Hiking Uphill: Depression and the Importance of Pushing Forward

December 4, 2020

Mired in depression, Low Entropy Volunteer Writer Kathy Woudzia found herself inspired by a tough hike and an iconic slogan.

There has been a dark cloud hovering over me for the past several weeks. Sometimes, it immobilizes me. Writing is hard.

It amazes me that my mind is so much more powerful than my physical self: I am capable of pushing my body to extreme limits through exercise, yet there are days my mind prevents me from not only completing, but even starting the least physically taxing activity. Lately, I have little interest in doing anything.

Though COVID-19 has certainly made life more challenging, I think a part of this depression stems from my new life as an empty nester. Kids – all moved out. Husband – gone. I built my life around family, and now they don’t need me anymore. What is a person who gave up their career for family to do during a pandemic?

Volunteer work is next to impossible to find. What little there is, is online, and so solitary. A job? Who’s going to hire someone who left the workforce more than 18 years ago? I built a life around cooking, cleaning, looking after kids, shopping and working out. With only myself to look after, there is no longer a need – much less a desire – to do any of those past activities, with the exception of exercising. 

I awake in the morning with a pit of anxiety in my stomach. What am I going to do to fill all the hours the day has to offer? That anxiety spirals into a well of depression, where I am no longer motivated to do some of the things I used to love to do: reading, writing, and even exercising become nearly impossible. Without these activities, I spiral deeper into depression – it’s a vicious cycle.

When I do have an activity planned, I find it difficult to follow through. I find myself partaking in compulsive behaviours that are detrimental to my health. I overeat, for example, only to immediately regret it, something I never did six months ago.

My mind is in a haze most of the time. I have no personality, and nothing to say because I don’t do anything meaningful all day long. I used to be the talkative one in the room; now I don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation.

I’ve been listening to audiobooks on mental toughness that encourage me to do activities that I know will make me feel better afterwards, so I signed up for a Saturday group hike. Hiking is a physical test, but believe me, it took all of my mental strength to get there.

Even though I knew I was more than physically capable of completing the climb, mentally I was not prepared. I awoke at 6 a.m. to ready myself for this event. I began with meditation. Then, three impulsive cups of coffee. I begrudgingly packed my backpack in a fog of self doubt. Worried I was forgetting something, I packed and repacked my bag several times. I took my dog out for his morning walk, and when we returned home I felt frozen to the spot. Minutes turned into an hour . . . it was time to go. I knew that if I didn’t get in my car at that moment, I would miss the hike, so I took on the attitude that Nike is so famously known for: just do it.

I arrived on time at the base of Grouse Mountain, gathering with a group of 25 hikers from meetup.com. I immediately felt better; just knowing I’d gotten myself up there was a major feat. The leader decided to take a difficult new route called the Flint & Feather Trail. I had been hiking the regular Grouse Grind during the summer, so this was a welcome change. It was challenging and exhilarating, and the views were spectacular. I had a lot of fun and was happy I partook in it. When we finished, I felt intoxicated with euphoria and proud that I had mustered the mental courage to join the group.  

Mental health is a difficult thing. Struggling through depression is far more arduous than anything physical that I have had to endure. Mental toughness means overcoming the voices in your head that tell you that you can’t do something. Physically, your body can do anything, but if those voices make you feel incapable, they can leave you mentally paralyzed. I have to avoid overthinking things every minute of every day, and in everything I try to do. It has been a challenge, but for me, the most important step is, truly, to just do it.

Let us know in the comments which activities bring positivity to your day, or better yet, drop in on a Low Entropy virtual meet-up to join others as we trek along life’s winding trails.

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