I go hiking every year on Veteran’s Day. It’s a good way to be alone, think about sacrifices made by vets and experience nature. This year I had a lot on my mind. I’ve been in a dark place and have had a hard time getting out of it.
I have been struggling with loneliness. When I mentioned this to someone they said, “Oh, you don’t like being alone?” No. It isn’t that. I hiked alone on Monday and enjoyed it. I reveled in the quietness. I had the trail mostly to myself (I saw a ranger and 2 other women). I had moments where it was completely silent. And it was marvelous.
As I was walking on the trail, I was reflecting on this dark period. Why am I lonely? And why is it so overwhelming right now? Why can’t I get myself to the gym? Why I can’t I workout? Why can’t I find any happiness in my photos? It’s a lot. I know. I didn’t come away with any answers.
I used to have a large group of friends. I used to be invited to parties. Dinners. Events. They were all friends from when I taught and performed a style of dance and I wasn’t ever lonely. I ended up having to leave the group and of course all my friends slowly disappeared. I won’t go into details but it was painful. I stopped dancing altogether and realized my whole social life dropped away.
Since then… I have made a few friends. However, I’m closest to people who live states away from me. I reach out to others, closer, with no response. I realize that perhaps I’m not an enjoyable person. I try to be but maybe I am not seeing something. I have put out requests for hiking and get no takers. And so I go alone.
I know there’s tons of advice on curing loneliness. I’ve read it. I have a degree in social work. I know all the stuff. I know how to pull myself out of this depressions – usually. Hiking helps. Photography helps. But I really miss having a connection with someone special. The shared experiences. The jokes. That person who will meet you for coffee. I don’t even mean a romantic relationship. Someone I know who will be there for me.
I am not sure how long this darkness will last. I’m supposed to tell people and reach out but I don’t want to. I’m tired of reaching. I’m tired of initiating. I will force myself back to the gym. When I’m depressed I eat. And, well, that’s no good and adds to my depression and self-flagellation.
So no, I don’t mind being alone. I rather enjoy it most of the time. However, I do wish I had a choice. I wish the only option wasn’t always being alone.
How a celebrity death affects me is based on what they’ve meant to me. I remember hearing about Prince dying. That one hit me right in the gut. All that musical genius just gone in an instant. The day Michael Jackson died…. I couldn’t hold it together. Regardless of the rumors and issues, he was an important part of my life growing up. My parents didn’t allow me (or want me) to watch MTV growing up. However, the release of the Thriller video was scheduled viewing. It was shocking when Robin Williams committed suicide. We all assumed he was happy because he made us happy. To this day, I can’t watch him in something and not get some tears in my eyes.
Friday morning I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw the notification of Anthony Bourdain having died. I paused. Took a breath. I clicked on the article to see if it was legit and saw it was suicide. And then burst into tears. Him? He introduced all of us to new worlds, cultures and food. He went where people wouldn’t. He talked to those who are normally invisible. Although he talked often about his demons… alcohol, drug use, etc. we obviously believed him to be happy. He was so in love with his daughter and she brought him such joy. And yet, he was so sad, distraught, [insert your own word here] that the only relief he could imagine was death.
In Bourdain’s shows, “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” his goal was to (in his words) “eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice”. Staying true to his words, he traveled to Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Haiti, Libya, and more. He showed people that you don’t have to be so scared to visit these places. That the people are beautiful and welcoming and special. I have an Iranian friend who was thrilled with the episode and I felt so proud for her. I guess all of us who write our blogs about the places we travel are inspired to do this very thing. We want others to see where we’ve been and to know the beauty in it.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Bourdain since Friday. Sure, at times I focused on my son’s soccer tournament. I edited some photos. But my thoughts always returned to him. Perhaps it is because 2017 was a hard year for me. I was at the place where I thought death would be the better option. Not only for me, but for others so they wouldn’t have to deal with me. I didn’t feel loved. Appreciated. Wanted. And I grew not to care. I used nature as a way to heal and that helped. Thankfully. I still have pain that I deal with daily. It’s there, nagging me, even as I try to look past it. I think I keep it there as an obstacle to work through. I don’t know if I ever will because the source of the pain is unmoving. Unable to change. So I continue on in my life.
Suicide is drastically on the rise. What do we do about it? I don’t know. I have no answers. I certainly didn’t reach out for help when I could have used it. I turned inward and looked to the trails. Perhaps that is a way of reaching out but no one really knew. And unless they’ve read this blog, they still don’t. I know that Bourdain felt like there was no other option. All of us who admired him wish he could have gotten help. In the end, we will take what he taught us and carry on with it in life.
It feels too easy to say, “Reach out if you need help” especially considering what I just wrote. But if reaching out means spending time on a trail, in the woods, with a friend, or a family member – do it. It doesn’t always mean you have to spill your inner-most thoughts. And, if you get the opportunity, look up some episodes of “No Reservations” or “Parts Unknown”. They are incredible series and may change how you think of certain places. RIP Anthony Bourdain: Thank you for your work.
