Post (poned) Trail Depression

Not at all. Just a little. Somewhat. Moderately. Quite a lot. Very much.  These are all scalable answers to online survey questions one can take to see if one might “certifiably” be in the throws of “depression.” As of late I found myself searching these sites just to be sure I hadn’t fallen into the abyss of depression.  Like many, I am not a stranger to the abyss.  I have, however, worked hard to stay away from its perilous edge.  I am, by my very nature, a “glass is refillable” type person. Since the postponement of our 2020 CDT thru-hike, and rabid case of cabin fever it often feels like I am standing on the edge, looking into the abyss. Getting up out of bed each morning, let alone getting dressed, and continuing to work out is an unpleasant chore.  My hair brush has been all but abandoned.  The last time I wore sweats (or drank) for this many days in a row, I was in college.  For all practical purposes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.  I am cognizant of the fact that I have got to break out of this!  Unfortunately, living in a state with a stay-at-home order makes it all the more difficult.

But Is It Really Depression?

I know what clinical depression looks  like, and what temporary or situational depression feels like. I have even experienced work-related PTSD, but my current state of mind has me questioning, “What the hell is going on?”  Granted, it is a little hard to be eternally positive and upbeat with a world pandemic going on, but to be depressed over a thru-hike that hasn’t even happened, that’s just silly.  Up until this year, both Paul and I really poo-pooed the idea of post-trail depression.  We thought people who suffered from this were a little lost, and were purposely avoiding the reality and responsibilities of “real” life.  Well, I’m not afraid (unlike Fonzie… you older hikers will get this) to admit when I’m wrong.  Post-trail depression is real, and as real as my post(poned) trail depression.  However, in creating this post and doing my research to overcome/deal with how I have been feeling, it doesn’t really add up to actual depression. I think that Anne K. Baker nailed my “diagnosis” in her October 25, 2019, article in The Trek, Post Trail Depression, It’s Not What You Think,  when she surmised,

“It appears this phenomenon is not depression; rather, it is grief.”

We (especially me) were so looking forward to starting our thru-hike.  It was to be my release and re-centering.  I feel like I NEED this thru-hike.  It was how I was going to recharge and more importantly get a break from my responsibilities.  At long last, I could be solely focused and responsible for… ME.  As of now, that NEED does not look like it will be fulfilled anytime soon. Yup.  It appears that I am in mourning.

Sadness Orients Us to Our Values

With the exception of the adventure clock is ticking, I have been having a hard time pinpointing the burning desire to thru-hike the CDT, considering its brutal reputation.  After reading Baker’s article, I believe that the impending loss of our CDT thru-hike has me pining for SPACE.  SPACE, in this instance, is an acronym created by Baker that breaks down where that feeling of loss/depression experienced by some after a thru-hike wells from, or in this case, for me, one that may not happen. 

SPACE, defined by Baker is:

  • Simplicity
  • Purpose
  • Adventure
  • Community
  • Extreme Exercise

This acronym makes perfect sense.  For me, any prolonged backpacking trip or foray into the wild provides me with much-needed SPACE. In essence, I am in mourning over what appears to be my loss of (and need for) SPACE, of which I have now learned that I value highly.  SPACE would explain the seemingly innate pull to long trails, thru-hiking and physically demanding sports.

What Is the Best way to Deal with this Grief?

I have discovered that the stages of grief for the loss of a loved one, and in this case, the loss of a thru-hike, are no different.  In dealing with grief, all stages have to be recognized and experienced if one is to overcome, and get back to some resemblance of normal. Generally, there are five stages of grief in which to traverse:

  1. Denial – “This can’t be happening!”
  2. Anger – “This is bullshit!”
  3. Bargaining – “What if I just…”
  4. Depression/ Sadness – What you fear has become a truth
  5. Acceptance – You can’t change what has happened. Time to move forward.

In examining these stages, and with deep reflection, I have now tentatively entered Stage 5 – Acceptance.  My husband arrived there much sooner than I. I have finally come to the realization and understanding that whether we can still embark on a thru-hike of the CDT this year is (with COVID-19) completely out of our control.  We will still make contingency plans for a SOBO thru-hike, in the event the window of opportunity opens for us, but if not, it’s NOT the end of the world… not thru-hiking that is.  And as such, there is no changing what has happened. It is time to move forward.

I’m still holding firm that my pajama pants are actually fashionable…and count as pants.  I will however, go brush my hair.

DISCLAIMER: If you are struggling with prolonged, intense negative emotions and/or having suicidal thoughts, please seek help from a mental health professional.


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