I’ve been struggling with post-trail depression. It’s a fairly well-known phenomenon that is experienced by a majority of thru-hikers after. I think it’s brought on by many factors, as depression generally is. There’s the physical side of your body being wrecked. There’s the aspect of leaving the trail community. You’ve left the structure and simplicity of following a set path. And for many of us the trail has wrought fundamental changes in the way we view the world and consequently the way we want to live.
It’s a time of transformation and change and change is never easy.
I wasn’t feeling great this morning so I went for a hike. As I was walking it struck me that during the majority of my AT journey I wasn’t looking forward to anything. There wasn’t anywhere else that I wanted to be. I was immersed in the hiking. And I was in this very present state for about 2/3rds of the hike. Until the last 700 miles at which point my focus turned from being on a journey to one of knocking out miles. Interestingly those last 700 miles were miles where I had the least joy. The hiking became grueling. I was bored. I was looking forward to the future when I could be finished. I think this made the present not so much something to be enjoyed but an obstacle to be overcome.
And I realized today during my hike that I have been living more in the future than the present since I came home. Rather than feeling like I am exactly where I’m supposed to be and doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing I’ve been leaning forward into the future. Thinking about moving west. Living in a van. Going on more adventures. I’ve been hitching my happiness to the future and ignoring the present.
Bam. Clarity. Of course! Of course I’m not happy now because my attention is focused on the future.
So I had a conversation with my subconscious. I told it, “Yes, I hear you. I want to move west. I want to live in a van and travel around. I want all of those things. But we are not there yet. So let’s be present and enjoy today because being happy today will give us the best chance for building a happy future.”
It was a good hike. I came out of the woods feeling refreshed and renewed. I’ve rediscovered that sense of being on a journey. Sometimes in life we walk through boring states like Pennsylvania; but wishing that we were in Maine won’t help get us there any faster. It will only rob us of the joy that can be found in the present moment.