Immersing myself in nature allows me to both disconnect from the problems of my small life while connecting with the power of the earth. With my feet on the ground, step by step, I am reminded that I am not the center of the world. I am merely one of billions of human beings lucky enough to inhabit it.
The benefits of being outdoors have been long discussed and it is a well-known recommendation for those with mental health disorders. There are many studies that conclude a reduction in mood disorder and anxiety disorder symptomology by exercising outdoors or even simply spending more time outdoors. Like many recommendations for improving your mood, it is easier said than done when you are in the depths of depression or severe anxiety. When my depression symptoms are severe, most often I want to isolate myself, hide under the covers and go to sleep, just to find reprieve from the intense suffering.
I was told once by a therapist to ‘rebel against depression’. Depression says, “Your life is worth nothing; your life has no meaning; you are worth nothing.” Depression tells you to isolate, to hide, to be ashamed, to do whatever it takes to end the suffering. Explaining the weight of that voice in words alone is challenging, maybe impossible. So while I logically understand the glamour of ‘rebelling’ against depression, that voice is not so easily disobeyed.
What I have learned over the past few years is that disobeying depression requires practice. Practicing while depressed is like running a marathon while having the flu. It doesn’t work. You either run out of gas before you make it to the finish line or you don’t have the energy to even start the race in the first place.
With my anxiety and depression symptoms significantly improved, I am finally experiencing some relief from months of panic. My old friends, Motivation, Energy, Interest, and Joy have returned for a visit. The length of that visit? I never know. So I need to practice disobedience while I can.
So in the spirit of rebellion, I hiked. I hiked! I have been afraid to exercise beyond the effort of a short, leisurely walk since my recent biking experience in which my body mistook cardiorespiratory effort as panic, leading to three full panic attacks in the course of an hour. Panic disorder can lead to maladaptive behavior. I can see how. Even with the knowledge of the importance and benefits of exercise, I have been avoiding it for many weeks now and my body has been telling me how it feels about that through cracks, cramps, stiffness, and hitches in the giddyup. One day of hiking and my body and spirit feel renewed; my confidence to exercise is growing.
But the increased confidence in my ability to exercise does not compare to the experienced stimulation of my spiritual self. My spirituality curiously asks the questions “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose?”, a stark contrast to depression declaring “you are no one” and “you have no purpose.” Nature gives me a feeling of connectedness—connectedness to my true self, not the physical body but the soul within; and connectedness to the earth and all beings that inhabit it. The differences between myself and others fade away and I relish in our collective sameness.
At a micro level, nature is often the catalyst to accessing my inner wisdom. When I was experiencing turmoil in my marriage so heavy that the solution was buried beneath doubt and hopelessness, and clouded by symptoms of bipolar disorder, my voice of wisdom was stifled. After miles of hiking alone in the woods, my wisdom found her voice. She spoke more clearly and confidently than ever before, kindly whispering “you are not ready to give up.” Nature saved me from the agony of indecision and conflict. Nature saved my marriage.
On a more universal level, nature emphasizes that I am connected to this earth and all people residing in it, that I have more in common with people than I have differences. Nature reminds me that my purpose is to practice kindness and empathy, to help people in need as an occupational therapist serving children and families, to advocate for equality and respect for all people on an individual and societal level, and to spread as much goodness as I can with whatever time that I am given. Nature reminds me that my life is worth living. Maybe the next time depression threatens me with feelings of worthlessness, I will be better armed for rebellion.