Outdoor Therapy: Navy Veteran Turns to Hiking

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. – José Narosky

One-third of returning OIF/OEF veterans report suffering from problems with mental health.

One-fourth report suffering from substance abuse.

One-fifth report suffering from major depressive disorder or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

From 2008-2016 an average of 6000 veterans committed suicide each year.

Only half of veterans that need mental health services will receive them.

My name is Trevor and I am a US Navy disabled veteran suffering from depression and PTSD, a recovering alcoholic, and a suicide attempt survivor. But thanks to the VA Hospital in Indianapolis and outdoor therapy my story is a happy one!

Navy to … What?

My enlistment story is more a reflection of my nature than an act of patriotism. While finishing my second year at Indiana State University I had a disagreement with my longtime girlfriend and in an act of buffoonery I declared, “Well, I am just going to go and join the Navy then,” to which she replied, “I bet you won’t.” The next day I enlisted in the Navy and served from January 2005 until November 2012. Thankfully for me, the Navy shored up my love for travel, adventure, and pushing myself as far as I could go.

2012 was a difficult year for my mental health. I fought and lost a difficult custody battle after a difficult divorce, struggled with alcoholism, intentionally overdosed on antidepressants and was hospitalized, and ultimately separated from the Navy (discharged under honorable service). Utterly defeated, I returned home to Indiana to begin to recover with my family.

After arriving home, I enrolled at Indiana University (IUPUI) while also attending a full-time massage therapy program at Indiana Wellness College. Connecting with the Veterans Affairs hospital in Indianapolis was the final pillar in my recovery. Through biweekly therapy sessions and rekindling my love for nature I began to heal.

Following college graduation, my best friend asked if I would bike the Great Allegheny Passage with him. I didn’t have a bicycle, so we settled instead on attempting a SOBO thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. After I stated my goal of thru-hiking the AT out loud to my friends, my family, and my employers, some were supportive but most just told me “You are crazy” and “I bet you won’t be able to do it.” So I was going to do it.

Hard SOBO (Not Soft NOBO)

After completing my longest multiday hike of three days in Southern Indiana I set off to begin my SOBO thru-hike on Katahdin. (Does anyone else still have to google how to spell Katahdin?) I started with Sour Patch on July 2 and finished alone on Dec. 2.

During my thru-hike I broke the second toe on each foot just south of the 100-Mile Wilderness, stayed at the Sunny Rest Resort and the Doyle, hiked the entire state of Maryland in one day, and forged bonds with the best tramily anyone could ask for!

Thank you to my tramily!

  • Brian “Scar” Bland-Clark
  • Katelyn “Monk” Bland-Clark
  • Jackson “Granola” Hawkins
  • Lulu “Smalls” Russell
  • Michelle “Sequoia” Clark
  • Forest “Camel” Agee
  • Gianluca “Organic” DePace
  • Christopher “Sour Patch” Patellis

What’s in a Trail Name?

Halfway through the 100-Mile Wilderness, I discovered a small stuffed monkey lying dirty and hot among the foliage. After rescuing the poor creature, I discovered that the banana he held allowed him to fit perfectly atop my bamboo flute staff. Fellow hikers remarked, “That’s a sweet monkey!” From the 100-Mile Wilderness on I and It and We were called “Sweet Monkey.”

 

Sweet Monkey Is Just Swinging Through

What I didn’t have to carry during my hike was the weight of depression or the hyper-vigilance of PTSD. I had no alcohol and was able to get my five-year sobriety chip in Rutland, VT. Trail life, the trail community, and my trail family encouraged and supported me which made all the difference in my life.

I battle my demons and overcome them every day and I will succeed! I am looking forward to sharing my hiking experiences through my end-to-end Vermont Long Trail hike with you all starting July 19, 2019!

Here is a list of my completed and planned thru-hikes:

  • Appalachian Trail: Completed 2017
  • Vermont Long Trail: Starting July 19 2019 SOBO
  • CDT, PCT, and Te Araroa: Waiting on someone to tell me I can’t do it.

Veterans Crisis Line

If you are a service member or veteran in crisis or you’re concerned about one, there are specially trained responders ready to help you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The Veterans Crisis Line connects service members and veterans in crisis, as well as their family members and friends, with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text-messaging service.

  • Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone.
  • Send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.

For more information on veteran mental health check out the National Veterans Foundation and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A million thanks to Katelyn “Monk” Bland-Clark and Rio Lea for reading and proofing my many drafts!

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Comments 4

  • Karilyn Bela : Jun 26th

    Thanks for sharing your story with us Sweet Monkey! Haha. It’s refreshing to hear authenticity and openness about what you passed through, and also how you are a determined soul, just waiting for someone to tel you you can’t do it! 😂 It’s inspiring to me and I’m sure many others! Can’t wait to read about your Vermont Long Trail!

    Reply
    • Sweet Monkey : Jun 26th

      Thank you Karilyn! I am grateful for the opportunity to share. I hope you enjoy the posts I have coming up!

      Reply
  • Andrea Dawn Short : Jul 6th

    As I read this article, I wept. A mixture of sadness and happiness swelled up in my eyes. I miss you so much brother. So happy to see you remaining positive despite all the times the world has tried to knock you down. Gives me hope for my own mental instability. Much love.

    Reply
    • Sweet Monkey : Jul 6th

      Thank you Andrea! You are one of my oldest and dearest friends and I know you will make it through! Hopefully my lighthearted and joyful trail updates once I get started will bring more smiles and less tears!

      Reply

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