How Mother Nature and I Manage My Depression


“I
go
to
nature
to
be
soothed
and
healed,
and
to
have
my
senses
put
in
order.”
~John
Burroughs

I
sat
on
the
front
stoop
sobbing,
unable
to
move.
Hunched
over
like
a
heaving
dog
hugging
my
knees
and
clutching
a
wad
of
decomposing
tissues.
About
fifteen
minutes
before,
I’d
managed
to
get
myself
off
the
couch
where
I’d
been
parked,
withered
and
absent,
for
the
fourth
consecutive
day,
and
had
made
it
through
the
front
door.

Once
there,
I
tried
to
stay
upright,
but
like
cool
syrup
I
slid
down
the
side
of
the
wrought
iron
railing
and
down
onto
the
steps.
Now
all
I
had
to
do
was
get
up
and
walk
to
the
mailbox
and
back
and
maybe
I’d
feel
better.
But
I
couldn’t
do
it.
It
was
too
much.

I
hoisted
my
ladened
head
from
my
knees
and
stared
out
the
driveway
to
the
mailbox
about
seven
hundred
feet
away.
It
may
as
well
have
been
ten
miles…
or
fifteen
feet.
It
didn’t
matter,
it
was
too
far.

“Please
just
help
me
get
up,”
I
pleaded
to
a
somber
sky.
The
help
didn’t
come
and
so
there
I
sat
crying,
searching
for
the
energy
or
the
wherewithal
to
make
myself
move.
Fifteen
minutes,
twenty
minutes,
twenty-five…
the
time
oozed
by
thick
and
distorted.

It
had
happened
before,
more
than
once,
and
had
overtaken
me
at
varying
speeds
and
intensity.  Sometimes
it
leached
in
with
the
change
of
seasons;
like
an
inflatable
pool
toy
left
floating
past
the
end
of
summer,
sad
and
wilted,
the
air
having
seeped
out
in
infinitesimal
degrees.
Sometimes
I
could
fight
it
off,
catch
it
before
things
got
too
grim.
Not
this
time.
I’d
felt
myself
spiraling
down,
hot
wind
escaping
me
until
I
was
in
a
deflated
heap,
slack
and
flaccid
on
the
sofa.


It
had
happened
a
few
years
ago,
although
not
this
bad,
and
a
chirpy
classmate
had
suggested
that
I
just
“snap
out
of
it!”

“Just…
snap
out
of
it
?’”
I
repeated.

“Yeah!!
Snap
out
of
it!”

“It’s
not
that
simple,”
I
said.

“Sure,
it
is!
Like
the
song
says,
‘Put
on
a
happy
face!’”

“Are
you
kidding
me
right
now?”

“No,
I’m
not kidding,”
she
said.
“It’s
mind
over
matter.
Just
distract
yourself
by
doing
something
that
makes
you
happy.
Stop
thinking
about
it…
you
know,
snap
out
of
it!”

I
looked
at
the
woman
through
a
haze
of
disbelief
and
deadpanned,
“Just
snap
out
of
it.
Gee.
Why
didn’t
I
think
of
that?”


Another
friend
enquired,
“Why
don’t
you
just
ask
for
help
when
things
get
bad?”

“Because
you
can’t,”
I
said

“What
do
you
mean
you can’t?
You
just
pick
up
the
phone
and
ask
for
help.
It
takes
two
seconds!”

“I
mean
you
can’t;
not
when
you’re
in
the
depths
of
it.
That’s
the
insidiousness
of
it.
When
you
need
help
the
most
is
when
you’re
least
able
to
ask
for
it.”

“That
doesn’t
make
any
sense,”
the
friend
replied.
“If
you’re
sick
you
call
the
doctor.
If
your
car
breaks
down
you
get
it
to
a
mechanic.
If
you
have
a
drinking
problem
you
go
to
AA.
When
you need help,
you ask for
help!”

“That’s
like
telling
someone
who
is
trapped
under
a
piano
to
walk
over
to
the
phone
and
call
the
movers,”
I
scoffed.
“You
simply
can’t”

“Of
course,
you
can!
You’re
not actually trapped
under
a
piano
and
you’re
not
paralyzed,
are
you?”

