You Still Deserve to Experience the Outdoors With Anxiety and Depression

Sylvia DeMichiel

I have ventured into the outdoors throughout the past few years. I have grown accustomed to trekking on trails, climbing up cliffs and sleeping in tents. But I wasn’t always that way. For a long time, I didn’t think I was good enough to spend time outdoors for numerous different reasons.

Anxiety kept me from going because of everything that could go wrong. The overthinking. The catastrophizing. Planning for all the dangerous outcomes of what could happen when I venture in the wilderness. The bear attacks. The broken bones. The getting lost. The exposure.

My depression told me I didn’t belong there. I would never be good enough to participate. That I should hide inside and stay safe. That “that world” wasn’t for me. That I was a fool for stepping out there.

I thought the outdoors only belong to those who thrive in it. The ones who kick butt at outdoor adventure sports. The ones who look good in the right outfits. The ones who have the money to spend on the right gear. The ones who have a natural ability. The ones who know they belong.

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I didn’t think it was meant for the ones who quiver. The ones who second guess. The ones who aren’t sure what they are doing. The ones who don’t have the right gear or the right amount of money. The ones who don’t have the right look. The ones who are hesitant.

This is how I lived — thinking the outdoors weren’t meant for people like me. That there was only one type of person who could enjoy the outdoors and I wasn’t part of it. I believed it for so long that this thought process kept me from doing things I was longing to do.

After a few years of finally venturing into the wilderness, I learned the outdoors were meant for everyone. It was meant for the ones who wanted to go out there. It’s for the ones who want to enjoy nature. It’s for the ones who want to be there.

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There isn’t only one way to enjoy nature. You don’t have to be in the backcountry to enjoy the outdoors. You don’t have to climb the highest mountains. You can glamp. You can car camp. You can hike in your backyard. It doesn’t make you less worthy of the outdoors, just because you can’t do the most intense activities.

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I hiked 18 miles in a day, but that doesn’t give me more of a right to enjoy the outdoors than someone who can only hike three miles in a day. It’s so easy to hide from things we don’t think we deserve. And I don’t want outdoors to be one of them for people. Because I’ve been there.

When I started rock climbing, it was terrifying — not just because the act of rock climbing itself is scary, but because I didn’t think I deserved to rock climb. When I started climbing — and still to this day — I could only do easier climbs. Now for a long time, I thought this made me less worthy of being at a crag and taking up space. Now, I show up and do my best. I still struggle at times, but I do my best to have fun and enjoy climbing in my own way. I may never climb in Yosemite, but I can still enjoy local crags. That doesn’t make me less.

It’s so easy to compare yourself to others. To make yourself feel less because of things others can do and you cannot. But that doesn’t matter in the outdoors. The outdoors doesn’t care how talented you are. The outdoors doesn’t judge you from enjoying it in the way you want to enjoy it. The outdoors doesn’t think less of you because of where you are going or what you are wearing. The outdoors just wants to share with you.

It wasn’t easy for me to get to this point of believing that concept — that the outdoors were meant for everyone. I was terrified for a very long time. It basically took someone holding my hand and bringing me out there to show me. It took me being uncomfortable and doing things anyway. It took me trying, and failing, then trying again to figure out what works best for me. It took me being miserable at times to figure out what I needed. It took moments of high anxiety and panic attacks to figure out how to cope. It took mornings pushing myself out of my bed to do activities I didn’t think I had the energy for. It took time. It took patience.

This may be a foreign concept for some — not feeling like you deserve to be somewhere. I understand it sounds dramatic to some, but to the people who experience that feeling, it is so real and goes to your core. My “undeserving feeling” stems from my anxiety and depression. Yours may stem from something else, but I think it’s important to push through it.

Never bring yourself down because you aren’t an adventure rockstar. That you only ski the easiest routes. That you never hiked a 4,000-footer. That you will never complete an ultra marathon. If you are enjoying yourself in the outdoors, then own that. Be proud of it. Relish in it because the outdoors are meant for everyone.

A version of this article originally appeared on the author’s blog.

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