about my experiences caving, but now I am going to concentrate on the present day.

I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder for at least the last year, which caused me to lose a fair amount of weight. I was already quite slim, so losing a lot of weight has been a pretty awful experience. I talk about being unwell in this blog and talk about my recovery in this blog having spent a period of time in hospital. I was still caving whilst at a low weight (which looking back now I am in recovery was an irresponsible thing to do, but I didn’t quite realise how bad things were at the time) I remember being so thin that crawling was painful as there was not enough flesh on my bones to cushion the impact. I stopped caving 6 months ago as I was physically no longer able to do it.

Having restored my weight I thought I was in the clear of my eating disorder and could start rebuilding my life, then a few knock backs took place and the struggle began again. This couldn’t happen. I needed to make plans to remind myself of what I have to lose. What my life was like before it became a conveyor belt of mental health services. Keeping exercise to a very slow pace whilst recovering is recommended. No expert would ever recommend caving as a recovery activity, despite my weight being restored. But caving is such a part of what makes me happy I just needed to get underground. We came to a compromise. A novice cave, Goatchurch – the first ever cave I went in and a cave where you can be in one entrance and out the other in less than 10 minutes if so you desire. I added double layers of clothing to my caving kit just to be sure I would stay warm.

I joked as we entered the cave that we should make it a ‘mindful caving’ trip, concentrating on the detail of the cave, things we might not normally notice, places we might not normally go, usually intent on following a specific route through at a reasonable pace. We began the trip by photographing the spiders in the entrance, we joked that we had never spent that long in the entrance of the cave before. The spiders didn’t like having their photo taken and kept scurrying off – it was a good task to catch our breath after the walk up to the cave. We looked in all the corners of the main entrance chamber, studying macro formations and the patterns on the roof we would normally hurry past. When into the next chamber we took the time to look at all the various ways on through the cave we hadn’t noticed before. We sat in a chamber which used to be very pretty with our lights turned out listening to the sounds around us wondering how easy it would be to get out of the cave with no light. We continued into a chamber called the water chamber I stopped for some soup, enjoying the warmth of the liquid and discussing other food possibilities which would work well in a cave – remembering the time when we had ‘helmet’ pizza. We spent some time in this chamber photographing tiny fossils and seeing what camera effects we could get in the flowing water, noticing the variety of colours the rock displayed. I dropped down into a hole in the floor to visit a favorite spot of mine – a tiny micro chamber with some nice flow stone – usually I’d just take a photo of the formation, but it was interesting to try and catch the dripping mini waterfall with my waterproof camera. Usually from this chamber you’d go on to explore other passages – the classic beginner trip is to take them down a tube called ‘the drainpipe’. On this occasion though it was more about just getting underground again, so I took the easy exit out of the chamber, whilst the others went the hard way. As we made our way out the cave we took some more photos playing with different lighting techniques, not very successfully, but enjoyable all the same. Whilst waiting for the others I saw a tiny little micro garden in a rock which I’d never noticed before. The trip despite it’s sedate pace was enjoyable, it gave me a completely different perspective on the cave and reminded me of the things I love. It’s easy to completely isolate yourself in recovery, thinking you shouldn’t do anything, but sometimes it’s about finding a happy medium, a safer middle ground once in a safe enough place to do so. Accepting what you can’t do and finding alternative ways of getting back to what keeps you going in life.

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