“Well,
no,
obviously
it’s
a
metaphor.
But
in
way you
are… paralyzed,
I
mean.”

“Oh,
come
on…
I
think
you’re
being
a
little
dramatic.”

“And
I
think
you’re
being
dismissive
and
oversimplifying
it.”

“Because
it’s
pretty
simple.
You
just
ask
for
help.”

“I
don’t
think
there’s
anything
I
can
say
to
help
you
to
understand
how
it
feels.
I
just
don’t
know
how
to
explain
it
if
you’ve
never
experienced
it.”

“Well,
I
think
if
someone
needs
help,
they
should
just
ask
for
it.”

I
sighed
and
said
“Maybe
the
name
says
it
all.
It’s
a
good
name
for
how
you
feel.
‘Depression.’
There’s
the
word
depression
like
a
hole
in
the
ground
and
you
definitely
feel
like
you’re
stuck
down
in
a
hole.
And
there’s
depression
in
the
sense
that
something
is pressing down on
you.
It
absolutely
feels
like
there
is
a
physical
weight
holding
you
down.
It’s
inexplicably
heavy.
It’s
heavy
in
your
mind.
It’s
heavy
in
your
lungs.
It’s
heavy
in
your
body.
Sometimes,
when
it’s
really
bad,
it’s
nearly
impossible
to
move.”

Nearly impossible…
but
not
impossible,”
my
friend
said.
“You
could
still
get
to
the
phone.”


Okay…
Whatever…

But
that
was
then
and
now
I
was
alone.
No
nonbelievers
to
convert
nor
pep
talks
to
deflect.


Medication
had
worked
to
a
degree
and
only
for
a
while.
The
struggle
to
find
the
right
prescription
and
dosage
combined
with
the
ever-growing
list
of
side
effects
had
proven
too
much.
I
also
swore
I
could
feel
the
drugs
in
my
system,
and
they
made
me
feel
toxic,
for
lack
of
a
better
term,
and
I
couldn’t
stand
it.  So,
under
my
doctor’s
guidance
I’d
titrated
off
my
meds.

I’d
discovered
that,
for
me,
the
best
way
to
loosen
the
grip
of
despair
and
keep
it
at
bay
was
intense,
intentional,
physical
exercise.
As
I
slowly
increased
the
time
I
spent
walking,
then
running,
my
doctor
kept
close
tabs
on
my
progress.
It
had
worked.
It
was
my
magic
pill
and
like
any
prescription,
I
had
to
take
it
without
fail
or
face
a
relapse.

I’d
found
that
he
more/less
I
exercised
the
more/less
I
wanted
to,
and
the
better/worse
I
felt;
it
was
self-perpetuating
in
both
directions,
and
over
the
past
couple
of
months
I
had
gotten
lazy;
my
laziness
turned
into
malaise,
the
malaise
had
become
despondence,
and
despondence
had
gotten
me
here.
Sitting
languid
and
bleak
between
a
spitting
gray
sky
and
the
gravel
drive.

It
was
late
September
in
Mid-Coast
Maine.
The
days
were
growing
shorter
and
winter
would
not
be
long
behind.
The
hibernal
season
was
always
a
struggle
and
it
was
harder
to
manage
my
mood.
The
window
of
opportunity
was
closing.
If
I
didn’t
get
ahead
of
it
straightaway
there’d
be
no
escaping
without
medical
intervention.
I
had
to
move
my
body
so
my
mind
could
follow,
it
was
the
only
way
out
and
would
happen
right
now
or
not
at
all.


I
had
to
dig
down
deep,
excavate
some
minuscule
untapped
reserve,
the
survival
instinct
maybe,
and
use
it
to
push
back
against
the
darkness
with
everything
I
had
left.

Okay.
On
the
count
of one…
two…
three…
 I
took
a
deep
breath
in
and
with
the
exhale,
slowly
rolled
forward
off
the
step
onto
my
hands
and
knees
into
the
small
dusty
stones.
I
looked
out
to
the
end
of
the
drive,
toward
the
empty
road
and
the
stand
of
pines
beyond,
then
hooked
my
eyes
onto
the
mailbox. Just
get
there
Crawl
if
you
have
to,
but
go
.

