The Antidepressant that is Colorado: How Leaving the Isolation Nest Relieved my Anxiety
I couldn’t afford the trip but went anyway hoping it would make me feel better. 2018 didn’t go in many of the directions I wanted it to, and I couldn’t remember feeling so anxious and indifferent, maybe ever.
An awesome work opportunity went to another person, and after several rounds of interviews, another potential promotion disappeared when the company decided to postpone the hire. Two months later, my ever-reliable landlord kicked me out so she could Airbnb my place. Not knowing where I would live next, I took off for a road trip through Colorado hoping a break from worrying and social media would snap me out of my funk.
My first plan of the journey was a 10-mile hike through Rocky Mountain National Park that other hikers called “breathtaking.” The catch was that I had to be in this certain parking lot by 6 a.m. because it fills up. So, I woke up at 5 a.m., and made it half-awake, in the rain, to the very special parking lot (with only two other cars). When the sun came up and it stopped pouring, I set out on a slushy trek that punched me square in the ass.
The first half of the Sky Pond hike took me solidly uphill through a trail of jagged rocks and included some deep ankle rolls and a climb straight up a waterfall. I packed my backpack too heavy, so my shoulders burned the entire time while my nose bled because of the altitude. Walking through lush forests lined with glistening trees with fairies hanging off yellow leaves, I felt dizzy and numb.
A few hours in, I made it to a secluded lake at the halfway point but couldn’t stop for long because it was so whipping cold, I couldn’t enjoy the scenery. Struggling to find a rhythm and some gratitude on the way back, another storm rolled in and rain pounded my face and shivering body for the final hour and a half.
Soaked and sitting in my rental car a cool seven-plus hours from the start of my adventure, I thought about my hiking skills and the fact that I am (clearly) not “Hiker-Girl.” I love the outdoors, but my hiking sweet spot lands more at around four to five miles, tops. Why I thought this type of hike would bring me pleasure, I didn’t know, and yet I did.
Massaging my shoulder while the blisters on my feet swelled, it occurred to me that I rarely choose the easier, softer way. I always pick the path of most resistance, so I can keep achieving all the time. The hike was gorgeous, and I love a challenge, but I missed most of it due to physical distress and excessive whining. Determined to adjust my attitude, I updated my schedule for the next day and planned an easier hike.
On the drive back to the parking lot of tiredness the next morning, I saw four elk and a deer with the biggest rack of antlers I’d ever seen. I stopped the car and watched for a while, mesmerized that the buck’s neck didn’t hurt with all that weight on it. This time, when I parked, I shoved some food and water in my mouth and left the backpack behind.
With less pressure and more sunshine on my face, I walked deep into the wilderness on the Emerald Lake trail over tiny bridges surely built by gnomes and smelled the abundance of clean air. I even stopped on a little rock cliff overlooking a meadow to get my meditation on but lost my focus when another giant elk walked past the end of the rock below me.
I slid off and followed it for a while, which I know wasn’t too smart. The elk didn’t have any antlers and I figured if it got pissed, I’d still make it out alive. She ate grass, and I quietly watched and noticed how totally present I felt. Taking a break from monitoring my ticker tape of worries made me feel peaceful and finally, grateful.
That second hike definitely opened my heart, but the third one at Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, shifted me. At Maroon Bells, you park the car, and walk around this little lake and then the mountains open up like massive arms asking you for a hug.
The contrast between the white clouds cutting through florescent blue sky, to bright green mountains met with yellow grass and a little trail sailing down the middle look like a picture out of a travel magazine.
After I stopped drooling, I took off on another four-miler along the West Maroon Pass Trail. When I got to the halfway point this time, I ripped my jacket off and plopped down in a field soaked in sunlight. Staring at another couple of mountains cracked open like a heart in front of me, I started to cry.
I cried because of the cocoon I’d crawled into back home, and I cried over how much time I’d spent ruminating over what I didn’t get in 2018, and how much I’d missed because of it.
When I’m in future or past-thinking, I can’t focus on the amazing people and world around me because I’m buried in worrytastic activities like scrolling through Facebook and comparing my life to the best parts of the lives of people I never actually see. I tell myself I am not doing enough or being enough and then I feel guilty for beating myself up.
Hours of driving between tiny Colorado towns, searching for bears and rams (only saw bear poop) and belting out Ariana in my Flintstones-sized rental, did something so important: It got me out of my head.
One of my favorite moments of the trip was at breakfast with this local woman in Telluride. I sat next to her at this restaurant called The Butcher & the Baker where she told me about her favorite part of living there. She said there are mornings when the snow hits the ground in her backyard in this particular way.
When the sun comes up, she can see blue sky, the white snow, and the yellow leaves on the trees, all at the same time, and it overwhelms her. With a mouthful of gluten free waffles (why even try?) covered in a gallon of syrup, I got choked up again. Watching her, head cocked, looking up and visualizing her perfect morning, I could see it too.
If given a burrito, about twelve episodes of Better Call Saul, some Instagram bullshit to scroll through, and a warm nest, I will happily never leave my home. I will back float in those distractions to avoid any sort of pain or discomfort I am feeling. The problem, aside from the fact that this doesn’t feel like living, is that it increases angst. While alone time is essential, too much of it can keep us from fully experiencing the world around us.
This trip obviously ruled. I saw The Shining hotel, I walked by the Justin’s almond butter headquarters in Boulder and high-fived Justin. Kidding, but I wanted to tell him how much I love that stuff. I read Tony Robbins and understood why he’s a millionaire. I sat on benches and watched people do dumb stuff. Aside from hiking, eating, and writing, I also resisted the urge to accomplish anything.
I know we all can’t just pack up and leave for Colorado, but I will say that getting outside without my phone and turning the television off, woke me up. Getting out on the road reminded me that we hold the key to our own happiness and so much of it has to do with resisting the urge to isolate.
So much did go my way in 2018 and went in better ways than I could understand, until I got quiet and gave myself a chance to see the good.