How The Outdoors Played A Part In My Healing By Shannon Gardner

How The Outdoors Played A Part In My Healing

For the first 38 years of my life, I was timid, anxious, overweight, and gullible. Did I mention anxious, unhappy, a doormat, and very low self-esteem? Did I mention anxious?

They say that women start caring less what others think around the age of 40 and the same is true for me.

In May 2012, I was fired for the first time in my life from a very stressful job that I had worked at for 15 years. Three weeks later, I realized that I was feeling giddy despite not knowing if I would receive unemployment (and being the main breadwinner) and I had my anxiety medication dosage reduced.

In November 2013, my husband and I separated...

In July 2014, some friends convinced me to go kayaking. I had never done so and was anxious about being in the water as I am not a strong swimmer. This was the first big step in building my confidence and overcoming my anxiety by forcing myself to do things I was afraid of. The thing is…before this, I was unable to force myself. Losing the stressful job and marriage was making a difference.

In December 2014, my divorce was final. Eight days later, I turned 40...

In July 2015, I flew to San Antonio, TX for a work conference. The resort had a small water park and I had never gone on a water slide. I was terrified but forced myself to try one. At the bottom, I was shaking and nauseous. I did not care for the adrenaline dump. But, I went back up and tried the other slide. It had a portion that was completely dark. Yikes! At the bottom, I realized that I hadn’t died, I wasn’t injured, I was FINE. I went on both sides again.

Through my kayaking friends, I met other outdoor people who also hike. I discovered that I LOVE hiking. I had dabbled a little in the outdoors by camping with my family, but the trips were only once or twice a year. Now, my son and I have a goal to visit every state park in our state. We’re almost halfway there.

Hiking calms me. I can feel any stress or tension melt away as soon as I step on the path. I will drive two hours to hike for three hours and then drive two hours back. I drag my son and his friends along. I drag the kid I’m mentoring along. I invite friends (can’t really drag them with me). 

As far as my weight, I spend a good deal of time in the gym and I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, in addition to hiking and have gone from a size 16/18 to a 10/12. Healthier eating was a key factor.

During all of this, I had some wonderful friends who kept me busy, reminded me of my good qualities, and gently admonished me for the things I needed to work on. I have come VERY far, but I also recognize that there is more to work on and more to learn about the world. I have only five more classes to a bachelor’s degree in sociology and may go on to get my master’s.

How's my anxiety? Now, the nervousness might be there, but I can overcome it. I’ve been on a week-long cruise. I no longer need a Valium to fly on a plane. I’ve even taken a short helicopter ride! I have plans to take a kid that I’m mentoring to a place with Ziplines and ropes courses. I actually enjoy doing things that are a little scary. I love life. 

My healing began in the outdoors and continues to be the place where I find my courage. Identifying your weaknesses and confronting them is very empowering. I encourage all of you who are going through difficult times or struggling with personal conflicts to spend some time in the great outdoors. It can be a place where you find answers, strength, peace, and your courage to tackle the things you need to.

Shannon Gardner