It's never happened before, but it was bound to...
As a human being who suffers from anxiety, the constant worry of doom shows up rather frequently in my life along with the implementation of tools and strategies to manage those red flag feelings. Because we all experience anxiety differently, it helps to know that mine goes hand in hand with a strong desire to pre-plan, the asking rhetorical and sincere "what if" questions to my hubs, double and triple checks "just to make sure," and of course, the occasional anxiety attack.
When that moment occurs, nothing feels as if it is in your control, and for us anxious ones, that's a big problem that only amplifies the experience. Fortunately, many of us are in safe spaces and can come off the edge of fear in the comfort of our homes, cars, or loved ones. When it happens in the mountains, that's an entirely different game to play. For me, my anxiety attack hit at the summit of the world's most dangerous "small" mountain this past July while my hubs and I were completing the Presidential Traverse for our 2 year anniversary, and this is what I learned.
Mount Washington, NH
A little background on this state highpoint. Mount Washington is located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and stands at 6,288 ft. It is right in the middle of the Presidential Traverse. which consists of 9-10 peaks, depending on your ambition. It's dubbed the most dangerous "small" mountain due to the unpredictable weather patterns that can turn a perfect summer day into hurricane-like conditions in a matter of minutes. It's claimed some pretty scary stats over the years that hikers aren't too keen to find out about, such as:
What Can You Do?
When I think back on all the of attacks I can recall vividly, one thing was constant in each: I was not at risk of dying. When this summit attack hit, everything was at risk not only for myself, but my husband as well.
The day was perfect up till our last summit for day 1, Mount Washington. We had successfully completed the Northern Presi Traverse, knocking out Mount Madison, Adams, Jefferson, and were making our way up Washington when I told Brian that we had to bail due to losing the sun. Even though the weather was perfect, we had no chance of making it off the mountain safely in daylight due to the amount of time it took us to get where we were. We had the exit plan in place and both agreed cutting the trip at the halfway point was the best call. At the summit of Mount Washington, there is the observatory and a restaurant. Visitors can drive to the summit and park or take the Cog Railway up to the top for a little view of the northern and southern peaks as they slowly pass hikers and thru-hikers on the AT making their way to the top. We agreed to call our emergency shuttle plan at the summit, but when we got there we had no cell service, there were no cars left in the lot, and the observatory and restaurant had closed. At that moment, I realized the severity of our situation as my husband calmly walked around checking doors to visitor booths and main entrances.
At 7:00 pm we reached the summit of Mount Washington and I found the trailhead signs giving milage to the backcountry campsite we originally planned to end day 1 at. We had no choice but to finish our hike this way, so we started making our way to Hermit Lake Shelter which was still about 2 hours away. The sun was starting to set and dark clouds rolled in as we were heading down Tuckerman's Ravine trail, an extremely dangerous and exposed section of hiking with countless stories of fatal falls. My adrenaline kicked in and I told Brian everything I feared would happen to us if we stayed put or continued on. I felt stuck between 2 situations that could result lack of shelter, safety, and possibly death. At that moment he took the lead and kept me talking as I looked for any sign of another hiker or campsite. Each vertical foot lost had me scanning the talas for another trail sign. When the setting sun made visibility worse, we took our headlamps out and continued on. Right away, my anxiety fell off as I realized just how much light my headlamp gave off and it completely subsided as we made our way below the tree line. At that moment, I started to finally feel the exhaustion my body took on after nearly 16 miles in 15 hours. After a final hour of hiking, we made it into camp, exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated but without injury.
There's Usually a Lesson
Even though this was my first anxiety attack on a summit, I know it won't be my last. For me, life can't stop for this part of who I am. Instead, you adapt and you learn so the amazing memories can continue to slip into your life. What I learned on this trip were 3 things I've since practiced both on and off trails:
1. Trust your gear
2. Rely on your adrenaline when you have it
3. Know when it's time to let go of being in charge
It was August 2016 when I came to a pretty large realization. You know the ones. You're just doing your thing and *boom* knowledge!
My hubs and I were on our way to dinner with some friends to a pretty fancy restaurant when I started to piece together a string of behaviors I had been observing in myself the moment August started drawing to a close. I instantly stopped working out, started eating more, wanted to cuddle up and sleep a lot, and I was unequivicolly fine with all of that. Seriously, I went from working out for 9 months, planning my meals, meal prepping every Sunday, to doing the total opposite of all of it...and I was happy about it. But why?
