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'How nature cured my heartbreak after a brutal breakup’

After a devastating breakup, nature reminded writer Lauren Pinnington that she too would flourish again

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In January 2022 I bundled the contents of my life into bin liners and old fruit crates and drove away from the house I shared with a person I had spent most of a decade with. I vowed that happiness and I were going to reunite and, now that I was no longer in a relationship that fostered an erosion of self, I could take stock and begin again.

Because breakups, especially big ones involving someone you have barnacled yourself to for significant years of your life, tend to provide a frightening amount of clarity on a number of things, I knew that where I really wanted to plant myself (pardon the pun), was in close proximity to nature. I was eager to take full advantage of its restorative powers.

I fell in love with a small, stone-built market town nestled in the Northamptonshire countryside, all cobbled streets and flanked by river. The little house I moved into was part of a converted maltings building, where swathes of bamboo formed a privacy curtain outside the bedroom window and an impressive rose bush rambled up a trellis marking the boundary of the property. I had never lived on my own before and it was exactly where I needed to be.

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During those first few weeks, in an attempt to combat feeling unmoored and strange in my new environment, I spent a lot of time in nature's reliable company.

Afternoon hours became dedicated to a ritualistic stomp up and down the river bank, listening to a soapy, memoir-style podcast. I found myself saying "oh my god, YES!" out loud, into the lovely clean air, every time I recognised experiences and feelings that mirrored my own.

Bench in sunlight

Lauren spent time walking around her local park

It felt good to have a dedicated space to go and be swallowed up by anger and raw sadness for a bit. Of course it did. But I was thankful when a desire to funnel that time and energy into my own wellbeing emerged instead.

As it happened, a couple of months on from my breakup and subsequent life reboot, I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, otherwise known as Borderline Personality Disorder.

The diagnosis had been a long time coming and, as a result, actively taking care of my mental health became my first priority. Spending time in nature ended up being a huge component of this and I began seeing a therapist who offered "Walk and Talk" sessions in a local park.

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Finding myself in the company of unimpressed swans, unpicking what had happened and my part in it, learning about boundaries and assertiveness and practising grounding techniques took some getting used to. But, as unconventional as the setting might be, I would pick the calm, open air over an intense and sterile therapist's office space, any day.

swans on a lake at sunset

Lauren preferred to talk to her therapist in open air

In addition to these sessions, during the recent winter months, I have been breaking my days up (imperative to do, as a non-nine-to-five freelancer) by meandering around the nearby nature reserve. I love to do this within the hour before the sun sets, the arresting orange ball on its daily descent means I don’t have to check my phone to see when it's time to head back inside.

On these interludes, the smiling faces of dog walkers I meet along the way, dramatic shrieks from moorhens and quizzical expressions on the faces of affable robins can seem positively medicinal and can stave off a particular kind of loneliness that afflicts the newly single.

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Nature being cyclical is a comforting reminder that even when you have been stripped down to your bare branches, there is always hope that you will flourish once more, it's only a question of time.

I have also made sure to bring nature to me. Romancing myself by buying orange roses in October, scarlet ones for Valentine’s and now that it is almost spring, the supermarkets are once again offering up daffodils and rainbow tulips to boost my serotonin levels.

I have tried to cultivate the mid-century modern aesthetic of my dreams with cheese plants and cactuses, amused by the perpetual mystery of how much water to give them and when.

Smiling young woman

Nature reminded Lauren she would flourish once more

On my balcony, I will always choose to pot only the prettiest, best smelling seasonal flowers: dahlias, peonies and petunias with fun names such as 'Pink Pirouette' and’ 'Queen of Hearts' in the summer, dainty cyclamen in the autumn.

I adore my lavender plant, olive tree and hardy rosemary bush, whose bountiful stems belong in many pasta sauces and cocktails.

Having compost caked behind my fingernails makes me feel aligned with the resilient women in my maternal line, all consummate gardeners who have lived full lives, alone, at one point or another. By filling this home all of my own with beautiful living things that make me happy and honouring a commitment to outdoor time, I'm gaining some semblance of much-needed control in my life.

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Towards the bottom of an information board detailing different types of trees that the nature reserve houses, there is a throwaway mention of Hamlet's Ophelia and the melancholy of the weeping willow. But I don't feel that way when I see them bowing across one of the lakes, I just feel peace, at last.

Bring on new experiences and new people in my future.

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