My Moment of Triumph Over Anxiety, Depression and Body Image
When my fiancé (my high school sweetheart who I recently reunited with, meaning he also knew high school body Megan), suggested we go hiking and camping on our trip to Idaho, I blanched. My first internal response? No, hell no. I would die from the exhaustion, the exercise and the great outdoors. I figured he might not understand the new situation between us. Although I was an athlete and in great shape (unbeknownst to me at the time) when we dated in high school, I am now 27, a size 14, prone to serious depression and anxiety and still struggling with long-term physical activity after breaking my back in 2012. There was no way I was going to hike 12 miles, camp, sweat, carry a pack and survive. So, with all of this in mind… I agreed. How could I not? I figured that when I experienced the crushing failure, we could put all of this nature crap behind us.
He was so excited and happy that I agreed to do some of his favorite things in the world (he is a wildland firefighter), the enthusiasm was contagious. I began reading every women’s hiking blog I could find, order and returned some yuppie clothing crap which was allegedly a size 16 (lies) from REI and began to break in my boots. I was ready.
At the beginning of our trip through the Pacific Northwest, I simply pretended that the hike was a far, far away dream. However, the closer it came, the more my anxiety began skyrocketing. I was nervous, very nervous. When we double checked our packs and our boots before hitting the trail, my mind raced with excuses to not go. I contemplated the many ways I could twist an ankle, attract a bear to eat me, or speed up the aging process to wither away before we started. He would see me, in all my size 14, stressed out, sweaty glory, struggling to do something he does for a living. Surely he would scream, throw me off the cliff and write me off as a fever induced fantasy. We got started, with him smiling and happy and taking a million pictures and me smiling, screaming internally and mourning the impending end of our relationship.
I did great… the first part. It was shady, cool and beautiful. He was teaching me hiking etiquette, we could hear the nearby creek and we were enjoying the cacophony of nature in the midst of human silence. It was beautiful. We made a couple of stops, mostly for water, but overall, I was rocking it. My anxiety was rapidly disappearing and my stress was at a minimum. I was shoving body image issues to the back of my mind and was imaging myself as a wild forest woman warrior. This fantasy ended quickly when the incline became much steeper and the forest cover disappeared in favor of rocks and dirt. I was sweating, struggling, breathing much too hard and trying to ignore my body screaming at me — all with just 2 miles left to go. This was it. I sat on a rock, taking my pack off. My anxiety and depression were cheering, telling me that: Suh, I was going to die on the trail in front of the love of my life, all because of hiking; what was I thinking… I was too fat, too broken, too much of a mess to ever impress him; I didn’t deserve to be happy; my visions of success were a joke; panic attack was imminent and I was going to humiliate myself and he was going to realize that I was, in fact, useless — spiral, spiral, spiral. I stared hard at a flower, determined not to cry in the face of failure.
He silently handed me water. I drank while he bustled around. I ignored him, still staring at the flower. Standing, I turned to tell him that we needed to turn around, but was surprised to see him holding my pack and holding out a little bouquet of wildflowers. He said, “You have a lot to carry with the pack and with these; I would rather you carry these. They’re beautiful and strong like you.” I realized right then that he actually understood our new situation much better than I did. I could do anything, just like before. I just needed a bit of help. I started walking again, which quickly silenced my own mental detractors. It was not easy. At all. I switched from wondering how he would explain my demise to my mom, to squashing the discouragement from my anxiety and depression, to thinking about how hard I was going to sleep.
I didn’t die. That night, underneath the stars in complete darkness, with the love of my life snoring beside me, I was renewed. I had triumphed. In one short journey, I had proven my mental illness was just a side note in my life. I had proven that my physical limitations could be safely tested and would not always result in failure. I pushed my body, pushed my mind, and was rewarded with sights and experiences that I never dreamed possible. A snow side camp by a lake with him — it was incredible. That night, I was more than my body, my limits, my fears. I was a woman who could win, who could succeed. We did a lot more smaller hikes and walks during the trip and I was much more invigorated and determined to see what else the world had to offer. I had climbed up the hill and I had battled myself. Will I still struggle? Most definitely. Will I still have dark days? Duh. But now I have another moment of success to remind me that I can do anything. Those moments keep me going.
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Lead image via contributor