midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “self-talk”

A Walk in the Woods

Sometimes there’s no better elixir than the woods.

Tough week at work? Traverse a path. Relationship problems? Hike a hill. The winter blues? Trek along a river.

Or even when you don’t feel distressed by anything at all, a walk in the woods can only uplift your mood.

I’ve recently had a lot on my mind, having just made a major life change by moving in midlife to a new place away from friends and family and starting a new job in a new FrancesMarionForest_PalmettoTrailcareer. My life is in transition. So last week, I went to explore a really big wood in my adopted home state of South Carolina – the 260,000-acre Frances Marion National Forest.

At the outset of my hike, I did what I am wont to do: ruminated over things that are constantly on my mind, despite my desire to tame the gremlins while in the presence of natural beauty. I know I’m not alone in engaging in over-active self-talk – we all have ongoing conversations in our own heads at some volume – but I would like to tell my voice to just chill out sometimes.

The wood worked its magic. About 30 minutes and two wrong turns into my hike along a 7-mile trail, my self-conversation quieted, I stopped looking at my watch and I began observing – tall stands of forest pines and expansive views of marshlands along the FrancesMarionForest_SwampIntracoastal Waterway. I realized I wasn’t in a rush; I could walk as long as I wanted. Time became irrelevant; I relinquished the nearly constant need to be on the clock. I completed the last two hours of my walk with relatively few conscious thoughts other than what I was experiencing in the moment. It was rejuvenating to be free from intrusive thoughts. By the time I finished, I felt great – relaxed, gratified, naturally euphoric, tired in a good way.

In my counseling, I have often counseled clients who are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety to take a walk in the woods, whether it’s a 30-mile-wide national forest or a trail along an urban stream. The acts of using one’s senses in nature, spending time in daylight and sunlight and being physically active and energized can have healing effects mentally and emotionally. Make those acts a habit, and symptoms can be reduced.

Before I moved, a friend and I, along with his dog, had made a regular practice of riding bikes on a trail along the Patapsco River in Maryland. My friend would marvel at the beauty of the winding river and the hills rising from it, the rocks embedded in the hills and the impressive construction of the century-plus-old railroad tunnels. The ritual would be fully realized if a train ran by while we were resting by the tracks, so we could be awed by its length and wonder what freight it was carrying.

That trail became a sacred place for me and my friend. As I finished my walk in the woods, I thought about my friend and how he would like trekking this forest, and about the incomparable value of a sacred place where time slows down and your head clears up.

Thanks Dr. Dave

AdamBumWheelWithRebFour years ago April 26, I suffered one of the worst nights of my life. One moment I was playing rec league soccer, running after a 50-50 ball. The next, after a reverberating THUD, I was on my back, dazed, wondering what had just happened. It only took a second to realize I had a shattered leg, and within minutes, paramedics were hoisting me onto a transportable bed and loading me into an ambulance.

On the ride to the hospital, I realized my life had suddenly changed. My immediate fear was that I would never be the same again. I had never been injured that badly before.

The story of my challenging rehab – physical, emotional and spiritual – is detailed here.

With the knowledge gleaned from my counseling classes and experience in counseling clients in my current internship, I would hope I would be able to think more positive and optimistic thoughts in the future when something bad happens to me. I struggled to overcome negative thinking and emotions in the early stages of my recovery. I was told I would have a full recovery, but I couldn’t help having doubts.

I often pass the field where I was injured, on the way to and from my university, including at night, when the field lights are bright, just as I remember from my back while staring into the dark sky on the night I got hurt. It brings back memories that I now embrace as an experience integral to my life. It wasn’t cancer, and I’m grateful for that, but it was a type of adversity I had never faced before.

At this time of year, I also always remember the doctor who performed the surgery to put my leg back together. In an amazing coincidence, it turned out the surgeon lived in my same townhome community, but I did not know him. In a sign that I’m getting older, Dr. Dave was about 15 years my junior. After the surgery, as I was hobbling around the neighborhood on crutches, I would run into Dr. Dave walking his dog. He would always challenge me to do a little more than I thought I was capable of – put more weight on my leg, begin walking sooner. We became friendly.

I will be forever grateful for Dr. Dave. He gave me my life back – at least the physical life that I knew and only fully appreciated after it was taken away.

Dr. Dave eventually moved to California to specialize in spinal surgery. It took more than a year to recover to 90 percent or more. But just more than a year after surgery, I completed a triathlon. A neighbor who was at the event texted Dr. Dave, who replied, “Awesome!”

I did the triathlon again two years later, three years after surgery. That time I got Dr. Dave’s number and texted him myself to let him know how grateful I was for his skill and expertise, and that I was as close to 100 percent as I could be. Dr. Dave was glad to hear it, but to him, it was probably no big deal. That’s just what he does, he fixes broken people. Still, I figure doctors who heal probably don’t always hear the appreciation and gratefulness for their work after the patient disappears.

I will honor Dr. Dave with a prayer of thanks at this time every year, as I am sure he is healing many other people with fears like me, and hopefully also with a call or text. Thank God for people like Dr. Dave.

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