Helping Anxiety Take a Hike

July 4, 2018

The thick Caribbean air hits my lungs like a wave hitting a break wall.  A steep rocky path is spread out in front of me, leading to the top of the volcano that created my small island.  Ropes of woody vines on either side of the trail let bars of sunshine peak through. The same questions run through my mind as I wipe the sweat from my face.  How many times have I done this hike? Why do I keep coming back?

Veterinary school is everything I imagined it to be. Going to a remote Caribbean island was not initially how I envisioned it. But seems to enhance everything I am gaining during my education. Hours upon hours of study, hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition money, all for one dream. To save animals.

The amount of stress and anxiety that comes with this dream is insurmountable. I could drown in it as easily as I could drown in the vast ocean right outside my small apartment. How do you stay afloat?

I trudge up the rocky path, my warn hiking sandals slipping occasionally. The pain and exhilaration of the hike temporally replace the constant knot in the pit of my stomach. I feel myself relax into the relentless upward climb. One goal on my mind: get to the top and look out into the vast crater again. Legs burning, I walk on. My lungs rebelling against the heavy air. At times it feels like I am swimming up this volcano instead of climbing it.

Aerial roots of large ficus trees snag my attention every few feet. How small I am compared to them. How young and insignificant my problems are in this huge world. Perspective: that is why I keep coming back to this place. I need to keep everything in perspective. The island, the volcano, even these trees have been here for hundreds of years. My small problems are temporary and insignificant. The dream is what is important. The journey will only make me stronger.

A  flood of beauty and green greets me at the top. Sitting at the edge of the crater I try to relax and enjoy the moment. Almost immediately I feel the pull to get moving again. As I Descend back down into the real world the knot in my stomach slowly reforms. Smaller than before, but always present. Each hike seems to help untangle it a little but never does it completely come loose.

In the years to come since this hike, I can still feel the heavy wet air. I can smell the rotting leaves and I can see the bright green crater. Anxiety tries to swallow me whole. It sits on my chest like a suffocating inescapable weight. As I struggle to breathe I pull this hike out of my memory and cling to it like a life raft. Whatever the problem or issue is, it is fleeting and impermanent. Let it go.