How Getting Outside Helps My Mental Health...
I am truly blessed to be living next door to the Rocky Mountains. These mountains are undeniably some of the most beautiful, awe-striking, phenomena of nature. A passerby observing the mountains can probably see that (and hopefully agrees!). They may not realize, however, that to me, the mountains are so much more than that. They represent strength, endurance and stability: they test my physical and mental strengths by pushing me to new limits; ultimately creating greater self-confidence and awareness. They also, however, offer peace and stillness: a space to disconnect from civilization and to connect back with nature.
This quiet space, might I add, is ultimately what led me to connect with the mountains on a spiritual level: it’s a space where the world actually slows down and I’m left to my inner thoughts. Having the opportunity to exert and challenge myself in a space without distraction is so freeing and empowering. Plus, being out in the fresh air relaxes my mind, allowing me to forget the anxieties and stresses in my life and to focus on the now. It’s in this place and in these moments where I’ve had the most successful realizations and moments of self-reflection.
Whenever I’m needing a break or some time to get away from my hectic life in the city, the mountains is the first place I’m headed.
Anxiety: one of the monsters I’m still tackling: and damn she’s a tough bitch to tackle. . I call her a she because, frankly, she is actually me. As bizarre of a concept it may be, my mind; my source of consciousness and awareness is my ultimate monster. As hard as I try to get her negative and consumptive tendencies out of my head, she still likes to creep up on me – more times than I’d like.
This monster, however, wasn’t always my monster. She only made herself present within the last couple of years. But I promise you, even though I know she is there, she is equally terrifying every time she presents herself. What does she do? Well this monster takes control of my emotions… breaks me down into tears… breaks my character… making me lose another part of me. How? She overloads my thought process with fears and worries for the safety of myself and those I love. In her strongest days, she used to scare me every hour: force me into my thinking of everyone and everything I absolutely love and them tragically getting taken away from me. I would virtually picture and envision the gruesome scenarios. But worst of all, I would feel the pain as if it actually happened. Then panic would set in; loss of breath, loss of muscular function: I was virtually trapped within a mind and body under this monster’s control.
That being said, I consider myself fortunate, for a lack of better words. I recognized that that wasn’t normal – at least not my normal. So I became determined to get my “normal” self back on track.
After a few months of trying to cure myself, I decided it was time to get some professional help; I was sick and tired of feeling terrified and broken all of the time.
My first outreach was to my family doctor – I assumed she would have some solutions for me that I hadn’t yet tried on my own. Her solution was prescribing me a SSRI/Seratonin inhibitor for generalized anxiety.
However, since I still had no idea what was actually going on in my mind (and after reading the side effects and risks of the drug), I decided not to take it. I was certain there would be more answers and a more suiting option for me.
So, my next step was finding myself a a good psychologist: I really wanted someone who could crack my code: get into the nitty gritty of what has been triggering my constant anxiety and panic attacks.
Within my first meeting with my psychologist, we successfully diagnosed my form of anxiety: OCD. That’s right, I have over compulsive anxiety; I am literally and genetically wired to be over anxious.
She explained that my A type brain was in overdrive and out of balance. The interesting thing, however, is that my type of anxiety could not be cured through methods such as exercise, meditation and breathing techniques. (These techniques work wonders and can actually cure certain types of anxiety, but not the one I have)
Being as I have a hereditary form, and it being in full swing, the best method to rebalance my brain was through supplements and/or medication. So, Adele (my psychologist) and I agreed that it would be best for me to start by taking natural supplements. I took daily dosages of pure fish oil, inositol, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. I definitely noticed some improvements but, unfortunately, they just weren’t enough: my monster continued creeping up on me.
A few months later, my next option was presented to me: a prescription for Fluvoxamine. Although I was still worried about the potential side effects from psychoactive meds, I felt confident that Adele knew which specific med was actually most suitable for my type of anxiety. Plus, I knew at that point, that my mental health needed some immediate attention – (and going anymore downhill was definitely a worse option…) I couldn’t stand my own inner thoughts any longer. So, I decided to give Fluvoxamine a try.
Low and behold- it worked! Although I did have a few side effects to get through, I gradually noticed my anxiety disappearing! Instead of breaking down into hyperventilating tears every hour, I found myself keeping it together for weeks at a time! This was a big deal! I thought this was it! I’ve solved it!
