If you're like me and have anxiety, you know the thrill of an attack pairs perfectly with ACTUALLY being in a location that you could: 1. Get significantly hurt in, or 2. die Truly the cab sav of life experiences. For me, it happened at +6,000 ft. of elevation.
It was kind of weird, but really, when is it not? I made it through a lot of obstacles that day without a problem. Got up super early, hiked some heavy elevation to the ridge line, summited the mountains on the northern portion of the traverse, said "no" to a monster pancake eating contest, and bagged the state highpoint. All totally fine and then BOOM!
I know WHY it happened, the triggers that launched my fear rollercoaster, but it is still pretty mind boggling to go from doing the damn thing to losing your ability to power through your own thoughts. Turns out, my mountain trigger is a mix of losing daylight, having no cell service, having no other humans around, and hiking down sketchy exposure.
If you look at a map, you'll see the the summit of Mt. Washington has a road leading up to it, along with the cog railway. As we were following the cog railway straight up the steady grade of the last push to the summit, I realized we would never make it there and the 3 miles back to camp in the daylight. We were just moving too slow due to poor division of the pack loads. We watched while kids and families rode the cog railway down the mountain, waving at us as we moved in the opposite direction. So, right before making it to the top, I called it and Brian agreed. We would grab a snack (since there's a restaurant at the summit) and call our trail angel taxi to come get us at the summit so we could safely get to a campground to spend the night..
Unfortunately, when you're exhausted and hungry and agree to bail out together, you aren't REALLY paying attention to the little details, like how there was never a train car going UP to the summit or that businesses don't usually stay open all night. When we finally made it up there it was 7pm (4 hours behind our anticipated time). There were no cars, the building was locked, and I had no cell service.
I don't know what your anxiety looks like, but mine is a 0 to 60 process and the fear loop plays over and over when the stars align. All I could picture was being one of the July 2018 death dates on the poster that hangs up in some ranger stations. It's a pretty cool poster to look at when you're safely sipping your coffee wandering around camp after a good night's sleep, but not so cool when you still have 3 hours to get to that backcountry campground and you're descending down Lion's Head trail as the sun is setting and a possible storm is forming behind you.
I started screaming for Brian once the fear-loop kicked in, but he was off exploring the summit with his no-anxiety, enjoying the scenery. Like I said, it's a weird experience to go from rational decision making to attempting to fight, flight, and/or freeze. If you didn't already know the science behind it, when anxiety is triggered, your body and brain cannot tell the difference between that and adrenaline. The part of your brain that makes rational decisions shuts down and your amygdala, or fear center, starts firing like a machine gun. For many people struggling with anxiety, the part of their brain that acts as a defense mechanism against this fear malfunction making it harder to bring yourself "off the ledge" without additional help or intervention.
My irrational fear? Hiking a steep scramble down a mountain at night.
Brian stepped up. He led us down from the summit while talking me through the plan over and over again. As he talked, I repeated it back out loud and too myself. There was breath, there was factual recognition on a loop rather hypothetical fear, and there was straight up support. I let him take control and I allowed myself to trust him. The moment we turned our headlamps on and I realized that descending this steep scramble in the dark was no different for me than during the day, the anxiety stopped, the adrenaline halted, and it was now about physically pushing through the exhaustion rather the fear. Everything was back to normal and we finished it absolutely spent.
Here's what I want you to take away from this story. Anxiety sucks, whether you live with it in your body, in your home, or in your circles of people. It sucks for the person experiencing it and it sucks for the person who is a bystander to it, but it doesn't mean you aren't a still a badass and it doesn't have to be a ball and chain. I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember and Brian and I have spent our entire relationship working through it together. It wasn't always perfect. We tried several different strategies, some extremely helpful and other more detrimental to figure out what would work best. There was a lot of acceptance and learning on both our parts in order to get where we are today (and we're still working on it!) If it wasn't for that, our safety could have taken a hit that day along with our relationship.
While eating dinner the following evening, Brian and I agreed to come back and try it again. Even in the wake of it all, we weren't going to let my anxiety dictate our lives and keep us from completing our goal of hiking the entire presi traverse. So, here were are, leaning into the end of 2019 and I just booked our 2 mountain huts for when we return to the Whites in June 2020!
If you're like me and living with anxiety or you're like my husband and are living with someone with anxiety, here are three things I believe you MUST do in order to keep fear from robbing you of the best memories your life can offer: 1. Create a list of strategies to help manage your anxiety 2. Share that list with your go-to person (spouse, partner, friend, parent, sibling, coach, etc.) 3. Practice these strategies BEFORE the next anxiety attack ↟ Struggling to make a list of strategies? Book a pay-what-you-can coaching session today and you'll walk away with my top 5 ways to manage anxiety for before, during, and after an attack
The fatality poster we did NOT add our names to for July 2018