I #hikeOctober because I want to help overcome the stigma of mental illness and hiking helps me deal with my own battles of anxiety and depression. My first overnight backpacking trip was also the first night on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2013. To be honest, I was running away from a life I could no longer manage. I had self-medicated and self-internalized to deal with what I saw as a failing life. The stigma of mental disorder is very real and as a result I would hide my suffering from the world to “fit in.”
On my hike, I made connections that I assumed would be life-long, but once I returned home I realized that most of the people I met, I would never see again. With no way of reconnecting hikers yet established, I set out on my new life’s journey of “Reconnecting hikers after the Trail.” I founded The Hiker Yearbook because I had learned firsthand the healing power of hiking in nature, and felt the acceptance of the hiking community. For the first time in my life, I knew it was okay to openly hurt, and there were people who could look past my pain and accept me for who I was. I no longer feel the need to hide my mental shortcomings, and hiking is my self-medication.
The Hiker Yearbook is my gift to the Trail because the Trail saved my life. Each year I hike and drive the Appalachian Trail collecting names, contact information, and stories of hikers, trail angels, maintainers and all who make up the hiking community. I am proud to say I have produced three books, and I hope that when a hiker finishes their journey of reconstruction they find a way to reconnect with their new community through my book. HIKE for Mental Health is one of the many treasures that have been inspired by simply hiking. Why do we hike? We hike for mental health.
– Matthew “Odie” Norman
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.