Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blazing Beyond Post-Trail Depression & Post-Suicide TOGETHER.

On January 2, 2014, I was called by a fellow hiker who asked "What the hell is going on!?!?" The hiker community had been surprised by the suicide of one of our own. Then, the hiker on the phone with me received the double-whammy of having a second friend commit suicide within just a few days. About a week and a half later, a gal I had shared coffee with here in Wisconsin also committed suicide.

It seems many of us in the past year have been affected by suicide. Hearing about another recent suicide in the hiker community in the past week, I felt like I had to do... something. From my experience, suicidal thoughts CAN happen (not always) when people feel isolated and alone. When hikers come back home, they are absorbed by the rest of the non-hiking community, and it's easy to feel separated from the positive and healing experiences from the trail. Hikers really are a "band of buggered few" with memories that just can't be shared and understood by someone who hasn't backpacked. Likewise, people who survive through someone committing suicide are another group that are bonded together through unique circumstance - only this one usually isn't as bonding because we don't know where we all are.

So, let's start to regroup. Let's have a phone call where we can all get together and express a little about what the Trail meant to us, what lessons we learned, and how we may be having difficulty applying those lessons back in civilization. Let's get together to talk a little about how we feel about the friends we've lost, about the friends we've helped, about how we're afraid of losing ourselves.

Want to join the conversation? It'll be Friday, February 27 at 7 PM Central Time (8 PM Eastern, 6 PM Mountain). Email me at hikerslisten@gmail.com. I will respond with the call-in information. Check your time zone and get it in your calendar:

***Please share this with other long-distance and thru-hikers - I don't care what year they hiked, which direction they hiked, or even what Trail they hiked. They may need to feel "normal" again with others who "get it." Let's try to keep everyone on the Trail of Life! Keep Hiking!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Struggling with post-Trail Depression? Want to help others who are?

I have wanted to begin blogging again. I didn't think this was going to be my "come-back" post. I didn't want another hiker's death to be the reason I resumed "Appalachian Oasis." *Sigh* We don't always get what we want. But... something needs to be done. And this is what I can think of to do to possibly help.

If you are a long-distance hiker who is struggling with feeling "normal" now that you've returned to the "real world" (and you understand why I'm putting these words in quotes), please keep reading... 

I'm Patchouli. I used to be a bad ass.
In 2013, I hiked 2000 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Some of you may remember me - I was known as "Patchouli". For six months, I only had one direction to go. Everyone else was going in that direction too. We all had the same goal - Katahdin. We were all doing the same wild and crazy adventure that everyone back home was either jealous of or they didn't understand. Either way, we were elite, we were special, we had purpose.

Then, I returned to my hometown, moved back in the house I had been in, and... wandered aimlessly. I was lost. I had changed. The Trail had changed me. I tried to go back to what I knew, to be who I had been, but that didn't fit anymore. My friends... well, I guess we all had changed while I was gone because we didn't have much in common anymore. Working for 12 years in one full time job previously was boring and painstaking, but it HAD paid bills and was secure. Now... my priorities had changed. I had to re-create my very existence. Square One. Springer Mountain - only this time I didn't have AWOL's guide and no blazes to follow. It was dense undergrowth I'd have to hack my way through in this urban jungle.

I have stayed in touch with a few people from the Trail, but mostly, I feel somewhat forgotten. Forgettable. I'm no longer a bad-ass that hikes mountains before breakfast. I'm just... nothing. So I try, I strive, I work really hard for a bit and that... that feels false as well, not like the ease and simplicity of the Trail. Not much holds excitement anymore. Where are the damn blazes? What am I supposed to be moving toward now?

Post Trail Depression
Zach Davis (Good Badger) speaks of Post-Trail Depression in his book, "Appalachian Trials". I read that book before I left for the Trail, so I thought I understood what I was getting myself into. A couple months after I came home, and I was listless and purposeless and numb, I thought, "Oh, this is just Post-Trail Depression." I could accept it, get through it.  But it continued. On and on. Sometimes it lets up, but mostly, it's still there - just in the background. Thankfully, I have resources to reach out to for help. I have loving family and friends, that - although they don't understand and I don't have much in common with anymore - they still care and try to be there as they can best figure out.

I know there are others who do not have that.

I know because I hear things through the grapevine - mostly Facebook. I called 2014 the 'year of death'. It opened with 3 suicides in January. Then attempts, and cutting, and other self-destructive behavior. No, not all from hikers, but several. This Post-Trail Depression was deeper than I ever thought possible. I was so relieved when 2015 rolled around. Except that... unfortunately, I'm still hearing that hikers are feeling isolated, disconnected, depressed, fighting to find purpose - even to find the will to live.

But... we are NOT alone.
We are ALL still thru-hikers, yes, separated by miles and time. But we still have the commonality of the culture and experience of being a long-distance hiker, a backpacker, a thru-hiker, a bad-ass. Call yourself what you will.

Therefore, I want to create a place for us thru-hikers to talk, to reminisce, to converse about our struggles and our victories, to give and to receive hope as we need. I'm soul-weary to hear of another hiker take their own life, to self destruct, or to feel isolated. Especially when I know so MANY of us also feel that same way. There's just no need to struggle alone.

Let's start a conversation. I'm going to host two conference calls. They won't have much of an agenda other than, like we did on the Trail, to encourage each other to keep hiking the trail of life, to not give up, to find the strength to continue. Let's help each other find the blazes again. We'll just talk, like we did around the campfires.

I feel I'm only starting to find my footing again in the "real" world (why is THIS world the real one?), and I'm not sure it's entirely secure. But I have hope. And... I have a little hope to spare. So, if someone else needs a little, I could give it. I'm not the expert here or the one with the answers; I'm just the one providing the platform so we can all tell the stories of what has and hasn't worked for us.

Want to join the conversation? Email me at hikerslisten@gmail.com. 
Tell me which conference call you want to attend, and I will respond with the call-in information for that time. I can only take 25 people per call - which is a lot of people if we want to encourage everyone to share. Oh, and it's free (Trail Magic!).

The dates are:
Thursday, February 26 at Noon Central Time (1 pm Eastern, 11 AM Mountain)
Friday, February 27 at 7 PM Central Time (8 PM Eastern, 6 PM Mountain)

***Please share this with other long-distance and thru-hikers - I don't care what year they hiked, which direction they hiked, or even what Trail they hiked. If they took a dump in the woods and carried their toilet paper out with them for more than a few days, they may relate to this post. They may need to feel "normal" again with others who "get it." Let's try to keep everyone on the Trail of Life! Keep Hiking!