With depression and anxiety there are a large number of helpful phrases and words of advice that you will be given almost endlessly.
They are frustratingly correct and useful, but not necessarily to someone who can’t motivate their limbs out of bed or a smile onto their face. However once you have made it past this impossible phase, and you will make it past, those often repeated wisdoms can still linger oppressively in your mind. They are normally always related to getting up, going outside and not thinking about it. Eventually this becomes possible, by whatever means, and when it does you get the pissy feeling that everyone was right all along and who’s the idiot now.
Achievements and moments of success and pride will come more and more often. You get out of bed, do the washing, go out for a walk, get a job, move out of home. They increase in speed and weight until you forget that they are achievements and it just becomes living again. This will be the part you don’t even notice and yet is the biggest success of all, but those helpful hints and tips can still niggle at your brain on a bad day.
This is where I am at, pre-travelling. Even during the time I have been away, the time in my life where my brain wasn’t really working couldn’t be further from my mind. That is until we embarked on a nine day trek to the base camp of the tenth highest mountain in the world.
Despite being fully aware that everything would be ‘fine’, it wasn’t until I was confronted with a bloody long walk that I stopped, looked at myself and thought there is absolutely no way you are capable of this. I have these thoughts about fifty times a day, as I imagine a huge amount of us do, but this one was actual, ground in the physicality of the task before me. I used my new skill of just pretending I don’t feel those things and went anyway.
Of course it was fine. It was more than fine, it was the single most proud achievement of my life. Getting over my depression has been so gradual and subtle, that although it is something I am proud of, it’s never something I’ve really had a moment of pride about. Standing at the bottom of a fucking massive mountain however, with absolutely no training, gear, ability or mental strength to have got me up there, was present, exhilarating and made my chest hurt with the feeling of success. It was fucking fantastic.
We walked for eight days, about eighteen kilometers a day (some days more, wtf) and with a daily ascent and descent of about one/one and a half kilometers. We started at 900m above sea level and finished at 4100m. This is difficult and hard, but totally achievable for almost everyone, I’m not claiming in any way to have done anything mental. Our first day was our most physically intense, eight hours walking up I think about five hundred million steps and I was flying. Come day three and I was back to my worst. I couldn’t eat, when I went to bed that night I was heading back down in the morning. Something clicked in me though, that I have been fighting with myself for a long time about. I’m obsessed with the belief that I give up rather than try and there was an unconscious change in me this time to not take the easy way out. There were a few opinions of me that I wanted to change and they were pretty much all my own. Next morning there was no question of me not continuing, from me or Jim. From then on it was plain sailing, despite the snowstorms, avalanches and lack of crampons.
People I love have said to me so many times, ‘Now you have done that, you can do anything’, in regards to getting a job or setting off around the world. I’ve never really believed them. But standing at Annapurna Base Camp and now sitting in Hanoi writing this and probably next year when I’m struggling with a shitty day, I really really believe that I can do whatever the fuck I want and I really REALLY look forward to doing just that.