I
crept
a
few
feet
forward
on
all
fours,
the
sharp
pebbles
jabbing
into
my
knees
and
palms
I
think
you’re
being
a
little
dramatic…” 
I
rolled
my
eyes
and
set
my
jaw. Sitting
back
on
my
heels,
I
pushed
with
my
hands
and
came
up
into
a
four-point
squat.
I
sat
there
for
a
minute

keep
moving
keep
moving

then,
fingers
splayed
on
the
ground,
I
stuck
my
fanny
in
the
air,
grabbed
hold
of
my
thighs
one
at
a
time,
and
hauled
myself
up.

Arms
crossed
over
my
stomach
and
chest,
stooped
and
shivering,
I
hugged
myself. Move.
Move
your
feet
 Taking
tiny
steps,
increments
of
half
a
foot-length,
I
shuffled
forward;
right,
left,
pause…
right,
left,
pause…  “God
it’s
so
hard.” Keep
going
keep
going…

Over
the
past
couple
of
years
I’d
become
an
athlete,
a
trail
runner.
I
ran
twenty-five
or
thirty
miles
a
week,
up
and
down
ski
slopes
in
the
summertime,
yet
right
then
I
could
barely
move.
There
was
nothing
physically
wrong
with
me,
but
depression
is
an
autocrat
and
I’d
fallen
under
its
totalitarian
rule.
It
forbade
me
from
moving
with
my
normal
grace
and
ease
and
instead
had
me
shackled
and
chained…
but
I
kept
going.


“You
should
die
from
this,”
I
breathed
out
loud.
“If
there
was
a
true,
proportionate
cause
and
effect,
feeling this bad should,
in
all
fairness,
kill
a
person.” Keep
going
keep
going. 


But
it
doesn’t.
It
squeezes
the
life
out
of
you
but
doesn’t
actually
kill
you.”

I
was
halfway
to
the
mailbox.  I
didn’t
pick
up
my
feet,
just
sort
of
slid
them
along,
rocking
back
and
forth
like
a
sickly
penguin
leaving
drag
marks
behind.
It
hurt
to
move,
it
hurt
to
breathe.

“Please
help
me,”
I
turned
my
face
upward
and
beseeched
the
misting
sky.
“Please
give
me
a
sign.
I
need
something, anything,
so
I
know
this
will
be
worth
it.
If
you
do,
I
promise
I’ll
believe
it
and
I
won’t
give
up.  I
promise
I’ll
keep
going.” Right,
left,
right,
left. 
I
was
closing
in
on
the
letterbox,
tears
flowing.
My
body
ached.

I
got
no
sign,
no
random
flash
of
light
nor
clap
of
thunder,
just
the
sound
of
the
breeze
in
the
pines
and
my
feet
scratching
in
the
pebbles.

When
I
was
about
ten
feet
away,
I
extended
an
arm, right,
left,
right,
left,
almost
there

reaching…  fingertips
touching
the
cold
damp
metal.
“I
did
it,”
I
feebly
cried. Maybe
there’s
something
in
the
mail
today…
maybe
that
will
be
my
sign.
 I
opened
the
box
and
peered
inside.
Nothing.
Just
a
flyer
from
the
market
with
its
weekly
specials—not
even real mail,
just
more
junk.

But
with
or
without
a
sign,
I’d
made
it.


Oh…
God

I
turned
around
and,
clamping
my
Kleenex
and
the
stupid
flyer
to
my
chest,
stared
blankly
back
down
the
driveway
to
the
house. Now
I
have
to
do
it
again
.
It
was
so far.
“Just
get
it
over
with
and
then
you
can
be
done.”

I
breathed
in
and
started
back…
right,
left,
right,
left,
right,
left,
I
resumed
my
melancholy
march.
My
gaze
was
fixed
yet
something
moving
high
in
a
tree
caught
in
my
periphery…
a
bird;
a
crow
or
raven
maybe.


I
paused
and
looked
up,
and
there
he
was
flapping
his
wings
just
a
bit,
arranging
himself
on
his
perch.
The
huge
chocolate-colored
body
and
glorious
white
crown
were
unmistakable,
even
at
this
distance.

