Grounding Your Mind At 12,000ft
There was once a girl who was afraid of the world, but she loved it and all the people/nature it held too much not to see it.
When leaving your world behind to embark on such a journey such as the Pacific Crest Trail, you look for any piece of advice you can get. At 19 years old, every hiker seems far advanced as they offer new backpacking insights and levels of maturity I haven’t yet mastered. Being new to the backpacking world, I feel I have a great deal to learn. My co-hiker and I leave for the high sierras in two weeks and as I will grow in my backpacking skills, I hope to update on my feats. Until then, I can tell you about everything I do know.
As long as I can remember, I have struggled with severe anxiety and panic disorder. This has severely impacted my ability to travel and experience new surroundings the way others do. These attacks are triggered by being in a new environment, especially ones that are far from home. When struggling with mental illness, shame can be a nasty side effect. In order to separate myself from this illness, I look at it as a separate being that my friends later named, “Sarah” as a light-hearted gesture. While this may be frustrating, Sarah has taught me to vulnerable with my emotions and learn more about my body. It is challenged me to take care of my mental state and help guide others. My goal was never to hike the PCT the best, to finish in a certain time-period, but rather to experience my anxiety in the most raw way. To put myself in direct exposure of everything I’ve ever feared and offer nothing but compassion to my inner child as we take another step. Another step with my co-hiker, my pack, Sarah, and my inner child.
Alongside Panic, I experience physical symptoms that can seem almost unbearable. How do you hike and survive in an environment when experience such severe pains? You get curious. You slow down and rather than fighting it, you embrace it and strive to learn about your body and environment. How do you feel inside your hands? Your legs? How does it feel to touch the ground? What do you smell or taste in your mouth? What can you see? Sometimes, when faced with even the most painful symptoms, you can look to identify them as oppose to judging them. What hurts? Where does it hurt? While you’re busy learning, intrusive thoughts come up, but try and recenter on what you are learning. If you are in the middle of no where, create those sensations for yourself. Personally, I will be brining sour candy on the trail to practice such mindfulness and will be walking barefoot any chance I get. Once I began asking Sarah why she felt the way she did, she calms down from a roar, sits beside me and whispers. She tells me she feels she cannot escape and is not capable of accomplishing such things. I ask her if she would be willing to go one more mile, and slowly we progress.
Nurturing and Aftercare
Experiencing such emotions can be overwhelming in addition to the workout you put yourself through at that time. I challenge you to show yourself nothing but patience and compassion for what you have experienced. I’ve noticed I can become frustrated with Sarah, especially when she acts up in some of the most serene moments. I learned when you are raised in a traumatic environment growing up, you become accustomed to that on-edge-feeling. That when the world is quiet and you are safe, you almost look for dangers that could possibly trigger your nervous system. We can create issues that weren’t even there. It wasn’t the hike that would be my main challenge, it was the loud silence of the evenings and nights. This trail will force me to get comfortable in the silence and serene environment. To sit with the discomfort of the twitches, the shakes, and the darting eyes looking for any threat that could arise. As I approach the date, willingly walking into the depths of my fear, I have to remind myself how truly strong the human brain is.
If your mind is capable of experience intense emotions/anxiety, it is also capable of surviving in dangerous situations, finding ultimate peace, and everything in between.
The inspiration for this article came from the Mt. Humphreys hike I have done before and will be facing again this weekend. As the tallest point in Arizona, I am so in fear and absolutely bewildered by it. It takes my anxiety to new heights and as I practice my techniques at 12,500+ ft altitude.
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