I #hikeOctober because in nature, there isn’t stigma, the need to covering up mental illness and emotional pain. Nature itself provides some healing, but so do the people you meet walking and reflections and insights you have along the way. This was my experience in 2015, when I completed an Appalachian Trail thru-hike fundraising for HIKE for Mental Health. I haven’t done anything nearly as big since, but I carry with me the lessons I learned from that experience.
First, start or keep on hiking, literally and figuratively. I haven’t hiked longer than 10 miles in one day since I finished hiking the AT in August 2015, and even that I’ve only done a few times. I used to compare real world walking and backpacking hiking, which wasn’t a helpful comparison. I still love to walk, so I do what I can today and fondly remember hiking 15-20 miles a day for 5 months. I make an effort to walk 3 miles or so each day, often more. I’ve come to believe that walking is one of the most beneficial practices for my mental health. Here are a few of my favorite quotes about walking, which I frequently meditated on when hiking the AT and continue to today as a reminder to keeping moving forward:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
“I may walk slowly, but I never walk back.” – Abraham Lincoln
And the final stanza the Robert Frost poem, “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Second, be a proud supporter of mental health, and if you can, get involved in the cause. We need you if you are living with mental illness, are a family member or friend of someone who is, or feel moved to action by statistics that indicate high rates of mental illness (1 in 5 American adults in a given year), high rates of co-occurring addiction and mental illness, and billions in lost earnings yearly, and tragically high rates of suicide. Get connected with HIKE for Mental Health and join or organize a regional hike and fundraiser, reach out to local chapters of advocacy/support organizations like NAMI, DBSA, and others. Your voice is needed.
Finally, a love of hiking and mental health advocacy are why I #hikeOctober. The combination of these two areas was what attracted me to HIKE for Mental Health when I was looking for an important cause to raise awareness for during my hike. I will be hiking in November, through the colder winter months, into the brighter spring, and so on into the future toward a world committed to eliminating stigma and compassionately supporting those among us with mental illness. I hope you’ll hike with us.
– Joe O’Donnell
This article is part of our #hikeOctober campaign to shed light on the stigma of mental illness and to promote the benefits of hiking. 100% of the funds raised from this campaign will be dedicated to alleviating the suffering of mental illness and to wilderness trail conservancy. If you would like to learn more or add you voice to our I #hikeOctober… series, please contact us.