Editor’s note: Throughout October, our #hikeOctober guest writers share what hiking means in their lives. Today’s guest is Allen Irwin.
I’ve spent my entire life living in the northeast and only 1 – 2 hours from some of the best hiking in the country. “Some of the best hiking” now translates to me as “some of the best medicine.” Medicine for most of my life has been seen as something that is tangible and needs to be consumed or injected. Today, hiking is medicine for my mental ailments and this medicine that I take was never prescribed to me by any doctor.
There’s no need to debate the intrinsic value of hiking or being out in the nature of our earth to ones mental health. This fact has been written about many times over the years as research has proven the affect of nature and its healing abilities. Yet, this is not the story being told today by mainstream media and corporate america. Instead we are being pumped full of big pharma and relentless shelf side corner store convenience miracle cures. Whether it be a physical or mental health ailment, surely some drug off the shelf will help relieve that. And, for many of us that’s the end of the line to any of our mental health concerns or problems. And for those who can afford it, they may go to some form of counseling or therapy that may or may not help. This is also where some of the stigma comes in when these answers aren’t working and someone goes back to disguising themselves or ignoring their invisible problems.
This is right where I ended up too. Mental health was never once a topic in my household and when it reeled its ugly head, a purple elephant showed up to the party that was somehow invisible. Crazy to look back and try to wrap my head around the fact that any of this could ever be ignored. Yet, this has been the very same story being told all around the world. Why would anyone want to talk about something that can’t be seen.
I found myself sitting in a jail cell detoxing from Oxycontin and wondering where it had all gone wrong. And this was how I disguised my mental health by digging myself a hole that I nearly couldn’t climb out of. For the better part of my twenties, I disguised or ran from my invisible problems. While growing up I hadn’t ever learned to cope or deescalate a situation or ever talk to anyone about spirituality. I had picked up a few things from my environment though, societies outlets that had become staples in households across America. Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling, Partying, etc.. These were apparent to me at a young age that this was what people did when they needed to relax or take a break from life. So, I followed suit..
After having been being brought to my knees by my mental health and my addictions, I finally started asking some questions. I began to learn about myself and I started to uncover who I truly was as a person, right down to the core of my being. I found spirituality and I found a home like I never had before.. I found our mountains and trails in NH. I started going to meditation classes, I began going to church, I began to read and ask as many questions I could to all who would listen. Slowly, I was lifting the veil to this mysterious problem in my life that apparently had been affecting me since I was a child. As I have begun to peel back the layers of the onion in my life, I have found that I need some source of strength and guidance in my life. And I have found that I need medicine to keep my wheels turning. Some of that very best medicine that I’ve never been prescribed is hiking. Hiking was the one place where my head was quiet and I could actually be present. This is the only way I can sort through the chaotic play going on in my head.
In the last 3 years, I have traveled across the country 3 times, been on countless multi day road trips, been to more than a dozen national parks, visited Yellowstone numerous times, hiked throughout NH, and I relocated to Denver where I am now only an hour from some of the best hiking and skiing in the world. I find it no coincidence that these last three years I have been sober and I have found solace in hiking this magnificent place we all call home.
I might still be a lost image of myself, wondering amongst the people of this earth cloaked by the veil of my mental health had I not found a love for this hiking thing. No doctor could have prescribed this…
Let’s break the stigma by sharing your story and talking about what #hikeOctober means to you. How has hiking impacted your life?
– Allen Irwin
Click here to learn more about #hikeOctober, an annual program to raise awareness of the challenges of mental illness, fund mental health research and conserve wilderness trails. #hikeOctober is free to join, open to hikers with all experience levels, and an easy way to have your walk in the woods, or around the block, make an impact!