Remember when I said I'd write an update for three months straight? Here it is.
Returning to society after a thru-hike has been way harder than I expected. It doesn’t matter how it was laid out for me by experienced thru-hikers before I left or how many times I read Appalachian Trials, I had no idea what it would truly be like until I experienced it. I’ve had some serious highs; some low lows; and even some weeks, yes WEEKS, where I’ve just been completely numb.
I’ve had an extremely hard time writing about my post-trail experiences. I’ve basically just been running around with my head cut off, sleeping in a different house from week to week, dragging Bonnie with me wherever I can, freelancing but barely, not living up to my own expectations, half feeling like a failure, half feeling like the most successful I’ve ever been, up and down up and down up and down. It’s exhausting, confusing, and hard.
My mental health has been up and down but I’m happy to say I’ve only had one single suicidal thought since I’ve returned from the trail. I’m currently not taking any prescription medications, which is incredible for me and I’m really happy about that. I’ve been using CBD oil as a sleep aid and it’s working wonders. I’ve experienced some serious problems with a chemical addiction to cannabis and withdrawal reactions when I tried to stop cold turkey. I made it through that storm, though, and I’m back to a healthy tolerance level now and using it much less frequently (I’ll write more on this at another time).
I am finding that, despite everything I thought I learned and accomplished on trail, I still beat myself up for everything I do. I learned (or taught myself) somewhere along the lines that I will never be enough, no matter what I do, and that’s been hard to overcome. This is especially hard to overcome when freelancing and marketing myself for gigs. I’ve also found, which I think I really learned on trail, that I am terrible at being alone. I’m hoping vanlife and more backpacking will help solve that. I learned on trail to love myself, but I’ve had to learn that all over again in the ‘real world’ and that has been extremely difficult.
It was weird to come home to my past self’s stuff and clothes, too. First of all, my clothing is all too big and weirdly impractical but I also don’t want to have to step foot in any kind of store to buy new clothing or spend money on something seemingly so trivial. Second of all, I had way too much stuff before I left. My identity feels a bit jumbled. I haven’t the faintest idea who I am, how I want to dress, what I want to do with my life, nor how to feel about anything. Perhaps that’s being young, but after having a life plan for so long and such a strong former definition of success, it’s a difficult adjustment.
Anyway… I’ve moved twice, house sat for a collective month around NC, and my lease ends on August 1! I’ll be going back to Maine in August to finish up the van and get on the road! I’m aiming to be on the road by the end of September to attend a friend’s wedding in Cleveland. Below I’ve left a little list of all of the things I’ve learned so far since being back.
Here’s what I’ve learned since I left the trail:
You may think you’ve figured something out on trail but bringing whatever you figured out back to the ‘real world’ with you is another story and experience. The work you did on yourself on Trail is never finished, even when you complete your thru-hike.
Possessions are so much less important than our capitalist society wants you to think.
Money can be hard to come by, but you need much less of it than you might think.
Trying to solve every little thing in life will get you a whole lot of worrying and overthinking.
‘Real World’ people smell. Like, there are so many artificial scents nowadays and they’re all unnecessary.
Anxiety, depression, and PTSD might feel better on trail but it does not mean that you are actually better. You can find ways to cope, learn how to work through it through backpacking, and even accept your mental health issues. All of those things do not mean that you’ve ‘solved’ all of your mental health problems or that you are cured. Mental health diagnoses are for life, the sooner you accept it, the sooner you can start to become a person you can be proud of.
I over planned when I first started my thru-hike and it made me anxious and insecure. So, I let go of planning almost altogether when I got past Pennsylvania. Now, I can’t plan anything to save my life.
I’m the worst at finding balance and happy mediums. I am so extreme, all or nothing. Hoping time will lead me to balance someday?
Health insurance is a freaking privilege in this country.
I’d rather live with almost no money and fly by the seat of my pants in a tizzy of stress constantly than be confined to a building on someone else’s schedule.
Life is terrifying and overwhelming.
Social media is terrible for my mental health even after learning to use it as a business tool.
Being present in the ‘real world’ is a lot harder than it is on trail.
I miss silence. Silence was amazing and I had no idea how amazing it was.
I NEED challenge or else I get complacent and lazy and stop taking care of myself.