I feel like there’s this nasty, persistent rumor going around that you can’t go on adventures while experiencing anxiety and depression That there is some imaginary barrier to the outdoor world if you struggle with your mental health in any fashion. To be adventurous, you need to be spontaneous, illogically brave, and incredibly strong – in all the meanings.
People with anxiety can often get trapped in a bubble. Sometimes they are told not to do the things that give you anxiety – so you won’t get anxious, and you can protect yourself. Avoiding the triggers. By doing this, people limit their possibilities for their life.
I had all these ideas of everything I always wanted to do, but I didn’t think I could with anxiety and depression. I had false stereotypes in my head:
“You cannot be anxious and be a rock climber. You cannot be depressed and be able to backpack. You cannot do it. People like you don’t do things like that. You are not as badass as them.”
Every time I thought of doing a new activity – I would hold back because I never thought I would be good enough. So I wouldn’t even attempt it. I lived a quiet life for a long time. I didn’t do many activities besides watching other people’s lives through television and movies. I thought I was protecting myself. I heard how change isn’t good for anxiety. How intense activities aren’t good for anxiety. But, exercise and sunlight are always a coping mechanism for anxiety and depression. But it’s never easy, is it? Finding the motivation to do it. Finding the strength to do it. Finding the mental willpower to do it.
So, I found myself stuck between these two dichotomies. Getting outside and exercising as well as living small. When trying to find the balance between the two, my soul still wasn’t satisfied. I knew I wanted so much more out of life.
Here’s the thing, you can have anxiety and depression and love outdoor recreation. You don’t have to be the typical badass lady to do these types of sports. In fact, I would like to bet that these types of activities will help minimize your anxiety and depression. There is nothing like accomplishing things you never thought you could accomplish.
There is a fair share of adventurous women out there who struggle with anxiety and depression that do the most amazing things. Here are just a few of them:
Caroline Gleich – Backcountry Skier
I watched Caroline’s video Follow Through. Honestly, I was a little jealous of her. She’s beautiful. She’s badass. She does things I could never do. In this video she is open, she is vulnerable, she talks about her insecurities. This video proves she is a badass – skiing some of the most challenging ski lines in Utah – as well as having anxiety. She is also open about her anxiety on her social media. She talks about it in her stories and posts. Her honesty is refreshing. It makes me connect with her. It makes me feel less alone when I’m doing a new activity and struggling with anxiety.
Heather Weidner – Rock Climber
Heather is a professional rock climber. In 2017, she climbed the hardest route she has ever done called China Doll. Her effort to climb this difficult route was made into a documentary displaying the true emotions that go into trying to send a climb. In her blog, “Heather Climbs,” she mentions how she cried when re-watching the film, she said, “I was in a place where I let my negative self-worth mind chatter take over, despite just achieving the greatest climbing accomplishment of my career.” She talked about how she is trying to stop using negative self-talk and numbing behavior – and how difficult it can be. She mentioned “I do believe in myself. I admit that I live most of my life with confidence, but I battle those deep-seated thoughts of negative self-worth, and sometimes they take over. I’m getting better at catching those thoughts and labeling them, not letting them go too far as they did in the past, but they’re a part of me and always will be.”.When reading that article, I instantly felt less alone. My mind is also cluttered with negative thoughts about how I will never be good enough and challenging my worth. Depression is a close friend. But here is this amazing women dealing with the same things. I’m not alone. Read the full article she wrote about the process watch the film here.
Nikki Kimball – Ultramarathoner
Nikki is one of the most talented ultramarathoners out there. She holds records. She usually finishes in the top for races. She also happens to struggle with depression. Maybe that sounds strange to some. Depression usually drains your energy – so how does this woman who struggles with depression run ultra marathons (races more than 26.2 miles)? In the film, Finding Traction, she talks about how depression is her secret weapon. Depression taught her how to endure. How being outside – even if just for a half mile walk – saved her life. She wants to show that women can do anything. She is looking for her limit.
I remember cross country skiing one winter up a black diamond feeling like I was going to die. I repeated to myself “if I can survive that night, I can survive anything.” When I said “that night” I was referencing a very difficult night I had a while ago, where I was on the verge of a mental breakdown with anxiety and depression taking over. I thought that night would never end. I survived that night so I can survive cross-country skiing up a black diamond. Depression made me tough. It sucked. I wish I never had it, but I cannot deny how mentally strong it has made me.
Sylvia Marcia – Average adventurer with anxiety and depression
Then there’s me – an average female who is anxious and depressed. When I first started doing adventurous outdoor recreation, I was usually overcome by anxiety. I would become irritable and anxious. But I also felt a pull to the outdoors. To pushing myself. To challenging myself. To finding peace. To prove to myself and my anxiety how capable I am. I have cross country skied, rock climbed, hiked, winter hiked, backpacked, and downhill skied. I have done things that I never thought I could do because of anxiety and depression.
It didn’t necessarily come easy. I was lucky to have people around people who I trusted and were interested and talented in outdoor activities. They mentored me. But I had anxiety attacks on rock climbs. I had moments when I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it. I had moments when I wanted to go back. I had days when I woke up and had no desire to move, so I stayed in bed instead of going outside. I had plenty of setbacks. Moments when I wondered if I should even try to continue to venture out into the wild.
I spent a winter weekend in New Hampshire that was full of new people and new activities. I was on edge for most of the weekend. On our way back home, we stopped at the base of Mount Washington to hike to Tuckerman’s Ravine. We took a broad trail on the way up, and I felt mostly good. I was happy and laughing. But when we reached Tuckerman’s Ravine something shifted. Nothing felt okay. I was angry and irritable. I went into flight or fight mode. I ended up heading down the mountain, without fully telling the people I was with. On the way down the mountain, I felt dizzy and like I was dissociated. I remember crying. I remember sitting on the path. I remember thinking “what the hell am I doing?” I felt like an idiot. I was frustrated with myself. I felt like a failure. I was afraid of how angry the people I left behind were.
I messed up. My anxiety took over. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be allowed to hike with them again. Or if I should even be allowed to hike again. What I did was dangerous and not smart. I was embarrassed and wanted to hide. After a few days of contemplation, I decided that I learned my lesson and to keep moving forward.
The following year I took part in another difficult, winter weekend of new activities. But I handled it like a boss. I discovered what worked for me when it comes to winter hiking. I got better gear. I prepared more. I took time for myself. After I finished the hike, I was SO proud of myself.
I have come incredibly far with coping with anxiety and depression in the outdoors. I still have struggles, but I’m moving forward. Outdoor sports give me a breath of fresh air. It gave me space. It helped me develop my self-esteem and capabilities more. It proved to me that I can do so much more than I ever thought I could. It brought me to new places and new people that I once found so intimidating, but now I find welcoming. It showed me that there is so much out there than I ever thought there was.
I used to think that I was stuck living a life I didn’t want to, due to my depression and anxiety, but I realized that I am capable of so much more. I have anxiety and depression and am an outdoor adventurer. You are not alone in thinking you are not enough. But anxiety and depression also made us who we are. You can have anxiety and be an outdoor adventurer. You can have depression and be an outdoor adventurer. You can struggle with your mental health and be an outdoor adventurer.