Bald
Eagles
were
common
up
here,
but
this
was
no
ordinary
creature
and
I
knew
it.  Strength,
pride,
power
,
Mother
Nature
to
the
rescue
again.
Yes,
this
was my eagle
and
I
understood
the
message
he
brought.
I
sniffled,
dragged
my
damp
sleeve
across
my
nose
and
cheek,
and
nodded.
“Okay,”
I
whispered.
“Thank
you.
This
is
good.
I
can
do
this”

I
regained
momentum. Right,
left,
right,
left.
 I’m
a
runner,
I’m
an
athlete,
I
eat
hills
for
breakfast,
Goddammit. Keep
going. 
Hand
outstretched,
I
grabbed
hold
of
the
railing
and
climbed
the
three
steps
to
the
house.
I
made
it
back,
albeit
barely,
and
let
myself
inside.

I
got
out
of
my
wet
clothes
and
wrapped
myself
up
in
my
accomplishment
and
a
fluffy
robe.
I
would
get
a
little
something
to
eat,
I
thought,
take
a
hot
shower,
go
to
bed,
and
watch
TV.  I
still
felt
like
hell,
but
I
did
it.
I
would
get
some
sleep
tonight
and
first
thing
tomorrow
morning,
I
told
myself,
I
would
go
to
the
mailbox
again…
and
maybe
just
a
little
bit
farther.

*
*
*
*

When
a
person
releases
any
type
of
toxicity
from
their
lives
or
stops
accepting
their
drug
of
choice,
in
whatever
form
it
takes,
after
years
of
abuse,
they
discover
all
sorts
of
things
about
themselves
that
may
have
been
masked
by,
or
mistaken
for,
their
addiction.

One
of
the
things
I
unearthed
when
I
got
sober
was
a
history
of
severe
depression
that
I’d
attributed
to
alcoholism;
I
was
wrong,
they
weren’t
one
and
the
same.
They
were,
however,
mutually
parasitic,
two
separate
entities
that
fed
off
one
another.

Which
came
first,
the
depression
or
the
alcoholism,
I
have
no
idea
and,
frankly,
it
didn’t
really
matter
to
me.
My
substance
abuse
certainly
exacerbated
my
despondency,
but
cessation
didn’t
cure
it;
I
was
left
with
chronic,
sometimes
debilitating
bouts
of
despair.

My
first
twelve-step
sponsor
suggested
we
meet
for
weekly
walks
at
the
town
reservoir,
a
three
thousand-acre
forested
reserve
dotted
with
pristine
watershed
lakes.
It
was
to
become
a
transformative
practice.

Once
a
week,
we
walked
and
talked
our
way
around
a
popular
three-mile
loop
where
I
learned,
among
many
other
things,
a
quote
that
I
believe
helped
save
my
life:
“Move
a
muscle,
change
a
thought.”


This
quote
introduced
me
to
the
theory
that
physically
moving
the
body
helps
dislodge
negativity
and
facilitates
a
healthy
thought
process.
It
also
reintroduced
me
to
my
love
of
the
woods,
something
I’d
forfeited
long
ago
to
alcoholism.

The
activity
became
so
enjoyable
that
I
began
to
seek
out
my
new
like-minded
friends
for
a
“walk
at
the
Res,”
building
healthy
relationships
in
a
tranquil
setting,
eventually
heading
out
on
my
own
as
well.

I’d
walk
the
loop
after
work
as
the
days
grew
long
and
hike
for
hours
on
sunny
weekend
mornings.
I’d
often
catch
glimpses
of
deer,
even
a
doe
with
her
fawn.
It
relaxed
me
and
made
me
smile,
which
may
not
sound
like
much
but
for
me,
as
sick
as
I’d
been,
it
was
a
big
deal.

Surrounded
by
the
soft
shapes
and
sounds
of
the
forest,
the
whispers
of
the
breeze
rustling
the
leaves,
the
sound
of
water
moving
over
rocks
in
the
creeks
and
the
birdsong
in
the
trees,
and
the
rich
smell
and
feel
of
earth
under
my
feet,
I
found
the
magical
world
I’d
claimed
as
a
girl
and
then
left
behind.

