There are two types of hikers…Part 2

I kind of gave you a hard and fast introduction to myself with my last post. I find it somewhat difficult to put myself into certain boxes, but sometimes it helps when you can categorize yourself as X, Y, or Z. It gives you an identifier that allows others to connect to you. Having anxiety is only a fraction of who I am. But because it will always be with me and, frankly, because it can get me into some f’ing hilarious situations, it will most likely be a topic that comes up a lot in my blog. I exhibited traits of being a people pleaser since I was a child, but anxiety made it worse as I grew older. Anxiety is what kept me from living an authentic life. I was definitely the hiker who (would’ve) lied about shitting themselves.

Smidge sits on top of an alligator while holding it's upper body off the ground.  July 2009
Smidge wrestles an alligator at Colorado Gator Farm, July 2009

A conventional life is not a bad thing. It’s a wonderful life. For some people. But ask anyone who’s known me since childhood: I was a weird kid. I’ve been in love with tattoos since I was 8, and started my collection when I was 15. When “Guess” jeans were popular in 1988, I fell in love with a pair of faded red ones with small polka dots all over them, instead of the stone washed style that all the other girls wore. At some point in college though, I gave in and decided that I should begin to look the part of a serious nursing student, so I took out my braid extensions and stopped going to raves. I removed my septum piercing and traded it for scrubs and sensible shoes. After nursing school, I slowly began to disguise myself as a person with a conventional life. I got married, and I got divorced. I bought and sold a house. I moved and bought another house. There were hints of excitement here and there: I collected tattoos, and I still liked to travel when I could. I went alligator wrestling with my brother, and took myself to the Bahamas when I finished grad school. But life was normal. Life was predictable.

In the year or so before I took six months off to live in the woods, I would’ve told you that I was happy and content. Or at least I thought I was. I had seen a therapist in Albuquerque regularly after my work with the psychologist in Santa Fe, and eventually her and I stopped keeping a regular appointment as I was doing really well managing my anxiety. I had been actively working on specific traits such as patience and kindness with myself. I believed that life was good and a little irritation from my job was normal at this point in my career. Nursing had been a topic I had discussed with my therapist, but only along the lines of “at some point I’ll figure out something to do for work”. I worked mainly on ways to mitigate the stress. I did a lot of yoga and ran with friends. But I could feel myself falling back into a routine that wasn’t helping me grow. A routine in which I would tell myself that I was happy and content, but I was actually frustrated and unsure. I needed to grow in order to be able to embrace my weird again.

I started to think about decisions I could make that would shake things up in my life, and allow me to put into practice everything I had been working on. I needed a fresh start, but not one that just involved moving and being a nurse in a new place. No, I needed to quit doing the things that didn’t bring me joy, and nursing hadn’t brought me joy in a few years. A friend had mentioned Tunisia, and I began daydreaming of moving to the Mediterranean and teaching English. I even began learning French. I emailed my resume to a couple of schools there. But I didn’t have the financial capability of making such a giant move, so I began thinking of things I could do instead of going to Tunisia. Again, I wish I could remember the moment I thought of attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I do remember reading blogs and discussion groups and learning so much from those who posted online. I remember being slightly terrified at the idea of putting everything in storage, leaving my pets with other people, and heading down to Georgia with nothing but the pack on my back. But I also remember feeling like a weight was lifted when I turned in my resignation at work. I instantly felt light and free. I was leaving. And I didn’t know what I’d be like when (and if) I came back.

I started the trail with the intention of thinking of what I wanted to do for my next career. I even had some really amazing ideas while I was out there. But now that I’m back in my cozy little apartment in Albuquerque, and have had time to process what I did for half of 2018, I am certain that my experience was meant to push me in the direction of writing. I’ve journaled more over the last couple of years, and found it to be a very useful tool to examine my anxiety triggers. Putting myself out here for everyone to see has been scary. But it’s not as scary as walking under sketchy power lines on the AT. And certainly not as scary as standing semi-nude in the forest while washing my shorts out. I’m more than my anxiety. And I’m stoked to be able to admit that I’ve shat myself.

Smidge takes a selfie on the AT overlooking a mountain ridge.
Smidge on the Appalachian Trail near Neels Gap, GA.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve done? What did you learn from yourself afterwards? We’re all so capable of great things. But more often than not, we’re our own worst enemy and can’t get ourselves out of our own way long enough to realize it. Take the time for yourself. Embrace your imperfections. Find pease with the chaos of life. And own your weird.

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