I can think of at least 11 things, ranging from vacuuming to pulling up my old myspace page, that I would rather do than reflect back on my darkest times living with the dynamic duo of panic disorder with agoraphobia and OCD. However, with every milestone I overcome, I gain a sense of empowerment. With that I am motivated, albeit reluctantly, to share parts of my personal journey in the hope of paying it forward.
Let me take you back to roughly 3 years ago.
I was in the throes of agoraphobia and actively engaging in walking exposures. Walking as far as 10 feet away from the edge of my driveway was enough to induce a rapid heartbeat. I could not pass my neighbor’s driveway in anything less than a cold sweat. Three houses down my street, I was short of breath. If I made it to the stop sign, I was disoriented. The panic would consume me. I would flee the scene, stifling my shame that the face of the timer I carried with me on each excursion read a measly 3 minutes.
My fondness of hiking undoubtedly emerged from this past inability to effectively walk great distances, or any distance for that matter. My latest adventure was courtesy of my defiant attitude towards limitations. Hardship, resilience, revelry, and a couple of ground hogs – it was like an experience out of a novel.
Enter: Me, my anxieties, and my maternal cousin.
Setting: Smoky Mountains.
Total hiking distance: 14 miles
Inexperience reared when I found myself without water 4 miles into a hike. It would be concluded later that my second spare bottle had silently fallen cliffside while I was squatting behind a rock to process the contents of the first. Even though this was cause for real concern (I choose the word word real here because even my cousin, who is sans tormenting anxiety disorder, found this matter to be nerve-wracking), I relished in the fact that this was a sign of wellness and freedom. My true soul, which admittedly, is monumentally irresponsible, was shining. Fortunately the climate, our saving grace, was on our side and had no intention of reaching higher than 65 degrees – there was a below minimal risk for heatstroke. And my frequent stops to squat were a reliable indicator that the risk for dehydration was low, too.
This trip was not without panic attacks as I did experience a few, the intensity catching even me off guard. I allotted myself time to feel my fears and sit in my discomfort. I refrained from my desire to retreat and resolved to regroup and refocus. Persevering the panic only enhanced my ability to marvel at the sights and take pride in my feat.
A sentimental moment was forced upon me when I reached the summit of one of our chosen trail heads. With a rapid heartbeat, I stood at the pinnacle, over 5,500 ft above sea level. I glared directly into the eyes of the overlook like it was every piece of adversity I had ever faced. I felt apart of the world I had once been so disconnected from. The wonder consumed me. I basked in the realization that I had never before manually delivered myself closer to the sun. And the timer read unlimited.