Earlier this afternoon, I had envisioned that I’d be coming home from our family hike and posting a whole host of gorgeous photos of my sweet children and their dad enjoying nature. When I realized it was going to be about 60 degrees today, I suggested to my husband that we pick the boy up from play rehearsal and then take a hike. After all, we rarely have chances to do things like that together as a family so why not? What was stopping us? And hiking was one of the things he had he missed the last time I talked to him about what interests he used to have that he could no longer pursue.
Now, let me make this clear. I love hiking. I didn’t use to be much of an outdoors girl but in the past few years, I’ve started to intentionally get outside more often. I’ve taken note of the forecast and made mental plans to take full advantage of any upcoming nice-weather days. I am proud to say that there hasn’t been a nice, warmish (meaning above 40 degrees for me) day since the beginning of October that I haven’t taken a walk in or spent time at the park during. I have simply turned into an outside nature lovin’ kinda girl.
And I love hiking. As long as the hiking trails are fully surrounded by land or are not up high. You see, I have some phobias. I have anxiety. About a lot of things to be sure. But my primary source of anxiety is related to heights. Always has been. Unlike my mom, if I’m enclosed, heights don’t bother me. In fact, I kinda love being in the top of a tall building and looking out over a city or into a mountainside. Take that solid window or wall away from me, and I start to freak out a little. However, as long as there is a buffer zone, I can contain myself. But if there is no buffer zone, I will lose. it. Let me explain. If there is a railing or a drop off of any kind with a height of more than, say, four feet, and I see a person sitting on, standing on, leaning over the rail or getting closer than maybe 3 feet to the edge, I start to panic. The younger the person, the more I panic. Put me in a situation where my husband is holding my four year old as he stands on a brick wall that is literally hundreds of feet above rushing water and rocks, I can’t handle it.
All I needed was for him to hold the child and step away from the brick wall by about a half foot. That move alone totally took care of my anxiety. And he did it when I said to him, “It’s okay for you but it’s not for me.” But he only did it after he’d argued with me, told me we were just going home, and becoming visibly angry.
Along the trail were drop-offs or cliffs as you might call them. Also hundreds of feet above rushing water. As long as my four year old was at least three feet away from the drop off and not running in his clunky Crocs, I was fine. After I saw him running along the edge three times and I asked my husband to please hold him or hold his hand, he gave up on me.
We turned around. There was still plenty of area to explore with which we all felt comfortable. In fact, despite our turning around and not hiking the entire laid-out trail, my daughter was miserably tired by the time we arrived back to the vehicle. So we hiked as much as she could handle anyway.
But it was ruined for me. I didn’t take any pictures. I shut down. My little one kept asking me to see this or look at that and I stopped even being able to respond to him. For, you see, I was furious with myself for not being able to be the reckless wild adventurous parent. I was angry with myself for not being able to trust my husband’s judgment (he’s been injured repeatedly on hiking trips to be fair… twice he ended up in a hospital). But mostly I was just hurt that I wasn’t allowed to feel the way that I feel and not be considered to be bad. Or crazy. Or spoiling the fun. We couldn’t just have a family hike that didn’t include “death plummets” as I so affectionately call a cliff. It wasn’t enough that I want to go out and do the hiking and be in nature. I have to like and be cool with all of it or it doesn’t count.
My efforts didn’t count.
We are home now. I’ve showered, washed my hair, and I’m relaxing in the bed, gearing up for another crazy week of homeschool. But my anxiety is still there. The images of seeing my son so near the edge of a cliff, running, not being safe, are still flashing in my brain. And each time it flashes, I gasp, my hands get sweatier, and there’s this little twinge in my head. I don’t like being this way. But it’s the way I am. And living with my anxiety is my only option. Because when I’ve tried to medicate it away, I’ve gotten so slow and sluggish that I wouldn’t have been physically able to take the hike if I was medicated anyway. The thing is, as long as everyone around me will respect some of my boundaries and just accept them as part of who I am, I’ll get along just fine. I certainly make compromises for the special needs that my husband and my children have. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to pay me the same respect.