Outdoors: the Antidote

During the 5 long days I spent housebound during Hurricane Florence, my mind wandered to my childhood, to sunny days when dad taught me how to ride a bike and to summer nights eating watermelon with my cousins, sitting on the still warm pavement trying to see who could spit the seeds out farthest.

 Me, in the bright red wool pants (can we appreciate my style) with my cousins. The French Broad River Park was well frequented and well loved by our family.

Me, in the bright red wool pants (can we appreciate my style) with my cousins. The French Broad River Park was well frequented and well loved by our family.

As I aged, the hours spent outside playing kickball with the neighborhood kids became hours spent in front of a screen, working or sleeping. It seemed as though the rite of passage into adulthood included seasonal-affective-disorder-inducing fluorescent lighting and looking forward to weekends only to spend them bingeing into the Sunday night blues.

But that’s not all there is. Moving to Chapel Hill for school disrupted the cold, comfortable hole I was in. I didn’t have a car my first year. My roommate was the only person I knew. Dogs were rare and hard to come by. I was forced to be uncomfortable, to grow, to be challenged. After a semester of feeling sorry for myself, I realized nothing was going to change unless I wanted it to. I wanted to be more open and free. I wanted my life background music to be happy.

 Winters are especially hard for me, a lover of all green and bright things. Winter hiking is a good way to explore the earth through a different and beautifully underrated lens. Pic is somewhere along Greybeard Trail in Black Mountain.

Winters are especially hard for me, a lover of all green and bright things. Winter hiking is a good way to explore the earth through a different and beautifully underrated lens. Pic is somewhere along Greybeard Trail in Black Mountain.

While I don’t have the magic cure to perfect mental health, I can share some habits that have helped me.

After a few months of self-isolation, I took a terrifying leap of faith in myself and decided to actively put myself out into the world. In this process of getting the heck out of my room, I found a local community of people who are wholesome and loving and kind. Humans need contact with each other to be fulfilled, whether it is with their birth family or their chosen family.

 Getting a bike has not only allowed me to decrease my carbon footprint and save money, but I get to bask in the sun, spend quality time with good friends like Katie (right) and get a workout in, all of which increase serotonin levels. This trail is on Obie Creek towards Southern Village.

Getting a bike has not only allowed me to decrease my carbon footprint and save money, but I get to bask in the sun, spend quality time with good friends like Katie (right) and get a workout in, all of which increase serotonin levels. This trail is on Obie Creek towards Southern Village.

Inadvertently, being outside and interacting has increased physical, social, and mental health long term. After a few months of active behavior, my sleep schedule naturally shifted from erratic and unfulfilling to normal and restful. Being outside regularly calibrated my inner clock. I found myself with more time on my hands than I ever had before.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway, only a few hours away from Carrboro, became a frequent full-day excursion for me. Waking up at 6 AM was very much worth it. Photo taken by Jay Dawson.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, only a few hours away from Carrboro, became a frequent full-day excursion for me. Waking up at 6 AM was very much worth it. Photo taken by Jay Dawson.

Spending good quality time with family, whether chosen or biological, helps keep me grounded. At times when stress or depression is particularly stifling, I make a particular effort to call home, to be with friends, to be out and about. It helps to remember that we are not alone in our struggle.

 My sister, left, myself, middle, and my closest friend, right, after a short hike somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains during finals week. Mental health > school

My sister, left, myself, middle, and my closest friend, right, after a short hike somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains during finals week. Mental health > school







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