Some Thoughts About Post-Hike Depression
I’ve been wondering lately what happens when a goal I’ve had for over forty years is finally reached, especially when that goal became your lifeline, the rope you held onto to keep you afloat. What happens when I take that last step and reach the end of the rope?
It is common for people to feel depressed after a goal is accomplished, especially one that required intense physical effort. For starters, if the physical activity is not continued once the goal is completed, there is a decrease in endorphins flowing though the body, which by itself can cause depression. There is a loss of single-minded purpose, from the inception of the plan, to preparing and training for it, to its completion. In the case of hiking, the losses include a simplicity in decision-making, as well as a loss of a social structure and a lessening of immersion in nature. All those losses amount to a recipe for deep depression.
Post-hiking depression is common enough to be recognized as normal, and trying to combat it is one reason some hikers return to the trail over and over again.
I remember last year toward the end of my hike standing in a grocery store staring at an entire aisle of cookies and energy bars. After weeks of having the same ones on the trail, I was overwhelmed by the options, There were way too many kinds, and I ended up walking away without buying any of them. Once home, I sank into a pit of depression, especially because I was immersed in an unwanted and messy divorce. Writing a book about my experience and planning for part two of this hike saved me.
Living comfortably in that place of unknowing is a new thing for me.
I don’t know what will happen once this year’s hike is over. I have tried to think of ways to prevent the post-hike depression, especially as i will still be in the middle of a very ugly divorce. Can I find new goals to replace this one? Can I find new reasons to live?
I’m trying to take each day in stride and not stress over what will happen when or if my goal is reached. I am well aware that a major snowstorm or another event could still put an early end to this hike. The goal for something like this isn’t in the bag until that last step is taken. I know people who stopped just a few miles before the end.
I want to adopt the lessons I have learned on this trail. Even though I am within two weeks of a forty-year goal, I am trying to hyperfocus on the day I am living. Actually, even less than each day, I am trying to just be in the moment. Today I completely changed my plans, and after being hailed on for hours, I stopped and spent the day writing. I have no answers now for post-hike life, and I am letting that be okay. I hope I have some focus before the hike actually ends. I am reminding myself that often I had no idea what would happen once I reached a road into town until the moment I got there. Living comfortably in that place of unknowing is a new thing for me. But I am trying to believe that whatever happens when this is over, it will all be okay, just as every day of this hike has been.