Fall. Also known as "pumpkin spice" to the lovers and the haters. That time of year when we love to stare at dying trees, wear blankets as clothing, and the colors burgundy and mustard yellow feel like a good idea and not like condiments. The world does some pretty neat things this time of year, including awaken some deeply ingrained instincts. I see this as my personal invitation to embrace my self-proclaimed spirit animal: the bear.
Let me just say I am not a qualified spirit animal namer. Shocking, I know. It took about 28 years for me to piece together all of these random opposite behaviors that each fall brought out of me. Quite honestly, when I first toyed with the idea that deep down I was a bear in some life, I was pumped to accept the fact that my inner beast was just doing it's fall thing. Eat the food. Have a sleep. Be a dichotomy of adorable and terrifying. Done!
This year, as my spirit animal began to wake up and take over, I couldn't help but be totally thrilled about it. I mean, how cool is it to be connected to a bad ass animal throughout the majority of your life? However, as weeks started to pass, I noticed this was more than an excuse in self-indulgence and that these feelings were teaching me some big things about acceptance, consistency, and trust. Of course it couldn't just be simple and fun?! There always has to be a bigger thing happening, which is beautiful and annoying at the same time, but whatever, I'm going with it.
We connect with certain things in life for a reason and I've been connecting with bears for a long time now. I'm beginning to realize it's because those 3 things are components of my life that are currently weak. Our symbols, our guidance, our metaphors for ourselves can be powerful tools to help us wander through our time in this world. We can use them to take on the challenges that are deep down within us that we don't want to reveal to the those around us, and that's okay. They can give us some major strength in realizing our power. My spirit animal, my metaphor, my symbol is teaching me that consistency isn't always a good thing. That shifts are necessary in order to grow and hold onto the feeling of content. My self-proclaimed spirit animal is teaching me to accept what brings me happiness in this moment, even if that happiness didn't match up a month or two or six prior. It's teaching me to trust my instincts and what I'm naturally drawn to do. Those are some pretty big things for a bear to take on. But it's fall, the pumpkin spice has formed a dusting on everything, and I'm all about the preparation for what's to come, whether that's hibernation or something else that requires a little more work. Probably the latter.
So I'm a little late to the game. FOMO has been around for quite a bit now and apparently I didn't notice until a few months ago. What's FOMO you ask, like-minded oblivious soul to acronyms that confuse the hell out of you? Fear Of Missing Out.
So when might you experience this FOMO sensation? Some more normal examples are:
- When it appears all of your social media friends are just killing it at being a human in their spare time at breweries, concerts, and everything else!
- When you're sitting in the staff room listening to everyone talk about Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, or some other series you don't watch.
- When you get invited to a tailgate via group text and you're super exhausted, have nothing to bring, and need to wake up super early the next day, but everyone else is all about it.
- When that music festival is rolling around your country and everyone and their grandmother has tickets!
- My mom had a really bad case of FOMO when my blog about trail mix made it to her inbox. She was super into it thinking there would be this awesome recipe for trail mix at the end and sadly there wasn't. Well mom, here is your recipe as promised:
Now, here is a (slightly less common) list of FOMO that I and maybe some of my fellow adventurers have experienced at some point in our lives:
- When your cousin returns from her awesome wedding on top of a mountain during the solar eclipse.
- When Backpacker magazine arrives in your mail and those articles got you questioning why you ever spent thousands of dollars to not get paid to climb mountains.
- When sleeping bags with arm holes became a thing and now you question everything your previous sleeping bag has ever done for you.
- When you see your IG filled with friends walking on slack lines across rocky gorges
- When one of your friends is finishing up the PCT and you suddenly want to quit all of your responsibilities and become a thru hiker.
Well, there you have it. FOMO. The thing we've been feeling our whole lives only now it has a ridiculous acronym. Are you currently experiencing any FOMO? Share it below and we can all be anxious/jealous/excited/envious together!
Sometimes we don't notice the strength of something until it's in full bloom being it's awesome self. Like this red pepper growing next to my car in downtown Pittsburgh...
Isn't it so amazing when something like this happens? Like, holy shit, there's a random pepper growing out of the brick/weed ground of a city bank parking lot (don't tell them I park here when they leave). By all reasonable logic, there's no reason for this pepper to have started growing, let alone get this far.
