Hiking, Mental Health, and Living Sustainably
What exactly defines hiking? Is it a walk in the woods or a climb up a steep mountain? Is it a way to connect with nature and clear your thoughts, or is it simply an athletic endeavor to get in shape? I have never looked up the definition of hiking, and I never will, because to me, hiking is all the above and more.
My first true memory in life is of me hiking on a trail in the state of Ohio. I don’t exactly remember where and when. But I am almost certain it is of me hiking a trail when I was two or three years old. For many years, or for most of my life, I have been a very shy and quite person who doesn’t often express my feelings. I have decided to blog for The Trek not because I want an outlet to express my feelings, but because I wanted an outlet to express to people that long-distance hiking can actually save your life, and that the stories you hear constantly of people having therapeutic effects on a thru-hike are indeed true.
Last April, I very abruptly decided to take three months off and go on a long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail. While completing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike had been a lifelong dream of mine, my time allotment only allowed for three months. Soon after beginning my trek on the AT, I realized that long-distance hiking isn’t about thru-hiking, but about being on the trail for as long as you want, in order to receive the benefits that you are looking for. I hike to heal and not for anybody else.
Due to prolonged events throughout my childhood and early life, I ended up developing complex PTSD. For many years I lived in a deep mental fog that I didn’t fully grasp until I was 19 years old. I then used alcohol to drown away all the pain I was feeling. Four and a half years ago, I realized that I could no longer use alcohol as a crutch, and I decided to get completely sober. I used hiking and basketball to help me get through this period, as well as the help from my family. However, the pain from my past did not go away, and my knee has failed me to the point where basketball is currently out of my life. This leaves me to my first true memory.
After dealing with constant suicidal thoughts, I knew that I needed to get away from society and enter the Appalachian Trail hiking community for as long as I could. I don’t need to describe how long-distance hiking heals people, because it must be experienced to fully understand the impacts. What I can help to describe is the deep emotional connection you will have with nature as well as with the new community of people you will be in. A community that does not care who you are, what your background is, or how many miles you are hiking. All they care about is that you are a fellow hiker and that you are now part of their family. Even if you poop your pants or pee all over yourself. They will be there to help pick you up off the ground.
You can yell in the forest and no one will care. You can have emotional meltdowns, and the forest will be there to help you up.
I am at a certain part of my life where I am in between careers and I am using the power of thru-hiking to help me heal from my past and help me live a more sustainable life in the future. Because the only thing that truly matters in your life is your mental health. If you are in a situation that is not conducive for you, one that you are struggling to stay happy in and that continues to bring emotional distress to you or your family. Maybe put your life on hold and live in the wilderness for months on end, because you never know how it can change your life for the better. You cannot put a price on your mental health.
Please join me while I hike to heal on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2020.
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