Status update: 30 days to go

Lately I have felt very scattered. 

I catch myself walking into rooms or opening cabinets, with no idea why. The remains of abandoned projects litter the countertops. Evidence of my fractured attention span lies in little piles all over my apartment. 

It may be springtime where you are, but here in the Great North Woods, February is still deep winter. The days have been short and cold since November (low of 8℉ tonight) and even the heartiest amongst us is starting to grow weary.

As a former tax accountant, I always blamed my mid-winter slump on the pressures of work. February is the peak of tax season: a peculiar flavor of hell marked by long hours, no weekends, and so much take-out I have ripped the ass out of at least one pair of pants every year.  The neurochemical alchemy of being simultaneously stressed and bored for months on-end made for a pretty believable scapegoat for seasonal malaise. 

From one scapegoat to another

And yet… here I am. Even without tax season to blame, and nothing to do besides prepare for the PCT, I once again find myself in that old familiar rut. Instead of springing out of bed, I hit the snooze button. Instead of going on my training hikes, I get lost watching Tik Toks of a man in drag lip syncing scenes from Bring it On. 

I’ve lived with major depression my whole life, and without work to blame I was very tempted to chalk up these feelings of lethargy to the big D. After all, fatigue, low motivation, and loss of interest in things you love are all classic symptoms of the gloomies. But somehow this feels different. I don’t feel sad so much as I feel LAZY.

It’s not that I don’t want to go hiking or plan for my hike. I love that stuff and when I finally get going, I have a blast. It’s just that getting there feels like so much work.

After hearing some friends share similar struggles with motivation, something occurred to me: what if the reason we are all having trouble being productive, is because, right now, productivity is not what we are meant to be doing? 

Productivity addiction

The civilized world puts a lot of pressure on us to be productive. There is an unspoken expectation to make, to do, to improve. As much as possible. At all times. Those of us who internalize that pressure can feel ashamed or inadequate when we fail to live up to that standard. We feel compelled to follow a path of relentless linear growth, lest we fall behind in our imaginary race to “somewhere.”

But when we look from our deepest wisdom, we recognize that this expectation for constant production is profoundly unnatural. That’s just not how the earth works.

The rhythms of nature move in cycles, in spirals. The bloom of summer depends upon the fade of autumn. You cannot have one without the other, just as we could not see starlight if not for the infinite blackness that surrounds it. Without silence there can be no music. Without stillness there can be no movement. Everything in nature exists in duality, and denying that reality is as futile and exhausting as swimming against the current.  

Making peace with stillness

Through this lens, late-winter lethargy transforms from a shameful inadequacy into a poetic resonance with the season. No wonder it has been so difficult to get moving! Nature, in her intelligence, is calling us to stillness. The birds have not yet returned, the seeds have not yet sprouted. This is a time, not of decisive action, but of penitential preparation, of meditation, of fasting.

As the snow slowly recedes, the things we have buried throughout the winter reappear at the surface. Now is the time to deal with everything we have been pushing into the basement of our psyches. Without reflection and integration, we are doomed to repeat the same patterns, the same mistakes. By allowing for unproductive time, by resisting the urge to be busy or distracted, by sitting with our discomfort without looking away, we make space for nature’s mysteries to work on us. We surrender to the season, and allow its subtle magic to prepare our minds, bodies, and spirits for the colossal efforts that lie ahead. 

So, in preparation for the PCT, I am doing my best to peel away the layers of my cultural conditioning and reject the internalized pressure to be productive. Who cares if I don’t go on as many prep hikes as I had planned? The trail will strengthen me. Who cares if I don’t have every detail ironed out? The trail will guide me. 

What is needed of me now, more than dehydrating food or shaking down my pack, is to shut up, let go, and have faith.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar
    pearwood : Feb 26th

    Lacie,
    Yeah. I think that when I finally stand at the base of the approach trail to Springer Mountain next February I will have already conquered one of the hardest battles of my thru-hike, that of simply getting started.
    Hang in there.
    Blessings,
    Steve

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Feb 28th

      You’ll be there before you know it! Thanks for reading 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Carly : Feb 27th

    Thanks so much, Lacie. I’m starting the pct on 4/8 and an currently struggling with these same issues. Faith is a powerful thing!

    Best of luck, see you out there!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Feb 28th

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! Hope to see you out there as well!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Lacey : Feb 27th

    You are so right about the world’s ‘expectations’. It drives me bonkers when I hear someone talk about how much they have on their plate, especially when they were the ones who added to that already full plate. Not many people know how to just chill anymore, like life is some competition for status when in reality it’s only a competition if we make it one. Only thing we should be competing for is how long we are here on this Earth and even that isn’t something we know. Which brings me to the whole point of taking the time to enjoy and embrace the nature that surrounds you.😊

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Feb 28th

      Beautiful sentiment, thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Joe Burns : Feb 27th

    I have been reading your posts for a few weeks. I would suggest that you relocate here to sunny warm FL. More sunshine and NO winter. Just a suggestion but it may alleviate the depression you feel during long cold months up north. It worked for me.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Feb 28th

      Haha! Thanks for the suggestion Joe, but I actually lived in Florida for a bit as a kid and was just as depressed there. Depression is a combination of environmental factors, life experiences, and genetic predisposition. Like arthritis or high blood pressure, it’s not something we “get over” or are “cured of” but something we learn to live with and manage.

