Step by Step
I hike for mental health. I enjoy doing it with others, but it is medicinal for me when I bring just my self along. With paper and a pen. This ‘treatment’ began years ago in a small wooded park near my workplace at the time, as a self-prescribed way to revive my ‘here and now’, which was being squeezed lifeless by the grip of where I’d been and where I was going. These little doses of solo time helped me notice for the sake of noticing. My sketchbooks filled with twisted roots, vines, and weathered stumps still alive with decay. Sentinel trees interacted and posed in a magical theater of the round. How had I missed all this before? I became enamoured with the very concept of a blazed trail, a scrolling menu of sensory delights and in-season specials… it made me hungry for more.
At some point I learned about the Appalachian Trail and as others have said, it ‘called’. Or maybe wailed. I live in New York, it was a short drive away. The idea of a 2200-mile foot path carving through a mountain range sounded like freedom. Something to fight for. Some day. Wait. Why wait? What happened to here and now? How about stringing bits together over time? Now there’s a project. I am a designer, I see everything as a project. I saw it as weaving hand-spun strands of color into the deadline-driven structure of my life… ah HA. It was not another project but a life-long practice that I needed. And so it began, bit by bit, usually solo, my willing husband often my shuttle. I began to uncover more about why I was even doing it, and there were times when this was loudly, fearfully, and wearily called into question. But those will be other stories…
When I planned my first longer section as a birthday challenge, it occurred to me I could make it count even more by fundraising for a cause. Which one? I thought about the painful human struggles we all face. Especially the hidden, silent ones in the clutches of stigma. I thought about my brother and his epic struggle with severe depression. Grateful he got the help he needed at last to survive and strive. I thought about others who didn’t, and their loved ones who carry torches high that their loss not be for naught. It never is. And I reminded myself why I hike. Just google hiking and mental health and there it is: Hike for Mental Health. Bingo!
The pain of inner struggle can not be silenced. It seeps its way into our days by capillary action against all will. We may pack some of it away in dark attics but those boxes will be someone else’s burden. Or not. The struggle is very real but not the beast we think. The beast is our own fear of it. And stigma is just one of its many names. Recognizing this in the context of our personal journey can disperse the weight from one to more, making it lighter for all. When we commit to this process, like moving to a new house, we can forge through the cobwebs, haul out the old boxes and purge. We may, in the handling our burdens with sweaty palms, rub glints of silver into the tarnish. The shiny present emerges again.
Hiking reminds me to stay present, on the path to embracing uncertainty, probably my biggest struggle, perhaps the root of them all. Who knows if 2200 miles is in the cards? That’s the point. Just getting closer to that embrace.. also the point. And so much can be gained, stumbling along the humbling, muddy way. Section by section, step by step…
– Karen Viola, Climbing Tree Studio
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.