Anyone who has been plagued by depression will know it is a long, hard struggle that can at times seem insurmountable.
But for one man whose world became engulfed by darkness, the key to overcoming the illness is to conquer the highest possible peak time after time.
Only a few months ago, Andy Cole, 39, was so gripped by depression that he could not bear to leave his home. Dependent on anti-depressants, severe anxiety and depression had changed him from a “happy go lucky” individual into a solitary recluse who shut out the world. At his lowest ebb, he contemplated taking his own life.
But after a doctor recommended he start getting out into the fresh air in the hope of boosting his mood, he took the advice literally, and embarked on an gruelling challenge that would test both body and mind.
Mr Cole journeyed north from his home Blackpool to Lochaber, where every single day in October, he scaled Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK. The experience, he said, has been transformative. “It has saved my life, the outdoors,” he explained. “Without the outdoors I would not be here today.”
The undertaking was sparked by his looming birthday. About to hit 40 and looking back on his life to date, Mr Cole said he was grateful he was still alive and determined to both enjoy a bright future and help others stalked by the black dog.
Despite only experiencing three days of dry weather as he carried out the challenge, Mr Cole said he relished the daily climb up the mountain and the encouragement from both people he met and online supporters.
He said: “There were hard days but also some really enjoyable days, meeting people and speaking to them on the walk.
“I would wake up every day knowing that I was going to speak to somebody new and that might be one more person I could reach out to with my story and my battle with depression and that keeps you going.
“Sometimes I would look out of the bedroom window in the morning and it was howling it down, then I’d turn on the laptop and have all these messages of encouragement so you have breakfast and up you go.”
Mr Cole prepared for his ascent each morning with a hearty serving of Weetabix and doughnuts .He normally took around five-and-a-half to six hours to climb the mountain, though his fastest time was four hours and 15 minutes.
He said the first two days he felt a bit stiff after the climb but his body then got used to the exertion. On a couple of occasions he did not make it to the summit as on one of the days the weather was too bad, while on another his body was too exhausted and he did not feel it would be safe to continue to the top.
However he since made up the climbs, and went up the mountain again a few days after the challenge ended because the weather was so pleasant.
Mr Cole has raised over £1,600 to date for Lochaber Mountain Rescue, with his Facebook page, The Lone Walker, attracting hundreds of followers.
But having completed the challenge, he has admitted to having mixed feelings.
“My friends have said, ‘Are you missing it?, and I said, ‘Yes’,” he explained. “I was deflated because my physical challenge had come to an end and also elated that I had achieved what I set out to do and reached out to 13,000 people through social media. So I felt quite elated that I had managed to get the word out.”