Learning to Heal Through the Outdoors – Taking to The Mountains After My Grandmothers Death

cropped-img_24261.jpgThis fall has been an exceptionally hard one for me. My beloved grandmother who I was incredibly close to passed away after being in the ICU for 29 straight days. This was especially hard as this was a case where she went from living a great life to unexpectedaly being consumed by a heart condition. In one way I am happy that she wasn’t struggling for long and enjoyed her life right until the last couple of months but it also made it so I was taken by surprise because I was expecting her to live for much longer. I am sure most people think the same thing when a loved one dies but this was especially true for myself. During this time I took refuge in the outdoors. That is where I have always mentally worked through my problems and found peace. This time it would be no exception.

I have gone through a fare share of hardships for only being in my mid twenties given by the fact that I had Leukemia as a teenager and went through 4 years of chemo therapy where I had lost friends I made through my weekly outpatient treatments to this terrible disease. A few years later as a sophomore in college I was also diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety where some of my panic attacks landed me in the hospital. During this time was when I learned the importance of having to take care of myself and most importantly my mind. From the time I was a young child I had always felt peace and relief from either being by the water or in the woods but I did not realize how critical this would become. The therapist that I had when I first started having panic attacks suggested I start getting back into nature even if it was just for a quiet walk outside once a day. As my depression had gotten worse leading up this I had essentially given up all my hobbies (sailing and hiking) to hide inside. As hard as it was at first, getting back outside started helping me right away. It is something about the meditative rhythm of walking through the woods or gliding through the water that calms the mind and body. It is truly remarkable how you can find utter stillness and calm to then finding experiences that make your heart pump and feel ALIVE. This combination is what pulled me out of my depression and calmed my anxiety, I was able to feel happiness again but also stop having crippling anxiety.

This is why I found myself retreating to the woods more than ever this past fall. My grandmother was the closest person I have ever lost in my life and I didn’t even know how to react. For a long time it was inconceivable that this was even real. I went on many trail runs where I went between running and sitting to reflect in the silence that the woods provided. I would sit and try to get my thoughts in order and try to accept what was happening. I always felt much more accepting and at peace with what was happening when I was done. It wouldn’t last for very long before day to day life would make things bad again and I would have to go back to reset but I am slowly starting to move forward. The one main thing keeping me somewhat happy and my mind off the pain is planning and thinking about upcoming trips to the mountains. I know thats what my grandmother would want and I know she is there with me while I am out there.

I was in a tiny pizza shop in the town of Lincoln New Hampshire when I got the phone call that my grandmother had passed. I was on my way to summit Mt. Washington with a couple of good friends. Leading up to the weekend I knew this was probably going to happen and I knew this trip to Mt. Washington was where I was going to need to be. However, that doesn’t mean that I still wasn’t contemplating canceling the trip because I felt that it was selfish for me to do something just for myself and not be with my family during that time. The more I got to thinking though I realized the only time my grandma would be mad at me was if I canceled the trip to stay home just to be sad or because thats “what I should do” (even though my outdoor thrills gave her plenty of fear and stress until I arrived home). She was an incredibly smart person and took self healing very seriously which is why she would be the first person to tell me to keep my life as normal as possible during that time. I am lucky to have family that understands me so well and all of them told me to still go on my trip. It was hard to actually get myself on the road but by the time I was standing on top of the mountain and the clouds broke on that cold day I knew my grandmother was with me and I felt completely at peace. The cloudy day turned into a warm blue bird day, which is rare in mid November and as my grandmothers biggest concern was always checking if I was cold (even in summer) I knew that was her looking over me. Now as I look back I couldn’t think of a better way to have to receive news like that. If I had just been subject to being inside on my couch I would of been significantly worse off.

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I am very grateful for how lucky I am to live in a place where I have such diverse outdoor opportunities and that I am surrounded with like minded friends and family. I am lucky to be able to afford the gear and travel that keeps me going on these adventures and know not everyone is blessed with these opportunities. The outdoors will always be my go to therapy.

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Making our way to the summit cone

 

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