Extra Weight: Battling Depression on the Trail

We are about 15 minutes into our conversation when the words tumble out of my mouth:

“I’m going to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail.”

I can hear the conviction in my voice and it takes me by surprise. Due to the demoralizing looks of incredulity that I sometimes see on people’s faces after I make this proclamation, I have trained myself to sound like I’m not yet committed when talking about my loftiest ambition.

“This person will think I’m having delusions of grandeur. I can prevent that by making it sound like I’m pitching the idea rather than stating a solid fact,” I often think.

But today is different. This is therapy and I know counselors are supposed to be impartial. There is no fear of judgment here, and therefore I can sound as confident as I feel.

“Interesting. Maybe you’re trying to find Brandon,” she responds.

“Well, if I can’t find myself on a 2,600 mile hike, I’ve got a problem.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Some people go their entire lives without figuring out who they are.”

“Oh, she’s good,” I think. “When has putting unreasonable expectations on yourself ever been a good idea?”

Know Your Enemy

Depression and anxiety are complex and often debilitating illnesses with varying degrees of severity. In addition, they can be lifelong ailments if brought on or exacerbated by intense trauma.

This isn’t the time for me to get into the gory details, but my personal traumas have ensured I’ll likely be dealing with this for at least several more years. My anxiety is considered severe, and my depression moderately severe.

To give you an example of what this once looked like in my life, I used to stay holed up at home whenever I wasn’t working, playing video games and binge-eating for 12+ hours a day. I had no social life, no motivation, no hope and a plethora of health issues making everything worse.

Like I said: debilitating.

Fighting Back

I’ve talked previously about the role getting outside played in helping me cope with this mental plague. Studies have shown time and time again that physical exercise and less screen time can be hugely beneficial for someone fighting depression. My experiences over the last three years bear this out.

There has been a noticeable improvement in the quality of my life since I put down the Xbox controller and started hiking.

Acceptance can be liberating.

Reasonable Expectations on the PCT

It can be easy for someone who’s dealing with depression to romanticize a major life event like a thru-hike. I won’t be falling into that trap.

I have to be realistic about what to expect as I go forward on the trail.

What I Know

  • Thru-hiking the PCT will not cure my anxiety or depression.
  • Post-trail depression may make things more difficult for me than most.
  • Falling in love with someone on the trail won’t change my circumstances.

What I Don’t Know

  • What new ways I may find to manage my illness.
  • How anxiety will affect me in social settings on the trail. I did OK in Yellowstone. Will the same be true here?
  • If I can be self-sufficient away from professional therapy for five months.

With these things in mind, I can now fully focus on preparing for the hike of my life.

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