"Of all the things I'd been skeptical about, I didn't feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me." -Cheryl Strayed
What led me to the Appalachian Trail
Although I grew up going backpacking with my family, it recently has grown into a passion of my own. As many friends and family know, I spent the summer of 2013 hiking the John Muir Trail in California with my cousin Shannon. What most don't know is that this trip was born out of a desire to emotionally "reclaim" California after facing my most difficult hardship there in 2012. The story that follows is central to why I am pursuing the challenge of the Appalachian Trail over the next six months.
Growing on the John muir trail
In the summer of 2012, I attended my first Pride Parade while I was living and working in San Francisco. Initially, I enjoyed the celebration of love and identity, but towards the end of the day I experienced a trauma that was incredibly unexpected and painful. I am a firm believer that some stories demand more than words on a screen, and so while I have have chosen not to go into specifics on the Internet, I am more than happy to share my story with you in person. Suffice it to say, that day left me feeling incredibly alone, vulnerable, and fragile as I tried to make sense of what had happened to me seemingly out of nowhere. I spent the better part of the next year trying to understand and come to terms with that pain. During that year, I read the book, "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, a woman who had turned to hiking to face her own demons. I was inspired and, determined to overcome this sorrow, began planning a trip of my own.
The Sierras rocked me to my core and showed me my strength, but did little to temper the pain that lingered. The trail helped me realize that I had forgotten that the unexpected can be both good and bad; I had forgotten how to feel safe in the unknown. I left the trail more sure of myself, but still not quite whole. Throughout that difficult first year, many people had encouraged me to seek out therapy, but I shunned the idea as a sign of weakness. 18 months after that day, I finally sought therapy and took my next steps toward healing.
Therapy is work--it offered me a space to lay out the pieces of my life that were too painful to look at alone and begin to acknowledge what was lost on that day. Through therapy, I regained a sense of balance in my life and put words to my emotions. Through therapy, I grew stronger and healed. I am sharing my story with you because my main regret is putting it off; I hope that my story might encourage you to consider seeking therapy, should the need ever arise.
I once again will heed the call of the mountains. This time, though, I am hiking not to find clarity about an unimaginable pain, but to explore the incredible community along the trail. With each day, the landscape will evolve with the turn of a switchback--exposing stark, snowy peaks or lush valleys. While the beauty of the natural world is incredible, the true magic of a backpacking trip comes from the people you share it with and meet along the way. I am returning to the mountains because I want this next trip to be bigger than myself.
I want to share this connection with you. As I journey from Georgia to Maine, I want you to join in on my adventure by following my blog. I hope that you will share my story of struggle and support, and begin reducing the stigma that surrounds discussing mental health and professional therapy. I also encourage you to contribute to my mission of helping students secure long-term therapy through Next Steps. Finally, I look forward to seeing you on the other side of the trail.