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.
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.
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.
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.
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.