Unfortunately, I was too naïve. I not only became completely reliant on this medication but literally over medicated my anxiety until it transformed into an equally fearsome monster: depression.
I didn’t realize I was even depressed until I was really depressed. I suppose my depression hid behind my stresses and masked itself under my positive outlook on being less anxious. One day, it finally made its existence known and I wasn’t quite sure what to think or do about it. First and foremost, I tried to suppress it. Kill it with ignorance. I felt guilty for even being depressed because, in the grand scheme of things, I’m so blessed and so fortunate for what life has dealt me. (Plus, having gotten recently engaged at that time, I had convinced myself that this was supposed to be one of the happiest and most exciting times in my life – I wasn’t going to let my silly mind games take that away from me!)
Looking back, I should have known that was obviously a terrible approach… because yup, it caught up to me and bit me in the ass…
Although my anxiety had basically subsided, I found myself breaking down into tears everyday again.
As the days went by, it just got worse. I became very negative, irritable and cynical of everything going on in my life. I was completely unmotivated to go to school or work, socializing became a chore and exercise wasn’t even on the table anymore. What was even worse was my mind became a foggy mess – my thought process was diluted with stress and I found myself unable to get my thoughts and sentences out right.
With my stress at an ultimate high and my motivation and thought clarity at an ultimate low, it was really difficult to see the answer or a way out. I became overwhelmed and fed up trying to deal with my life; then the dark thoughts starting pouring in.
That was the moment I realized I was depressed. I had never felt so low and dissatisfied with myself as a person. I consistently thought low of myself and felt it was so hard to redeem that to myself and others.
Thankfully, I recognized that this too, was another monster I was facing. I became determined to beat this one too. So, I reached out for more help from Adele. She thought that above her therapy, it would be beneficial for me to start seeing a new family doctor; someone reputable who could follow me and my medication a lot closer on a regular basis. At this moment, she granted me the biggest blessing I could have asked for: she introduced me to Dr. Cathryn Zapf.
Meeting with Dr. Zapf has completely changed my life. Before starting her practice in Canmore early 2018, she was a functional medicine and mental health specialist back in England. I finally found a doctor that really understood my issues and was interested in solving the core issue instead of masking it with unnecessary medications. (Just to clarify, I’m not aiming to bash western medicine nor remotely say that medications are bad – I just truly believe that if you prevent or heal the underlying causes, you may be able to heal and recover without the dependency)
First off, Dr. Zapf was a bit shocked and startled that I had been taking Fluvoxamine for as long as I had as she typically maxes her patients out after 2 years. (Which I had indefinitely surpassed). Yes, this medication definitely helped re-balance the imbalances in my brain, but now having overused it for too long, I had started to impose a new imbalance. Plus, I wasn’t working on the core problem. For this reason, I am certain that the med was the largest contributor to my depression (it’s one if it’s side effects). So, I was ecstatic to hear that she was more than willing and had extensive experience successfully weening her patients off of it.
Over the next few months, Dr. Zapf ran blood tests, slowly lowered my dosages and stressed the importance of me getting more active outdoors. It was important that I replaced my typical remedy with the best one out there: nature.
Thanks to her support, I have now been medication free since June 2018. And, best of all, I barely have confrontations with my two monsters anymore.
Of course, I still have some bad days, but I am so thankful for the progress I’ve made and am more confident that I can overcome these monsters on the days they come out to play.
Personally, I believe my success has stemmed from 3 main sources:
- Getting reliable professional help
Overall, diagnosing my specific type of anxiety was an incredible help. Simply having this knowledge eased my anxiety itself (plus it was reassuring to know that I’m not the only person with this problem and I’m not as crazy as I think I am!) But above all, I was excited to finally be taking a step in the right direction.
- Talking about it
Reaching out and expressing your experience with mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially with mental health issues on the rise, it’s important that we all connect, share and support each other. We’re all affected by it one way or another, thus we’re all in this together!
- Getting active outdoors
Getting outside is fundamentally grounding. It’s a place to reconnect with nature (and yourself). Never forget – humans are part of nature. Over time, we have adapted ourselves into civilization, bringing us further and further away from our natural roots. You’d be surprised at what being in nature will teach you about yourself and the world around you.