I always hear how amazing being in nature is supposed to be for you mentally and physically. I always had a desire to be outdoors. I ran in my backyard pretending to be Pocahontas and singing “Colors of the Wind. Last year, I made a list of ten activities I would do if I were brave including cliff jumping, backpacking, canyoning, canoeing, ride a motorcycle, and mountain bike. It can be difficult to make that step into being able to fully enjoy the outdoors, especially with people suffering from mental illness. For example, struggling with anxiety and depression made it difficult for me to ever step into that life.
Anytime I tried something harder than a casual hike – I became paralyzed. Negative thoughts consumed my mind. Things like I’m going to look like an idiot. I am going to fail. People will judge me. I’m going to die. I’m not good enough to do this. I shouldn’t be here.
With those thoughts always swarming my mind whenever I attempt to do something outdoors, I would retreat. I would tell myself that those activities aren’t meant for me. I was paralyzed by fear and believing I wasn’t enough. People say that everyone begins somewhere and is nervous when they start something new. Yes, that is true, but I go a step further. It’s not just nerves- it’s paralysis. It’s non-stop intrusive thoughts. It’s frustration. It is believing that you are better off hiding away than trying things you always wanted to do. So how do you make that step and not let anxiety and depression dictate your life?
It started naturally. It started by going on a familiar hike on my own and buying trail running shoes. From there, it started with finding people I trusted and believed in. It was car camping with a good friend that ended with us leaving at six am to sleep at my apartment. It was to going to Colorado and backpacking 1.5 miles with my cousin.
I started to rock climb. It was easy climbs at first. Ones I knew I could accomplish. It made feel like I could handle something in my life. Then it went to the harder climbs. Ones that I struggled at. Ones that I became anxious on. Ones that made me scared. Ones that I needed some help on. I had anxiety on a climb in Acadia. I felt the ocean rushing beneath me. I was terrified. I didn’t trust the rope. I didn’t want to move. My boyfriend, who was belaying me, had to lift me up a bit so I could finish the climb. After that, I finished the climb on my own. Even after I had the anxiety attack, I was able to do it. Do you know how proud I was of myself? I was super impressive.
Then I started doing longer hikes. It began with seven miles in a day to my longest day hike yet of twenty miles. It shows me how much I can accomplish, even when I’m miserable. How far I can go when I think I can’t go anymore. How sometimes the hardest hikes give you the most beautiful views. How maybe that time in nature gives me a peace of mind that I couldn’t accomplish otherwise.
I started camping for more nights. Backingpacking further. Enjoying the simple things in life. Learning how to build a campfire. Buying my own gear. Sleeping in a tent underneath the stars. Being free. Being quiet. Being one with nature. Not being anxious sleeping in a tent on my own. Not always questioning my ability.
I started trusting myself. I collected all those small pieces adding them to my puzzle. Each piece made it a little clearer and braver. I started to be willing to risk a little bit of my mental safety, to experience something new. Taking things a step further. All these activities I started doing, remind me that I use to think I couldn’t do them. That I wasn’t even worthy of doing them. Look how far I came in the past year. How much I proved to myself that I was wrong. How many experiences I had that made me who I am today. It started simply. It usually does. I slowly grew into where I am today. I will continue to push myself just a little bit more to see what I’m truly made of, even when struggling with anxiety and depression.
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