Being
alone
in
nature
I
found
peace
and
my
very
first
feelings
of
joy
as
an
adult.
I’d
forgotten
that
joy
existed,
let
alone
that
it
was
something
that
might
be
available
to
me.
Not
to
be
understated,
it
also
kept
me
occupied,
away
from
dangerous
environments
and
temptation.

As
the
happiness
in
my
heart
grew
and
my
healthful
body
returned,
I
began
going
for
short
runs.
It
wasn’t
easy,
but
I
kept
at
it,
physically
challenging
myself
gradually,
mindfully,
and
without
impunity.
The
endorphins,
already
being
released
on
walks
and
hikes,
increased
proportionately
with
the
pace,
the
distance,
and
demand
of
the
terrain.

I
was
feeling
strong,
happy,
empowered;
literally
and
intentionally
changing
the
chemical
balance
in
my
brain.
With
the
blessing
and
guidance
of
my
therapist,
I
slowly
replaced
my
antidepressants
with
scheduled,
purposeful
exercise,
proud
to
be
scaling
my
active
participation
in
my
recovery
under
the
watchful
eye
of
my
doctor.

After
several
years,
I
traded
regular
visits
with
my
shrink
for
the
occasional
tune-up
with
a
sports
physician.   Nature
was
at
the
center
of
my
spiritual
healing
and
running
and
hiking
had
become
my
medicine.  And
like
any
medicine,
if
I
kept
taking
it,
it
kept
working
and,
well,
if
I
didn’t…

****

Day
by
day,
I
had
allowed
one
excuse
after
another
to
erode
my
commitment
to
exercise
and
disrupt
my
healthy
routine,
but
I’d
just
sloughed
it
off.
“No
big
deal,”
I
told
myself.
“I’ll
get
back
to
it
tomorrow.”

But
my
“tomorrows”
were
adding
up
and
before
I
knew
it,
momentum
was
lost
and
the
pendulum
had
swung.
Then,
my
relationship
fell
apart.
My
conditioned
response
would
have
been
to
run
it
off;
take
my
anger
and
pain
into
the
woods
and
leave
it
there
rather
than
turn
it
inward.
But
it
was
too
late.
My
depression
had
already
taken
hold
and
gotten
ahead
of
me,
so
instead
of
hitting
the
trail
I’d
spiraled
down
and
hit
the
couch…
and
I
stayed
there
for
days.
It
was
a
very
difficult
lesson,
but
I
learned
it.
I
have
yet
to
make
that
mistake
again.

Today,
nearly
twenty
years
after
my
long
journey
to
the
mailbox,
I
have
a
million
things
to
do.
But
first,
I
went
for
a
run.

I
know
I
need
to
make
intentional
exercise
a
priority,
and
to
celebrate
the
small
victories
when
all
I
can
manage
is
a
short
walk.
When
you’re
depressed
it
can
be
hard
to
see
this,
but
small
wins
are
wins,
nonetheless.

If
you’re
struggling
right
now,
I
get
it. 
I
know
you
can’t
just
snap
out
of
it.
I
know
it’s
hard
to
ask
for
help.
I
know
you
might
need
medication,
and
there’s
nothing
wrong
with
that.
But
perhaps,
like
me,
you’ll
find
it
helpful
to
get
out
of
your
head,
get
outside,
and
get
moving.

If
there’s
one
thing
I’ve
learned
it’s
to
never
underestimate
the
healing
power
of
physical
exercise
and
mother
nature.

About

Amie
Gabriel

Holistic
Wellness
expert,
certified
yoga,
meditation,
and
group
fitness
instructor
specializing
in
mind/body
fitness,
women’s
wellness,
12-step
recovery,
processing
grief
and
depression,
and
celebrating
joy.
Amie
creates
mindful,
nature-based
programs
and
retreats
focusing
on
the
inseparable
connection
of
mind/breath/body/spirit/intention. Her
work
has
been
featured
at
Canyon
Ranch
Lenox
and
Tucson,
Mayflower
Inn
and
Spa,
Washington
Depot,
CT,
Silver
Hill
Hospital,
New
Canaan,
CT,
among
others. She
has
written
a
book
on
healing
through
holistic
wellness
to
be
published
in
2020.

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