      I’m glad sunshine has worked as a coping skills for you, but mountains are my medicine. Besides, I’m pretty sure the skiing is better here. 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Gabriel : Feb 28th

    Awesome piece Lacie. I feel like you ripped out the pages of the current chapter of my own book. Littered countertops and all! My son and I are conquering the A.T. this year, and we still have a month to go before our first day on trail. I too struggle with periods of depression, and as I’m sure you know these still spaces can be tough, but God has shown me that in this stillness I can discover some of the greatest epiphanies about myself and others. Perhaps we are not meant to distract ourselves with “busy work” at this time. Maybe this still space is the most important part for preparing for such an endeavor. I hope that you discover everything that you need too during your journey Lacie. Thank you for sharing a part of you with all of us.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Mar 1st

      Wow, beautifully put, Gabriel! I agree that these still spaces are really fertile grounds for personal growth, if only we can let them work on us. Thank you for sharing. I wish you so much luck on your upcoming adventure!

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Clay Bonnyman Evans : Mar 6th

      Dear Gabriel and Son:

      I hope your journey on the Appalachian Trail will very quickly remove all notions of “conquering” from your imagination! There is nothing to conquer; the trail is your friend, your teacher, sometimes, your antagonist. If you finish, you will not have conquered; if you do not, she will not have conquered you.

      Enjoy your walk!

      ~Pony

      Reply
  • Avatar
    EXXON Dichoso : Feb 28th

    may the force be with you at all time. Keep safe for your long journey and ascent. And be back safely surely.

    God bless you!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Mar 1st

      A beautiful blessing, thank you!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Tom : Feb 28th

    If we cross paths on the PCT we can discuss what I did to overcome my struggles with depression. I start on March 22nd. Hope to see you out there!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Lacie : Mar 1st

      One of my favorite aspects of being open about mental health is the unbelievable empathy and wisdom from others who have similar stories. Thank you so much for this and I hope we get a chance to meet on trail!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ric : Mar 1st

    Surfing is my drug of choice to cure my experience of depression. But the ocean is a wise doctor and administers this drug sparingly. This allows me to truly appreciate it when I get it.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    AUGUST T WILLIAMS : Mar 1st

    Arizona has mountains valleys deserts and prairies we have winter summer spring and fall just depends on where you’re at in the state try tlus you might just like it

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Johnny : Mar 3rd

    The universe works in mysterious ways. I am by no means a literary fan. I graduated college 23 years ago and haven’t thought much about T S Eliot since then. I am confident that until by an act of randomness happened to read his famous work entitled Burnt Norton. It was crazy how excited I got about it and it has brought me out of my own winter funk. Then I read your blog post. This week is full of neat little surprises. I am assuming you are familiar with his work. The cynical side side of me firmly rooted in this technological reality realizes that the text of your post resembles the contents of the poem, thus activating the algorithm that brought your post to my screen. I did research it online after all. But I guess I don’t care about that, really. I am just glad for you and my morning is brighter right now because of it….

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Johnny : Mar 3rd

      At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
      Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
      But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
      Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
      Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
      There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
      T.S. Eliot

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Ray : Mar 3rd

    Great post. Very well said. Almost word for word how I’m feeling, and what I’m seeing in my friends. The acceptance of what I call down time hasn’t been easy, but I’m getting better at it. When I have gotten out to ski , snow shoe etc it’s been great, but so has getting ready for spring

    Thank you 😊
    Good luck with your hike. You’ll be passing right through my backyard when you get to northern Oregon this summer. Enjoy!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jim : Mar 3rd

    During the pandemic I got a treadmill in the house to try to prepare for hiking when the weather clears and the pandemic backs off. I read about a marathon runner who said her father told her to run at least 10 minutes a day when you don’t feel like running. She tried it. After 10 minutes you can guess what happens. I tried that. I find myself choosing to keep going even though I started out planning on just doing 10 minutes on days I feel like skipping.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Clay Bonnyman Evans : Mar 6th

    Thank you for this.

    I have quite a bit of work left to do (work work, that is; also trail-prep work) before I start the PCT on April 7.

    I find myself in that strange, increasingly ethereal state of mind I begin melting into any time a great journey or challenge approaches, a sort of lightening, an untethering from the surly gravity of my everyday life (which I love). It’s tinged with both melancholy and heart-quivering excitement, and it makes me feel increasingly airy and progressively less able to focus on the concrete world in front of me.

    It’s a good feeling, but a strange one. I, too, am tempted to criticize myself for not doing this or that, or some other thing, in a timely manner….

    But becoming untethered from my personal reality — a great and humbling privilege — is a potent reason I love setting out on a long walk.

    Not sure when your start date is, but perhaps we’ll meet along the trail.

    ~Pony (CT’15; AT’16; Foothills, Alabama Pinhoti Trail’18; Great Plains Trail pilot trail’19)

    Reply

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