Hiking, Depression & Rising Up
The hike to the top of Yosemite Falls is one that ends with beautiful views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. This year I went to Yosemite Point, past the Upper Falls lookout, for an 8.4 mile round trip hike. I'm not a super hiker, so when I look at that picture above I always go, "Wow! Look where I was!" I like to go on a long hike (long for me anyway) at least once a year. As I struggle to make it to the top it helps me remember my mantra for anything I want to do in life: one step at a time. So long as I approach my hikes, my goals, and my dreams with a one step at a time mentality they feel possible. It also helps me when I'm frustrated and not feeling I'm where I'd like to be in my life. When I look back at all the steps I've taken I feel happier and more supportive of myself. My self-criticism goes away and I remember, I've worked hard to be where I am, and every step I take, no matter how small, is important. Hiking up something that really pushes me also helps me to realize I'm far more capable than I allow myself to believe. Sometimes it makes me realize I'm not using my full potential, both physically and mentally. It reminds me how much determination I have, and that if I choose to, I can overcome any limitation.
In September I was hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls and it seemed so much harder than I remembered. I wanted to turn back a few times, but the thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I'd completed this trail before. Each time I came to a point I remembered I'd think, "I made it this far, I know this place, I can keep going."
This trek up the mountain reminded me in many ways of my trek out of the depths of depression. Coming out of an inner darkness really does involve climbing our own inner mountains. It feels like we start at the bottom, and to ascend to the top is going to take more strength and energy than we can ever muster up. But as I would make it through a day I would have a new point from which I could say, "I made it here, I can go a little further." Sweating, huffing and puffing, dragging my feet and stopping constantly to drink water on that hike reminded me of my fight to get my life back. I'd get through a day, and as I struggled the next day I'd think, "No matter what, I made it through yesterday. I know I can make it through today. Today is one day. I can make it. I've done it before. I can do this." As those days turned to weeks I could then gauge the distance I was able to go a little further. Instead of taking it one day at a time, I could eventually take it by the week, telling myself, "I made it all last week, no matter how depressed I was, I made it. I can do this." And then my point of expectation became a month. After awhile, I wasn't keeping track of the time at all. I was just living. I got through it, one step at a time. I still have rough days. But they aren't so scary now. I don't worry they're going to drag me back to that place where I'm in so much pain I just want it all to end.
Each day of coming back from depression was another steep ascent up. Some days I couldn't do anything, and I had to rest. I had to let myself restore and just be where I was, trusting I would get where I wanted in time. No matter how far something seems, no matter how tired I get along the way, even if I get lost, I can get there. I will get there. Hiking always helps me to remember that, and the endorphin rush from so much exertion is a definite bonus.
And sometimes when hiking things go wrong and it always helps me to know it's going to be okay. I got lost coming back from Yosemite Point and ended up descending much later than I wanted. The sun was going down and I was nervous. But the sunlight was making everything even more stunning. I really couldn't capture it with my phone camera, but Half Dome was glowing. I always try to hike with plenty of time, and I was concerned on the way back my phone wouldn't light the way enough if I really did have to go in the dark. I came across some other people on my way who had done the same thing (gotten lost and were way behind) and I was pretty happy to see them. It's funny how much effort I'll sometimes spend avoiding making a mistake when in fact the mistake is what helps me realize the most. Being with those people made me so glad I wasn't alone, and I really appreciated them and people in general. We walked the last mile down together, in the dark, but everything was fine. After all my years of thinking I would never be so foolish to hike in the dark, there I was doing it, totally fine and safe, and enjoying good company to boot.
This year when I went up it was amazing to me that my thoughts didn't turn to my journey back from depression. I know when you're in the depths of this kind of struggle, of any struggle, it can feel endless and like you'll never be on the other side of it. To have it be so far behind me I could hardly remember it is something I would have never, ever felt was possible ten years ago. This year as I went up I was instead thinking about what I want to accomplish, what I had accomplished, and what good and happy possibilities were all around me.
The thing that really uplifted me was that this time I went farther than I ever have on this hike. I have always stopped at the outlook over Upper Yosemite Falls. I'd be exhausted when I reached that point, unable and unwilling to take another step up. But this time I knew I could go further. I could make it that extra mile to Yosemite Point. When I got there I was taken aback by how this viewpoint was even better. It was so, so worth it. The really great thing is I now have a new set point for what I can do. I've expanded my comfort zone. I gained a new perspective, and the feeling was one I sat soaking in as my sore feet took a rest. Yosemite Point gets far less people because that extra mile really is an ass kicker. But the air felt cooler there, the view more open, Half Dome was closer, and the knowing that I went further led to one question that is what takes any person from daydreaming to dream fulfillment: "What else can I do? What am I really capable of? What step can I take now to go a little further beyond where I'm comfortable?"
The view from Yosemite Point. I sat where that boy is for awhile, just taking it all in.
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