• Mary Anderson

Thoughts While Hiking on Crutches

We are encouraged to take something at the slightest sign of pain. We are not encouraged to sit in those painful places and learn from them.

Editor’s note: When Mary Anderson began her 1,500-mile hike along the Continental Divide Trail, northern half, in May, she knew she wasn't in top shape, in part because she had been sitting all winter at a computer keyboard, writing a book. She was only a few days into her hike when she developed knee pain. The temporary solution was a set of crutches and a switch to an alternate route along the highway, followed by several days of rest. She wrote this post soon after returning to the trail in June. She then finished her hike across the Great Basin , drove north to the Canada/Montana border, and began hiking south.


By Mary Anderson

Crutches come in many forms. Whether they are an aid for walking or a drug to help someone through a difficult life event, they are meant to be temporary for most people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out that way.

I was highly motivated to get rid of my crutches. Walking over 30 miles on them in just a few days was more than enough. But still I was hesitant. I was afraid of being back in really bad knee pain. I hyperfocused on each step without the crutches, worrying each time I felt a twinge. I was glad for distractions, such as slogging through snow, crawling over and under at least 100 blown-down trees, and being lost for a few hours. I still am thinking about my knee more than I want to. I still have not put it to the final test of carrying a full pack, but I am done with the crutches for now.

I have at least a dozen friends who are not so lucky. At different times in their lives they started on psych drugs. None of them felt much improvement, if any, and they have all suffered many side effects. Most are struggling to wean themselves. It is a lot harder than ditching my crutches. Most medical people are not aware of how slowly one has to go—it is not a simple matter of cutting the dose in half. Done properly, it can take more than a year. Going too fast often has horrible side effects. Medical providers often switch people from one drug to another much too quickly.

I know the people who prescribe these drugs are well meaning. I wish they would look at the research done not by big pharma but by the World Health Organization. They would discover that in countries where fewer or no psych drugs are used there are lower incidences of chronic “mental illness.” In Finland there is documentation showing lower incidences of schizophrenia with decreased drugs when people improve their communication skills. This is well documented in the book Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker. The so-called differences in the brains of people struggling with emotional issues are mostly found after they have been on the drugs.

I can’t say what is best for everyone, and I certainly won't judge anyone for individual decisions made. Nor am I telling people to quickly get off their drugs. Using crutches helped me heal my knee faster.

I do, however, rail at a society that seems to encourage the long-term use of crutches. We are encouraged to take something at the slightest sign of pain. We are not encouraged to sit in those painful places and learn from them. We are raised to numb our pain not only with drugs but also with food, drink, shopping, and lots of other things. We are encouraged to go to work even when sick. We are trained to try to “make someone feel better.” It is difficult for most of us to sit with someone we love who is in pain without trying to fix it. Yet in my life I have found transformation comes when I can embrace the pain and share it with someone who cares about me. I believe this is where true wisdom comes from. And I suspect great joy can be found at the end of a long, painful road, as long as the pain is not suffered in total isolation.

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