Depression Confessional: Finding New (Old) Life Outdoors

GearJunkie’s ‘How I Stay Fit’ series has seriously inspired me to renew my pursuit of fitness outside. My self-imposed isolation indoors is coming to a joyous end. Depression will not beat me. This is my story.

Age 16 was the last time I had a healthy, balanced life. I despised fried food, played tennis 5 days a week, hiked on the weekends, and read paperback fiction late into the night. My first smartphone didn’t come until my 18th birthday.

I’m 28 now, and over a decade of bad habits have caught up with me. Burgers, fries, and pizza with extra cheese pass my lips almost daily. My bed is my haven and my prison, where I’m immersed in electronic screens every waking minute.

Depression and anxiety have culminated in agoraphobia; I’ve made a lifestyle out of raising the white flag.

But I’m determined to be done with all that. Read on to find out all the ways I’m getting back to my old life — and creating a new one.

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From climbing mountains to running marathons, a job at GearJunkie requires a solid level of fitness. Our ‘How I Stay Fit’ series profiles editors and contributors on our staff for a peek at their fitness habits and idiosyncrasies working out and adventuring in the outdoors. Read more…

Hiking: An Uphill Progression

Hiking was my first outdoor love. My parents got me out there, and I’ve never been able to get enough. Using the power of my body to reach remote areas of the West Virginia hills was intoxicating. And I moved to Colorado in 2015 to live the Rocky Mountain life.

The author with her husband at Rocky Mountain National Park

I never completely stopped hiking, but it’s a rare occurrence now. And my ability level has gone sharply downhill. Before, I could go 10 miles and never want to go home; now, I can barely go half a mile without gasping for breath. And the high altitude of Colorado’s Front Range makes it that much harder.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the outdoor industry, I’m surrounded by people who get after it outside. And usually, I’m fuming with jealousy that they’re not afraid like me, that their knees haven’t disintegrated from genetics and years of self-imposed bed rest.

But my new friends and family, including my husband — as well as my co-workers — are incredibly welcoming and encouraging, and they’ve been ready to help me come back to life. And I’m ready to let them.

Enjoying life is something I’m re-learning. My brain likes to remember only the negative and play it back to me on a loop, making me perpetually miserable — especially when it comes to trusting people and letting them know me. But I’m a fighter.

Tennis: A Powerful Return

My mom recently mailed me my high school tennis racquet. And I just about died when I got it in the mail. It’s white and neon-yellow with electric-blue strings — and it’s just so pretty. (Y’all, I think I’m a gear junkie.)

Alex Kirk high school tennis
Winfield High School tennis team, spring 2008; author center, front row

It reminds me of when I felt like a god, slamming low-angle, back-corner forehands like an absolute boss. Sure, the strings vibrate too much on impact now, and the slick, black grip has all but dissolved. But that’s nothing a little TLC can’t fix (I’m getting this beauty re-strung and re-gripped soon).

The spring season is fast approaching, and I’m vibrating more than my racquet’s old strings in anticipation. I’m confident I can find a singles partner, and even a group to play doubles with. And my blue-and-white Nikes are in the closet awaiting their triumphant return. It can’t come soon enough.

tennis racquet

Sure, I could play indoors for the rest of the winter. But free court time outdoors in a city park is much more appealing. I just need to wait for the snow to clear. And just like I did in high school, I’ll be taking a bag full of raw fruits and veggies along for the ride (with the occasional burger afterward).

Community Climbing Connection 

Climbing is a new thing for me. I’d always wanted to do it, and I’ve lived in Colorado for 5 years with above-average access to the sport. But it took confiding in a trustworthy person and letting her hold my hand, so to speak, for me to take the plunge.

Despite my fears, I went bouldering with the GearJunkie team in December and finally went rope climbing in January with my co-worker Mary Murphy. And I didn’t stop smiling the whole time we were in the gym. I felt a rush of life and vigor like I hadn’t felt in way too long.

Having taught kids how to climb in the past, Mary was incredibly encouraging, patient, and fun. I was lucky to have her support. What better way to smash my trust issues with a hammer than letting someone belay me off the wall?

woman in sports bra and tights lead climbing at Movement Climbing + Fitness gym
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Moving Forward

Hiking2None of this is to say that physical activity and socializing alone can cure severe depression. In my experience, these things, while helpful, are not enough.

I used to take medication, and I plan to get back to that soon. The side effects — dizziness, smiling at inappropriate times, vision changes at high altitude, short-term memory dysfunction, etc. — have made me shy away from meds more than once. Not to mention popping what feels like a medicine cabinet full of pills before age 30.

But it has also quite literally saved my life, so I’m ready to give it another shot. The right combination of medicine is waiting somewhere out there for me. (Note: Psychiatric medication is not for everyone with mental disorders. Consult a doctor before taking them.)

Also, bad experiences with therapists have made me wary of psychological professionals. I’ve grown to believe they’re all dishonest, don’t want to help me, and have no idea how even if they wanted to. But more than one of my new friends have had success in that realm, and they inspire me to try again.

Recently, I even attended a networking event for women who work remotely — and I joined a book club! Bye-bye, screens.

In the meantime, I’ll keep forcing myself out of bed and re-learning how to enjoy my life. And I’ll be sure to stop trying to tackle it alone.