The Mental Game

Well, we’re back from the mountains.  Andrew and I filled up our packs and headed deep into the Winds to Titcomb Basin.  The first few miles are a slow steady uphill, then it gets really intense for the next three miles with constant up and down, climb and fall.

I’m always so happy when I finish a backpacking trip, I’ve had a shower and am enjoying a beer, but man, it is quite a mental game while I’m hiking.

I’ve said in my previous post that one of the things that makes the Wind River Range so unique is all the granite.  We camped at the base of huge peaks, Freemont, Jackson and Sacagawea, which are huge fortresses of pure granite.  They are so humbling and make you feel so small and momentary compared to these walls that have been around since the dawn of time, and they’ll be there long, long after I’m gone.  It’s not just the peaks that are granite, but you hike through huge boulder fields to climb over and the trail is full of smaller boulders.  It can make for exhausting hiking where you have to stay alert and pay attention to every place you put your foot.  By the end of the hike, we’re so fatigued that we’re tripping over rocks and stubbing our toes.

The silence in the backcountry is so quiet that it seems like alarms are going off in your head.  Andrew and I talk a little bit, but on the steep accents you’re just trying to catch your breath.  It happens every time I start, about a mile in I realize that I have many more miles to go with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.  As I was stumbling all over the place, getting used to my pack weight, I kept getting so dang angry.  I couldn’t find one good reason why the heck I was doing this, it was constant uphill and it hurt.

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It’s an interesting thought, what is your go to emotion when you’re uncomfortable?  Andrew and I did a lot of hiking to prep for our backpacking trip, so I was physically semi prepared but I wasn’t mentally.  It’s been a year since I carried a pack and the discomfort just made me downright mad.

When you’re having a bad day, when the family is demanding too much, when work is frustrating, what is the first emotion that you dip into?

We hiked nine miles the first day and there were different obstacles that we met along the way.  Like I said, the first few miles were a slow, steady uphill.  It’s not so much that it takes your breath away, just enough to create a nagging mental strain.  You turn the corner and the trail just keeps on going up and up.  I kept getting this feeling that I am so inadequate, that I can’t keep up and I’m out of shape.  We passed people on the trail coming out and they looked so happy and carefree, meanwhile I’m struggling to put one foot in front of the other.  In the silence of the mountains my brain started looping on all the ways that I’m incapable.  I started to view my mental illness as just that, an illness, an handicap.  My brain screamed vicious attacks: I’m too much for Andrew to handle, I’m a constant issue, I have to work so hard to get through a day, it seems other people don’t have to work so hard.  I started comparing myself to others who seemed to have it all together.  Down and down I went.

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We paused in a wildflower filled meadow for lunch.  The cool breeze caressed my face and the sun felt warm on my back.  I realized that I was looping down a negative path and tried to take a few deep breaths.  The air smelled of fresh pine and… cleanliness.  I gathered my stuff on my back and got back on the trail.

We started to make our way through our first boulder field.  To push myself up over a huge boulder with my pack on took so much strength in my legs that I whined with every climb.  I started thinking about my legs, then I started wishing that my legs were skinnier and my tummy wouldn’t jiggle with each step.  I know, I know, you’re probably thinking what!!  You skinny toot.  But I’ve said this before, it is a daily battle to accept my body.  Here I am literally climbing mountains and I can’t believe that my body is capable, good enough, worthy enough or beautiful enough.  I started thinking of other girls body’s and wishing mine was more like theirs.  I started picking apart every inch of my body and dreaming about things that I would change.  Maybe if I don’t have as much of a lunch my side jiggle will go away…  Maybe if I hike every day and do extra long yoga sessions, I can get rid of my saddle bags on my thighs.  Maybe I should start lifting weights to keep my arms skinny.  What am I gonna do when I get older and my body starts changing out of my control?!  I’ve heard that when you hit 40 you can eat a tortilla and gain weight!  I got lost in my mind and self-deprecation that I hiked a good two miles before coming out of my reprieve.  Then a thought came in swift and clear.  This body is carrying me up a mountain.  Andrew loves my little curves, and I might just might be obsessing a wee bit too much about my body.

We got past Eklund Lake and braced ourselves for the next three miles to Seneca Lake.  The trail goes from peaking on a mountain to dropping down into a lake, to climbing back up another mountain, then falling down into another lake, so on and so on.  Up and down, up and down and my emotions were rising and falling with each peak and descent.  Nagging mosquitoes bit at my arm and landed on my neck.  Anxiety started to build as we rounded each switchback and watched the trail climb deep into the woods.  I started thinking about money, or the lack there of, the lack of security that we have, the climb for the next day and the next, are we going to be able to fix our transmission, did I pack enough food, what if Andrew falls and breaks a leg, how will I pull him out… My brain was searching around corners for something to stress about.  I would loop and stress then talk myself down, stress and calm down, up and down, climb and descend.

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I have good days and I have bad days mentally and emotionally.  Add physical strain and exhaustion and I get downright angry.

We finally made our way to Seneca Lake, where we were sleeping for the night.  It’s a huge crystal clear mountain lake with snow capped peaks in the distance.  The air was cool and brisk.  Little ground hogs squeaked from the rocks and Islay chased after them.  We found a campsite that was protected in the trees with a view of the lake.  We watched the sun set behind strong granite mountains.

When you’re going throughout your day, climbing your own personal mountain, what obstacles do you face?  How do you work through them, talk yourself down?

The next morning, I had my black coffee and read my bible.  I read about a leperous man who came to Jesus begging for healing.  Jesus could have just said the word, and his skin would be forever healed from the overwhelming disease.  But He did more than that, He reached out and touched the man.  Who knows how long it’s been since he’s been touched?  He was an outcast from society, feared and pushed aside.  Jesus knew that he needed more than healing.  He needed to feel like a human again, worthy of touch.  So he placed his hand on him and met his deepest need.

Often times, it’s a mental game to get through the day.  To fight the feelings of unworthiness, to combat the inadequacies, and push through the anxious thoughts.  There is One who knows your deepest need, better than you even know yourself.  And He’s there, willing to touch the ugliest part of yourself and make you feel worthy of acceptance.

When you’re climbing your mountain, when you’re barely making it through, know that you are not alone.  You are loved.  More than you will ever know.

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