Born and bred with anxiety, my outlet became the outdoors. My bad days, my bad moods, they could always be fixed with a little fresh air so you can imagine what it was like when suddenly the outdoors became a source for the same anxiety that it used to help cure.
I am not alone in this and definitely not alone in sharing about it.
My typical day begins and ends with being outside, unless the weather decides otherwise, mainly because I have a dog who needs to be ran as much as possible each day but also because it calms me down. There are days that, at the end of the work hour, my stomach is in a knot and the weight is coming down on my shoulders, so much to the point that just knowing that I have to take a walk/hike before dinner is a burden. It is really hard for me to come home and instead dedicate myself to something that I want to accomplish rather than going outdoors; I feel guilty for not using the available hours of rain-free time (because the rain is about the only thing that keeps me indoors by choice).
When I began camping in Utah, I began to recognize signs that gave away the influence of my anxiety on my trips. I began to grow extremely worried as the sun would set and the visibility dropped, often times it robbed me of my appetite and sent me into my tent early. It never brought me to the point of incapability however it did strain my experiences in the outdoors. Most of the time, I feel the urge to cry in the attempt to release the amount of stress that I am feeling in that moment. I am not totally sure why my anxiety found strength in this setting and it was hard to understand that it was effecting my experiences and growth when it felt so good to return home.
I started stashing backup xanax in my glove box just in case I was a hundred miles away from home and I needed an escape; I began calculating the distances to the closest hospitals because it served as a simple reminder that help was only X amount of time away. At one point, I wrote letters to people in the hopes that they could feel me thinking of them, in the hopes that they could somehow send me reassurance. I stopped opening the atlas and searching for undriven backroads unless I was sure of obtaining a partner for the exploration. I was too afraid to be alone.
In all strokes of the truth, having an emotionally abusive partner aided to my inability to leave home confidently and it easily fed my separation anxiety. I was dating this person while still in university and with it, taking weekend camping trips for class and therefore having to forfeit my perceived safety. I became too anxious to experience things on my own. I succumbed to this lifestyle with little effort and therefore found it extremely difficult to recognize my own independence, especially in the outdoors.
There have been two driving forces that have worked to push me back into a zone where I am comfortable on my own: moving to Wyoming and my current partner. In February 2018 when I uprooted my dog and myself from Utah to go live in Wyoming, I moved into a house with three other males and lived one hour away from Jackson Hole. It was one of those males that enabled me to get my shit together; Max helped me build out the back of my Subaru, giving me the ability to live in my car comfortably and therefore travel safely (from my perspective). I felt like I got some of peace of mind back, knowing that I was with all of my belongings and knowing that I could lock myself into my car, especially at night. I slowly began to solo plan trips. The second force is that of my current partner, Christopher. Although we are attached at the hip, we do not always do everything together and the first time that I went for a post-work walk without Chris, I felt angry and alone. I was unable to empathize with him and found myself face to face with the same anxiety that my ex gave to me. It has taken me many times of Chris not coming with me on our daily walk or hike to feel comfortable however every time that I have done so, at some point I am filled with gratitude for the independence and autonomy that he more or less forced me to experience (sounds negative but it’s truly appreciated).
On my most recent camping trip, I felt a dash of anxiety as night fell on our last evening in the desert. Chris was with me, Zuke was with me, we were no where near people, and I was letting the shadows toy with my imagination. I was paranoid about someone coming to our campsite and attacking us; I was paranoid about there being a sudden, unexpected storm and being in the way of a wash path; I was paranoid. In the middle of the night, I woke with wide eyes, starring into the darkness, trying to remind myself that my imagination was far more powerful than my reality. As I fixed my vision onto Zuke, I reminded myself of part of the exact reason why I got a dog: to feel safer. He would be barking/growling by now if anything had tried to approach our campsite….duh McKenzie.
I don’t carry xanax with me anymore, I haven’t for a few months now, which is a huge accomplishment for me.
I can talk the pain out of my back when I realize its origination now.
It’s going to be something that I carry with me always, it’s going to be something that I will always be forced to deal with in the moments when I need it the least, but if you would have asked me one year ago, if I would feel half as good as I do today with my anxiety, I would have laughed in your face and then endlessly cried because that reality felt so far out of reach.
Mental Health is unique and yet relatable. For so long, I fought to take sole responsibility for my mind in that no one else could understand what I was going through specifically. I tried to define it too uniquely. Recently, it has begun to change, soften. My reality was unique yes, but it was not necessarily too different than that of the person who had social anxiety. I wanted to be angry about the next person’s ability to share their mental health awareness because I felt vulnerable for having given mine such transparency. My brain has been spinning for so many years now that it feels like I am complaining, even to myself. Maybe that’s why I write….we all search for the feeling of being heard.