James Middleton Says 2017 Family Christmas Trip Was 'Turning Point' in Battle with Depression
'I hadn’t been in the right state of mind for a while,' Kate Middleton's younger brother says about his trip to the Scottish Highlands
“I didn’t initially want to attend the Christmas that became my most poignant,” James, 32, wrote in The Telegraph on Saturday about a 10-day vacation he took at the Glen Affric estate with parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, sister, Pippa, her husband James Matthews and his younger brother, Made in Chelsea star, Spencer Matthews.
“One month earlier in November 2017, I had been diagnosed with depression and started seeing a therapist,” continued James, who first opened up about his mental health struggles in a January 2019 op-ed for The Daily Mail.
He has since spoken at length about undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy, sometimes with the Duchess of Cambridge alongside for support.
“Everyone knew that I was having therapy, but I was trying to pretend that I was fine," James added. “Realistically it was very difficult to hide, but this Christmas spent in nature became a turning point for me.
He continued, “I wasn’t looking forward to going away — but I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. I saw my therapist just before I left and he said, 'It’ll do you good. It’s things that you love the most: the countryside, being out in the mountains with your dogs, and if you find it too much, just get outside and go for a walk.'"
His therapist couldn’t have been more accurate. While James enjoyed the comfort of the Glen Affric estate — "you can hear the wind and the rain beating the windows, but you’re nice and warm inside," he wrote – he initially struggled to find a level of peace that would allow him to relax and enjoy the Scottish Highlands.
Instead, he kept himself busy by collecting firewood and caring for his beloved dogs as a source of distraction and focus.
“My dogs have been my therapists, as I’ve said a number of times,” added James. “They are extraordinary at knowing how to behave and they can sense when you're blue. My spaniel Ella will rest her head on my lap and keep on nudging my hand until I start giving her attention.”
This gradually started to change as the large family group, which also included James Matthews' parents, Jane and David, and Spencer's Irish model wife, Vogue - enjoyed long daily walks along the stunning banks of Loch Affric.
Then, on Christmas Day itself, James took a big step forward by embarking on a three-hour hike around the loch with Ella and Spencer, wearing kilts.
The hikers returned to the Glen Affric lodge for turkey roast “served with all of the extras you could possibly imagine,” followed by whisky and a traditional Scottish dance known as a "reeling."
By the end of the vacation, the Scottish hills had worked such magic on James that he was obeying a morning ritual of jumping into the icy waters of Loch Affric on a daily basis.
“The freezing cold water made me feel alive. It has great healing powers,” he wrote in The Telegraph. “After a restless night, every single bit of my body woke up; I could feel the endorphins and the adrenaline pumping through my blood. Then I’d go back to the lodge for a warm bath.”
This combination of exercise, family, and the beautiful snow-covered Caledonian pine forests and loch-side hills eventually proved to be the perfect medicine for James' mental health.
He has since become a visitor host at the estate and regularly posts images of him enjoying the spectacular surrounding with his fianceé, French financial analyst Alizee Thevenet, and their ever-growing pack of dogs.
“Almost each day that went past, my smile became less forced and more genuine,” James wrote about the influence of his Scottish vacation.
“I hadn’t been in the right state of mind for a while, but this was a turning point for me. I realized I had to really focus on getting back to being James Middleton - and that’s what I went on to do. I had created a purpose.”