Why would I turn a 4 ½ hour trek in Shenandoah National Park into an all-or-nothing scenario?
After all, this was just a warmup to trekking the Inca Trail this October in Peru. A chance to test out gear and remember what worked and what did not when we climbed Kilimanjaro in January. And maybe it was hotter than any recent hike I have undertaken. But why should that trigger me to decide that I am not interested in going hiking?
I heard myself thinking, “I don’t even like hiking.”
But that statement is not true. It reminds me that I have been hiking my entire life. And until I turned and faced my depression, I have not encountered all this unhelpful thinking. I have always been the “let’s do this” guy, the one who was encouraging others to see the bigger picture and stay the course.
So, what is turning my positive thoughts into “what am I thinking” thoughts?
Perhaps I am just more aware of depression and what it is capable of. After all, 4 ½ years is a drop in the bucket compared to the decades I spent ignoring my depression. I may be expecting too much to have upended my thinking and pushed aside all I have learned about depression and how it uses unhelpful thinking.
Seeing what depression is capable of has me putting my relationship with depression in perspective.
As the morning wore on, the day got warmer. However, the first half of the trail was almost entirely downhill. At the bottom of the holler, we stopped and had a snack, and rested. Then I set the pace for the trek back to the truck. This was 3 miles almost entirely uphill.
One section was dubbed: the staircase.”
This turned out to be more than a tenth of a mile of log stairs built into the side of a mountain. And even after the almost straight-up part was over, the trail continued to climb and held many sections of switchback rocky sections, all heading skyward.
In my mind, my first attempt at putting this in perspective was thinking about the rise in elevation in my backyard.
I pictured myself ascending from the lake up to the back deck. This is a significant rise in elevation. I am pleased that I can set a pace and make it all the way to the deck without stopping. And without getting so breathless that I need to stop. Picturing that pace, I went after the vertical staircase. It wasn’t long before I saw that the pace, I had set was too aggressive.
To make this work, I was going to need to slow down.
On the trek up Kilimanjaro in Africa, we would say Pole, pole, “slow, slow.” There is no equivalent expression in the states. My mind was soon clouded by the view of the trail rising ever higher in front of me. What finally worked for me was to mostly keep my head looking down and seeing just the next 4 or 5 feet.
These short little segments looked less steep than the view I would see when I lifted my head up.
So, while I found a way to keep moving forward, my depression was finding ways to make the trek seem impossible. And it was getting me to think of the trek as an all-or-nothing exercise. Depression wanted me to think that I did not like trekking. That I did not like being in the woods. Depression was sure that I wasn’t enjoying the views from different ridges and the vast expanse of the national park we were hiking through.
Depression just wanted me to say that I hated hiking.
And that I should give up my desire to see other parts of the planet because I hated the thought of walking up steep mountains. I either embrace trekking or give it up, “All or Nothing.” And depression wanted me to think like it was thinking, even as I was climbing back up the mountain.
Depression wanted me to say out loud that if trekking was going to be hard, then I did not want to do it anymore.
And while depression had me thinking about this concept, I was still able to see this idea as an all-or-nothing unhelpful thinking style. Depression is good at that. It will toss out an unhelpful idea and wait for me to bite. Then it sets the hook and reels me into the idea. Then it suddenly loosens the line, giving me the slack, I need to make the idea mine.
So, now I am thinking all or nothing, be a trekker or not to be a trekker.
I suppose it’s good that I am catching this sty[e of thinking. But it is frustrating not to be positive, let’s go, rah-rah cheerleader. For decades, I have led from the front. To be saddled with depression and unhelpful thinking is still new, even after 4 plus years.