I grew up outdoors. My parents started taking me hiking and backpacking when I was very young. I began learning to ski at age 4. I have spent many days wandering the Cascades, the Chuckanuts, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and so on. Since I was a child, I have felt comfortable in the wilderness.
But now, my anxiety has been creeping up. Slowly and then all at once, as they say. The thing about this chronic anxiety (at least, what I’m experiencing) is that it slowly becomes more and more generalized. I used to be somewhat afraid of heights. Now I become anxious while on bridges, in skyscrapers, in planes, atop cliffs, on mountains, and while hiking. I used to be somewhat claustrophobic. Now I become anxious while riding buses, flying in planes, taking elevators, standing in crowds, entering small classrooms, and attending events.
My anxiety ranges from fleeting thoughts such as “This is making me a little nervous” and “What if something bad happens?” to full-on panic attacks, during which I shake uncontrollably, feel that I cannot breathe, experience sweaty palms and a racing heart, and feel disconnected with reality. I understand that a panic attack won’t kill me, but the intense rush of adrenaline is exhausting and the fear can be paralyzing.
I wish anxiety and fear did not impact my ability to be outdoors. But they have.
There are some things I can do to feel more “safe”: bring along someone I trust, choose an easy destination, venture somewhere familiar, et cetera. But often I engage in the easiest and laziest form of protection: avoidance.
Ironically, I believe with all my heart that nature has healing powers beyond what humans can even hope to understand. The trees, streams, and clouds have always calmed me and eased my mind. And yet, I am avoiding what I love so I feel safe. Where does this fear come from? What am I afraid of? I am addressing these issues in therapy, but I feel unhappy without snowy mountains and alpine lakes to create a backdrop for my summer. Many of my happiest memories have taken place in the wilderness.
For now, I can continue to face and challenge my fears without inflicting too much stress on myself. I hope I will crave the outdoors for the rest of my life. I won’t let this stop me. The more time I spend in nature, the more comfortable I will become. Right?
This will get better. Right?