Nature Stories – Andrew Brown

During Scotland’s Year of Stories, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is publishing a series of first-hand accounts from people who have faced barriers connecting to nature.

In this story Young Leader Andrew Brown explains how Crohn’s disease has affected his ability to engage with wildlife and how he has adapted to living with a chronic illness. 

Andrew Brown © Andrew Brown

I don’t remember the exact moment I knew something wasn’t quite right. Through childhood to mid-teens I had been a picture of health, rarely getting so much as a cold, but things started to change as I approached my late teens.

Weight seemed to fall off me regardless of how much I tried to eat. Soon after, I was in pain just about everywhere and exhaustion stopped me from doing much of anything. One memory that stands out from those early days was a trip to the Isle of Arran, where I spent more time admiring the hotel room wallpaper than exploring the scenery and wildlife that the island has to offer.

That was before I knew I had Crohn’s disease. It would take another six months before I was given a diagnosis and treatment. Since then I have had a lot of ups and downs but I’ve learned much along the way.

Redwing among berries © Andrew Brown

Initially there were adaptations to make which allowed me respite while I wasn’t able to do much outside. One of the positives of being stuck at home was getting to know my local patch intimately. I watched a starling nest in an unused vent of my building with great curiosity. I knew what time to look for the bats leaving their roost in the trees behind my home, and I moved my piano to the window so that I could spend more time watching the birds feast on the rowan berries on a patch of spare ground beyond the garden. I noted their visits in a diary, and I’m still so grateful for these little forgotten patches of ground in cities that grow wild and give nature a home. I look out for them wherever I go.

I also interacted with nature in other ways, through books and online. Reading about the marvels outside the window of my own experience brought me joy even on the worst of days.

Life was uncomfortable. Coming to terms with the fact that the sickness wouldn’t ever be fully ‘over’ took some time. It seemed impossible to me that I had a chronic condition, at times I was convinced there had been a mistake in my diagnosis and that one day I would wake up and be fine again.

Now my outlook is different. My condition is better controlled, and thankfully there are periods of time where I feel really healthy. I am so grateful for these times. As I’m sure many people who experience chronic illness find, you really learn to appreciate the good days, weeks or months.

Reed bunting © Andrew Brown

Just like the seasons, I have come to think of my health as going through its own cycles. There are winters, where my body tells me it’s time to rest and recuperate. As I start to feel better, it’s spring and life starts to feel a lot easier. In my summers, life is sweet and vibrant, even if it happens to be December. I get out and make the most of these bountiful times. Inevitably autumn comes around and this is when I get ready for winter coming, thankful for the time I’ve been well enough to enjoy all that the natural world has to show and teach me.

Every time I encounter another winter I feel more equipped to deal with it. I suppose that’s the beauty of life experience and the knowledge that, just like the blooms of summer that have died away, it won’t last forever.

At times winter can feel endless, but even in its depths you can still hear a robin’s song. Not to mention, you always have spring to look forward to.

Andrew Brown, Young Leader


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During Scotland’s Year of Stories, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is publishing a series of first-hand accounts from people who have faced barriers connecting to nature. In this story Young Leader …

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