"My healing in the outdoors felt so natural, authentic, and just right." - Megan
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
"I like to think life is like a trail map. Some sections you think you have figured out, the trail is a steady, and then it shifts. Your trail is suddenly filled with gnarly switchbacks, hard to keep up with, and you contemplate turning back and giving up." - Megan
Growing up, I started experiencing depression pretty young. My parents divorced when I was 9 or 10, and that is the first time I remember seeing a counselor. I hit high school and was still living the shitty reality of divorce. I was either talking to one parent or the other, it was always something that was pissing one of them off, and rarely would they be in the same place at the same time no matter the once in a lifetime event I was living (later including my wedding and college graduation). This constant conflict, combined with a friend’s suicide my senior year, pushed me to explore self-harm. I didn’t have a suicidal end goal, just wanted to numb everything. A friend pushed for me to try counseling again, so I did. My dad thought it was silly, and that I just needed to move on, so I quit therapy. I didn’t want to disappoint him and start yet another conflict. After that, I noticed my depression would come and go, but after my son was born it stuck around and was way more intense. I was put on antidepressant medication for the first time.
Fall 2018 came and hit like a freight train. My dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and I was
devastated. My dad and I have always had an on and off
relationship. Starting in my teens, our relationship was either 100% there and amazing, or at other times we didn’t even speak. The problem was, growing up and before the divorce, we were always fishing, camping, shooting our bows (he would take me to archery competitions), and hunting. These were memories that were engrained in my soul. These were memories that I was constantly reliving and cherished so much. I felt like they defined who I was as a person. When I learned that they were potentially going to disappear in his mind, I was wrecked. To me it just put a huge timer on life, and that if I wanted my dad to “be there” and remember, everything needed to happen now.
Soon after his diagnosis, we found out we were pregnant with our 3rd. I should have been ecstatic. I was, but I wasn’t. Soon I found myself in tears in my OBs office, and he was telling my husband he needed to drive me to the nearest emergency room for mental evaluation. We show up and I was treated like a complete psychopath. They made me remove my clothing, shoelaces, jewelry, wouldn’t let us have phones or anything, and a guard outside my door. It made me feel like a monster, and like I was the equivalent of Ted Bundy. I mean, what pregnant woman says she just wants to end it all?
I ended up finding a therapist that I actually liked. He reminded me of my dad in a lot of ways. Therapy helped tremendously, and once again my trail map had changed in my favor and I was back on a smooth, easy going path. My daughter was born healthy, I received a promotion right before going on my 3-month maternity leave, I was spending time with my kids, and enjoying life again. Then in 2020, like for many, life took a big fat shit on my trail map and I lost all sense of direction.
We discovered our son had been victim of trauma from a family member, and it had been occurring for some time. How could my innocent 4yr old be so damaged? How could this happen to us, from them? I didn’t know how to breathe. I felt like I had failed my #1 duty as a parent, and I had caused this. Right away, we knew we had to get him into therapy. We decided we would all go together and heal together.
Seeing my son so fragile, made me realize there was no possible way I could help him heal if I wasn’t yet healed. But when you go to therapy 2x a week already, it’s hard to want to do more therapy. My therapist brought up the point that I always brought up memories of the outdoors when talking about my dad and the emotional wounds, so why didn’t I get outside? Just to see if it helped.
So, I got outside. I found an organization called Wild Women Outdoors that got together for monthly hikes and adventures. It pushed me outside my comfort zone to be vulnerable around others, and just be outside. Soon I found myself signing up for white water rafting, which I swore I would never do. I was doing anything and everything to just get outside and for the time in a while my head was quiet, content. I did my first 6-day solo elk hunt with my bow and logged at least a week each month out hunting either by myself, or with my husband and kids. I was teaching myself everything there was to learn about elk scouting, mapping, wind changes, fly fishing, if it involved hunting, fishing, or backpacking- I was going to learn it. I learned that the more I was outside, the more I was healing and having big realizations of the roots to my depression and anxiety. Additionally, I found that the more I was outdoors, the less I was needing that bottle of vodka, and that I wanted to hike that trail more than I wanted that hangover.
My healing in the outdoors felt so natural, authentic, and just right. For the first time in my life, I felt like I suddenly found purpose. I wanted to help others find the same healing
myself, my son, and my family found. I wanted to help them find that place, just as someone helped me. Soon, I was sending out graduate school applications to change careers. I have been a successful researcher in cell biology for the last 12 years, but suddenly I grew tired of the long, stressful hours and just wanted a simpler life. I wanted more but in a simpler kind of way.
In January I start my new trail in life as I work towards becoming a licensed mental health counselor and today marks 53 days sober. I hope I can help others like we were helped. Even if it’s just 1 person, that’s enough. My trail map in life will still have plenty of tough switchbacks, but that’s ok. Everyone’s trail map has them.
The higher the climb, the more beautiful the view.