How the Mountains Helped Save Me
I’ve spent many years battling crippling depression, once it took me down a path where I attempted to take my own life. Luckily for me a concerned party noticed the warning signs and got professional help which is why I am still here to write to you today. However, it wasn’t the doctors or therapy or a prescribed pill that healed me. It was having to move back in my folk’s mountain home and get back to my Appalachian roots. These are the top lessons mountain life has taught me in my twenty-seven years among them, and what I believe is a part of what people are searching for when they decide to venture out on an extended hike.
When I first moved back home after my suicide attempt things were expectedly rocky. This was also when the man who I had been engaged to decided to leave. My entire world had been turned upside down, which caused me to spend the majority of my time crying or sleeping. It was also winter time and not the best season to re-adjust to my old mountain ways. My health had been in decline due to quite a few years of soft city life spent drinking and eating pizza, I was gaining weight and seemed to be constantly sick. After a few weeks of this sedentary behavior my mom finally made me strap my old hiking boots on and take our Black Lab for a stroll around the property. I was wheezing and coughing after only a mile so I headed back. But I noticed even just those thirty minutes of crisp, fresh, air made me feel better. So I kept at it. Every day my dog and I would hike further and further. Eventually, we moved from walking up and down the 1.5 mile dirt driveway to hiking the mountain behind the house. I was getting my strength and health back! As winter fled I observed the snows melting and sprouts slowly rise from the forest floor, the Earth was blooming along with me.
Patience is an attribute I learned from Nature early on as a child, not only during the trying times of the past few years. During the winter, I had to wait for my father to load and light the wood stove so we could be warm. I watched my parents plant tiny seeds which would sprout, be placed in the garden, and eventually grow into the vegetables on our dinner plate. I would observe a turkey lay her eggs then see her wandering with the little ones months later. In the mountains, time slows down. This is something I had forgotten after my years of city life and I’m glad to have found it again. It helped me realize that my depression and anxiety issues would only be a temporary place in a whole lifetime full of ups and downs.
After a while back home, I noticed that a large part of nature centers around acceptance. You don’t see the deer or other animals get angry at the snow, or heat, or thunderstorms. They adapt and adjust their life accordingly. After a very long time I finally recognized my depression for the disease it really is. I am not talking about just simply feeling sad, depression drains every ounce of energy from you, it gives you backaches and stomach aches, it comes with anxiety attacks that make you feel like you’re dying. It is literally a mental and physical battle to get through every single day. So I accepted that this was my weight to bear, but I would NO LONGER let it rule my life. I wasn’t going to allow it to lead me back to a sedentary (and drunk all the time) lifestyle and waste away. I once wanted to end my life…now I endeavor to really LIVE IT.
And this leads me to the final lesson…
One of the best definitions of peace I have found is a quote by an unknown author, “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.” Through Nature, I have learned that no matter how stressful life can be you have to stay calm and just wait it out, it will pass. Also, science has been researching exactly how just a simple walk through the woods can help heal stress and anxiety and it is all compiled by National Geographic in this lovely article you can read here.
So, the mountains have already taught me quite a few beneficial life lessons, and I am looking forward to what else the Appalachians have in store for me during my coming thru-hike. If you are depressed like I was, I highly encourage you to get out in the woods, even if you don’t have time for something as crazy as a thru-hike, I promise you something beautiful is out there waiting for you.
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Hey. I tried a true hike this year. Made it 800 miles! Weaned off my anxiety meds while on the trail. Think I made a mistake doing that. I would probably be on thetrail still . Did not sleep the whole time. Stay with your meds. Enjoy your hike
I.miss it so much. Good luck?
Wonderful insights into the “human condition”. When something good is happening, we get anxious because we’re afraid it won’t last forever. When something bad happens, we get angry and frustrated and think it should stop immediately. Your statement: “After a while back home, I noticed that a large part of nature centers around acceptance. You don’t see the deer or other animals get angry at the snow, or heat, or thunderstorms. They adapt and adjust their life accordingly.” is perfect! When I did my thru-hike last year, one of the hardest things to overcome was to stop with all my “expectations” and just accept and experience the here and now.
Best of luck with your upcoming thru-hike.
I, too am thru-hiking next year with a disability (Cerebral Palsy in my case), and, like you, I find myself most at home in the wild. I don’t know if you find this with depression, but, for me, a huge percentage of what’s “crippling” about living with a disability is other people’s perceptions. In the city, I deal with “oh, you have a disability, you must be homeless” and “oh, you must need help with basic things”. Like you, I find peace and acceptance in wild places. I’ll be documenting my story in photos and writing (I’m a landscape photographer by profession). I’d love to hear yours in more detail…
I wish you a beautiful hike, the trail will be an amazing experience. My son hiked 3/4 of it this year.
Glad to see you recovering. My son has PTSD from his time in Iraq and Afghanistan and struggles daily with thoughts of suicide, which have been compounded since his wife took her own life a couple of months ago. He intends to hike some of the trail with me on my thru-hike next year. Hope to see you out there!
Thank you for sharing your journey.
Can I move in with your parents? That sounds like a beautiful place for healing.
May you have many more lovely Springtimes!