One of the biggest reasons any of us hike or spend time in nature is because it helps us… mentally. You’re having a horrible week and so you get out on that trail over the weekend. You smell the fresh air. You listen to the birds. Your feet walk on dirt, rocks, logs, and you feel that connection with nature. I wrote, awhile back, about how I felt like I barely made it out of 2017. One of the reasons I did was because of the time I spent in nature.
Even today, as I sit here and write this, I’m feeling a big draw to be outside. I’m down about much of what is on the news cycle. Racism. Misogyny. Harassment. Threat of wars. I’m in pain about someone’s inability to really know me and understand how they hurt me on a daily basis. It just all gets to be too much. However, I have learned to get out, on a trail, and go into a meditative state. I have a way of letting go of these stressful things and returning fresh and ready to face another day. I have found that when I go too long without a good hike I start to feel anxious.
I have read how nature helps us deal with anxiety and stress and I stand up and scream, “IT WORKS!!!!” Because it does. A friend sent me a link about Forest Bathing one day. It has been a proven and useful tool in Japan since the 1980s. They use it as one way to help with mental health issues. And I thought, “I can do this. I can lead people in nature immersion walks.” and so I started a business. Loudoun Nature Therapy. I so believe in this I registered the name, created my website, and am moving forward with my plan. Is it slow? Sure. I have had numerous people tell me, “That is a fantastic idea!” Of course, it will be more fantastic when people sign up or hire me for sessions.
There are, of course, those who say it is dumb. Lame. You can go and get “certified” for like $3500. That is not something I plan on doing because I don’t think I need it. I already have a degree in social work where I focused on counseling. I know nature and how to use it to reduce anxiety. I am already “certified” in my mind and practice. Some would even go as far to say that people don’t need to sign up for a session. However, with Americans spending, on average, 95% of the time indoors, I disagree. I think the majority of people do need to be taught how to fully immerse themselves in nature. When I’m out and people are on their phones, listening to music, or not paying attention to what is around them… I know they could use some help.
I have a plan. I have a goal. And I am working hard to make it a reality where I get to help people connect with nature. That connection will help them in their life. I know because I live it and it helps me.
Take a moment and go check out my site: http://loudounnaturetherapy.com – share it with someone who needs it (Obviously it helps if you’re in Loudoun County, VA). I’m really looking for ways to get the word out about it and am open to any ideas or thoughts. As I sit here in my office, I yearn to be outside. I feel an actual NEED to be outside. I do this job so I can provide for my family but I’m desperate to find a way to help people and combine that help with nature. I think we could all use it.
During the fall and spring I have times where hiking pretty much doesn’t happen. I am swamped with sports for the kids and trying to find races to run when I have a free Saturday. It makes me antsy. Last Saturday I needed to get outside. My son was going to be at home so I couldn’t go far or be out of reach via phone so I tried a couple of spots for photos. I got home, looked at them, and there were all trash. However, getting outside allowed me to relieve some stress about Puerto Rico. In one park, I found a spot to sit that was pretty much isolated from all the rest of the visitors and I sat and cried. Eventually a guy and his dog showed up and the dog splashed in the creek and the dude took photos of his dog. It was kind of cute. Thankfully, he didn’t notice me crying. That would have been awkward.
Funny how often one can write about depression and know that absolutely no one cares.
Later that evening I convinced my son to go to Algonkian Regional Park with me. I bribed him with Little Ceasar’s Pizza. This was a staple for me growing up and he was wooed by the commercials. Since they don’t deliver we had to go pick it up. I told him I would do that if he came to the park with me. It was again nice to be outside – especially at sunset. I also go to see some big birds (egret and blue heron). Nature is the key to most of my well being. And if I can be near water – even better.
Last night I ended up with a free evening. I got off of a conference call to find my son gone to the movies and my daughter having a ton of homework and softball hits to complete. So I took off again for Algonkian. The best thing about Algonkian is that there are a number of trails. And I would say they are rarely used. I took off down the path for some trail running. It wasn’t pleasant but I went at a slow pace as I’m still gaining my endurance back. The bugs were fierce. I basically ran with a hand in front of my face to swat off the swarms. I wanted to go longer but I got to one section and a large amount of branches had fallen over the trail. No go. So I turned around and headed back along the Potomac Heritage Trail. It is hard, sometimes, for me to continue to run down this trail. It follows along the Potomac River and there is so much to see. My favorite part are the trees. There are some seriously big trees along the trail and they have been there for a very long time. I can’t estimate how big around the trunks are – just trust me when I say they are huge.
After the sunset I drove home feeling a bit better. The past week has been really hard and I still haven’t heard from my best friend. I saw from a relative’s post that he is okay but when you talk to someone every single day, all day it is hard to go without that communication. Hopefully I’ll feel happy again soon and can get back to hiking to feel totally renewed.