The Mountains Are Calling and I Must Go

How hiking has helped me deal with my anxiety.

“We like to be out in nature so much because it has no opinion about us.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

I’ve had social anxiety for most of my life.

It’s not fun, to be around a group of friends you love and trust and be stricken by the sudden panicky desire to be all alone. As a young adult, I’d wander off to some uninhabited part of the skate park and sit and watch the lake. Sometimes a friend would come by and check on me — I did much better with just one-on-one than I did in groups — and we’d get to talking or gossiping. We’d stare the lake and the ugly ducks that inhabited it. It was the closest we came to actually appreciating nature instead of feeling like we were encroaching on it.

Growing up in South Florida, it was hard to be unaware of nature. It’s a jungle of vibrant green hues, the sky lit with birds of all types, turtles and gators crossing roads. Sometimes I’d spot armadillos curled up by curbs. Possums thrive in Florida — so many people, so much trash to eat.

But it wasn’t beautiful nature. In fact, it gave me the vibe that we were imposing on the territory of beautiful swamplands — which, in fact, we were. It made me happy to think that one day it would be swallowed by the ocean. The ocean, whose rise I watched every year of my life. The city I lived in for a time tried to install more sand to curb the erosion — I went back recently and its eroded even more.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was really able to pursue my own favorite type of nature — mountains.

I moved to Colorado in 2017 and made Colorado Springs my permanent home. I live in view of Pike’s Peak; in fact, I see it every day as I drive home from work or look out my living room window or even glance out of the window at my work. The peak is still covered in snow, even in May.

The strange weather here did a number on me when I first moved. Hailstorms, insane wind, clouds that appear from nowhere, thunderstorms that become snowstorms — someone from South Florida is a little off put by a variation from the wet or sunny conditions of the equator. But after a while, I really began to enjoy it. The weather reflected my moods: ever-changing and never the same two days in a row. I was as moody as the sky.

The best part about moving to Colorado Springs is the abundance of parks and nature trails that span the region. It’s quite a big city — over 200 square miles — so there’s tons of variations in the types of nature you’ll see. The most famous of all, of course, is Garden of the Gods.

Since moving here, I’ve learned a lot about how nature can soothe the savage soul. Everyone in Colorado seems to be more introverted than the inhabitants of my home state — we all like to keep to ourselves, go out in nature, and enjoy the beauty of the earth. It’s kind of fun, to live in a town of introverts. We all appreciate these things quietly, in honor of their due reverence. It’s quite evident by the number of polite park-goers I encounter on my hikes.

Today, my boyfriend and I hiked the Seven Bridges Trail. Named for its seven bridges, it climbs up into North Cheyenne Canyon right beside a bubbling, happy creek. After the dump of snowfall we got this winter, the creek was overflowing onto the trail this afternoon, loosening gravel beneath our feet. I’m happy to say I only slipped once.

My boyfriend and I have seen some interesting sights on our hikes. A few weeks ago, we saw skydivers land in a field right next to us. Another time, we came across a herd of deer that we scared off into the trees. We drove to Divide, an hour west, and were the only ones in a sprawling mountain park with a view of the western face of Pike’s Peak. It was incredible to have the trails all to ourselves.

There’s something about nature that brings out the best in me. I feel like a kid, wandering up and down trails, getting lost amongst the trees. I spot birds and point them out, singing excitedly back to them, and send them hopes of good worm findings. I feel like a nymph, cradled in the trees and exposed on rocky cliff faces. It’s exhilarating to be breathe in that fresh mountain air, my mind bubbling over like the happy creek beside us. It helps me feel at peace for the first time in a while, unencumbered by the anxiety that usually inhabits my mind. Staring up at trees, I am filled with clarity.

I know it is true what Nietzsche said — I love nature because it has no opinion of me. It cannot judge me or tell me I’m wrong. Nature does not care if I live or die, and that’s the beauty in it. It is bigger than I am and deserving of all of the awe that I can stop for a moment and provide. It humbles me, standing before the majesty of it all, and makes my human problems seem that much more human.

I know why I love the mountains: they are solid, immoveable, but ever-changing, even so. Just like me, in my ever-present quest for a healthy mind. I am ever-changing, but that change only reveals more beautiful cliff faces and vistas never before seen.

I hope to see all of the nature I can before it is gone or I am — whichever comes first. But in the meantime, it’s a great anti-anxiety medication.

Mistress of words and Truth.

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