As the days passed by and I continued to be amazed by this resilient red veggie, I couldn't help but get a little philosophical. I mean, this thing was just defying the odds and becoming a pepper. Yes, it looks a little less appetizing than one I'd choose at the store, but it's growing and thriving in an environment where not one soul is caring for it. How often do we feel as if we need a certain someone or a certain situation or sequence of events to happen in order to be strong? How often do we catch ourselves saying "if only I had....". It's time to take a lesson, not from me as an adventure coach, but from this red parking lot pepper and know that it's possible to become what you're meant to be without the perfect conditions in place.
Get after it, pepper.
I love trail mix. It's honestly the best! Even as I type this, I'm shoveling handfuls of the stuff into my face and not feeling one bit of guilt. Yep, it's good stuff. But not everyone currently sees the greatness of this easy to pack snack. Here's a (short) list of reasons why trail mix rocks:
1. Like surprises? Then it's a no brainer! Open a bag and start doing some other equally important task as you blindly grab a handful and shove it into your mouth without even looking at it. Surprise! How many other food items would you trust to do that with???
2. Are you a control freak? Perfect! Get that bag and dig around the "obstacles" you don't feel like eating at that point in time. Have it out for almonds? Personal vendetta on craisins? Skip those guys and scoop up your combination of choice. You're so creative!
3. Making real dinner is hard. Grab a bag and feel full in a matter of minutes. Again, you get to create so many combinations, every bite is a new experience! Master chef status.
4. Variety. Trail mix is so in right now that the number of flavors is off the charts. Some of these even allow you to choose your mood. Did you have a rough week? Maybe "Tranquility" blend is the one for you. Too much of a coach potato this week? "Adventure" blend is calling you off the lazy train (after a few handfuls of course).
5. Sticky fingers. I know, I know, it sounds pretty gross, but picture this. Let's say you're replying to an email for work and your super clean fingers slip a typo in there as you push "send." That wouldn't happen if you had a nice sticky grip per finger to keep you safe from embarrassment. *Note: Trail mix will not make you better at spelling. Just in case anyone took that as trail mix being the new spell check.
6. Hangry Pains. Whether you're finishing up a long day at work, attempting a 3-day fruit cleanse that lasted a mind blowing 8 hours *cough, cough,* or gaining elevation along the side of a mountain mid-hike, trail mix is there to keep hangry you at bay. Even better, it could be forever old and still edible! Win!...kinda.
So, hopefully you've come to see the brilliance that is fruit, nuts, and chocolate all in one bag. Now go grab a bag, scoop away, and enjoy figuring out how to eat all the oddly shaped things at once!
You do not need a life coach. There, I said it.
So why on earth is a life coach telling you that you don't need a life coach? When I first shared with friends, family, and co-workers that I was starting a life coaching business, I was met with excitement and questions. The main ones being:
1. What is a life coach?
2. Why do I need a life coach?
I knew this was coming but as soon as I went to answer, nothing really came out. My responses were not authentic responses. I tripped over my words trying to figure out the best way to describe and persuade on the concept of a coach. In the end, my friends and family never really got an answer. I realized that I never took the time to sit down and figure out my answer to these questions because, well, it's hard!
So, on my extra long drive home sitting in horrible Pittsburgh traffic, I found myself coming back to these questions. I meditated on it. Then I came home and went for a run, where I meditated on it even more. And here's what I came up with:
I cannot possibly answer what a life coach is because there are so many types of coaches out there with different missions and beliefs. Mine, for example, is that I believe when the next chapter of our lives challenges us, we must meet the vulnerability it creates with lightness and a sense of adventure. That is when massive action takes place. That is the moment you shift into your true self.
In response to why you need a coach, you don't. Just as you don't need much of anything else in your life. Coaches and donuts and Netflix are all choices. We choose what we put value on and acquire it when we feel the time is right. A coach is "the ultimate accountability buddy," one of my clients put it. A person who shifts the conversation about goals from being only a conversation, left to hang in the air, into creating a container, a space, to hear and work with those goals.
So, today might not be the day you purchase a new car. Or you may choose to eat 5 cookies for dinner this evening. And today may (or may not) be the day you're ready to work with a life coach. All are within your power of choice and all are available to you when you're ready.
For fun and to put this into perspective, I wanted to create a list of a few other things you don't need:
This list, in particular, came from things I've wanted at some point in my own life and from the 5-minutes of commercials playing in the background as I type this.
And now the list of things we truly need: