Well… I have been putting off writing this post for a while. It’s not because I don’t know what to write; it’s because it is often hard to admit flaws.
I have dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember and it wasn’t until this year that I have been through some intense therapy to deal with it.
It has been the most freeing experience of my life. To not walk around with a constant knot of fear in my stomach. Not needing to control every uncontrollable variable.
I used to think that if people knew I saw a therapist or a psychologist that it would be viewed as a weakness, but it has strengthened me beyond what I believed possible.
The stupid thing is the more people I talk to about it the more I realize that there are so many people, that I speak with, that see therapists. It is unfortunate that it has become this taboo thing that never comes up in conversation. I also speak with people that have thought about getting help but had the same feelings about it as i did.
It is silly to think that when we are in physical pain we will go to a physiotherapist and almost brag about it, but when we are in mental/emotional pain we pull the covers over our head and hope no one notices.
Well I am going to brag about it. I will talk about my mental health the same way I would about squatting a new max or completing a marathon or climbing a mountain because it takes just as much time and effort but the results are the same… you end up stronger.
The “What if’s”
The worst thing is that it was my fears and anxieties that prevented me from introducing the boys to hiking. I would think about it and fixate on every terrible scenario that “could” happen. I would blame my sons special needs for preventing me from taking them out into the wilderness. I would tell myself that those things, that were already a challenge at home, would be impossible to deal with “out there”. The “What if’s?” would pile up into an insurmountable mountain bigger than anything I would ever consider climbing.
I used to love hiking and climbing. Camping at the highest point on Galiano Island, Hiking to Garibaldi Lake, bouldering in Squamish, but the “What if’s?” made me dread the idea of taking the boys “out there”. How could I possibly enjoy it, all the while, wondering when disaster was going to strike?
This last year has challenged me personally, mentally, emotionally and physically. I have undergone many changes in my life including separating from my wife and becoming a single dad. It forced me to prove to myself that I could do something that I had always been told that I couldn’t do… look after the boys on my own. I had them 100% of the time. The crazy thing is I did it; and I was good at it. This cascading series of events had led me to the truth that whatever came my way, whatever this universe threw at me, I could handle it; however, there was still something holding me back. I suppose it’s the same feeling that someone gets after breaking their leg and their crutches are taken away. The apprehension around whether that injury can really bare weight.
We Bought a Zoo
Yep… you read that right, but we didn’t buy a zoo, although I think that would be awesome!!! One night after I had put the boys to bed I had settled in for the 2 hours of quiet time I would get each night after dinner, lunches, laundry, dishes, etc. I was exhausted and sat back to wait for one of two things: that moment when I would be almost to tired to drag myself upstairs to my bed, or for my son to have a seizure and I would sit up and keep him comfortable while stroking his hair and singing “Three Little Birds,” I now understand that I was probably singing this song more to myself than to him.
“Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing’s gonna be alright.”
I turned on the TV, and after surfing for a while, I landed on “We Bought a Zoo”. I don’t know why I decided to watch it. Maybe it was the single dad two kids theme… or maybe it’s because Scarlett Johansen is in it (don’t judge me – she’s Black Widow!). For whatever reason I watched, and then it happened. There is a part in the movie where Matt Damon’s character is explaining to his on screen son about how to talk to a girl that he likes. He says…
“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage, just literally 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery, and I promise you something great will come of it.”
I don’t know why this struck me. I don’t know why this stood out to me. I just know it did. I remember thinking that this message was for me. I remember thinking “I can do 20 seconds”. A few years ago I did P90X and Tony Horton told me that “…you can do anything for a minute” so 20 seconds should be a breeze.
The next morning the boys got up and I made them breakfast. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining, and as my kids ate their banana pancakes I took a deep breath and said “Do you guys wanna go on an adventure today?”
Now if you have kids you know that once an idea like this is planted, it takes root and grows. It’s the blackberry bush of statements; you can try to cut it back but it’s not going anywhere. My mom had given me passes to the Sea to Sky gondola that would get one of the kids up for free if an adult pass was purchased. I told the boys we were going to go up the Sea to Sky Gondola; my oldest had seen an ad on TV for this and once he knew that this was the adventure we were fully committed… and all it took was 20 secs.
I promise you something great will come out of it.
We took a drive up the Sea to Sky highway; we got the stroller onto the Gondola; we found the hike to “The Chief Viewing Platform” and we were off. We hiked, pushed the stroller, laughed, sang, and about halfway we came across a lookout area on a huge slab of granite. I unstrapped my youngest from the stroller and turned to lead him across the slab. When I turned around I found that my oldest son had found a large rock and had sat down to stare up at the large snow covered peak that was visible between the trees. He was still… quiet. He was in the moment, and I let him own it.
Watching him I knew I had to capture this. I took out my phone and stealthily snapped a photo. After a few minutes he turned to us and with the biggest smile said “Dad… this is so cool!” It was in this moment that I remembered why being “out there” was so important.
We continued to the viewing platform. My oldest asking question after question, and making comments like “It smells so good out here.” My youngest, his eyes absorbing every motion, every colour, saying everything with a smile and a giggle, and dragging me towards trees and bushes so that he could examine their texture with his fingers.
At the viewing platform we looked down over Howe Sound and talked about how cool it would be to be giants, and my oldest son put his arm around his brother and began pointing out boats, and kite boarders, and people on top of the chief that looked like ants scurrying around on top of a stone.
At the end of the trail we stopped for a snack and headed back down the gondola to the parking lot. When we got to the Van my son asked “are we going home?” I told him “yes.” He leaned forward and said “Can we do more hiking?” I replied that we definitely could and that we would plan another adventure. He corrected me and said “No, I mean today.” *Cue lump in throat while trying to hide my watery eyes.
We drove down the road to “Shannon Falls” and began our second adventure.
That night, we followed our regular routine of dinner, bath, bed. As I kissed my oldest son goodnight I asked him if he had a good day. He answered “Yes… can we go hiking again tomorrow?”
So we did…
Since we began our adventures I have seen amazing changes in my boys. My oldest has become more environmentally conscious (picking up and packing garbage out from the trails we explore), more adventurous, and braver. My youngest, who at 5 years old has only been walking for about 17 months, has become physically stronger, his gait is better, he has walked over 4.5km in a single hike. He is communicating better, following instructions, and showing increased understanding. I have his seizures under control and he sleeps through the night.
And what about me?
I have learned that Matt Damon was right.
So why write about it? Well my blog started as a way to document where my boys and I had been, but I also knew that part of my apprehension around hiking was that I did not know how accessible certain trails and areas would be for my youngest son, and what kind of equipment I would need to be prepared. Yes, a lot of parents have already written about the trails around here, but these are parents whose kids are small enough to carry in a regular carrier that has a max capacity of 45lbs, or their kids can climb up and down stairs. I did not want to go out to these amazing places and get stuck or limited by a stroller. I began to realize that I was actually lucky. My son didn’t need his stroller all the time. He did not have to stay in a wheelchair, and although he is getting heavier, I am strong enough to carry him if I need to. I could do something I love, and at the same time, help other parents of children, and special needs children, eliminate some of the variables that may be preventing them from getting “out there”. Maybe I could even encourage municipalities, cities and businesses to create even more accessible trails.
As a teacher I have always told my students that one of their goals should always be to “leave it better than you received it,” whether it’s work, relationships, or the planet. Maybe this needs to start with the experience of being “out there”. Creating stewardship through understanding.
As for everything else… hiking gives you a unique perspective on things. From way up on top of those cold, hard mountains there is a peace. You look down across the city and just like your problems, from here, it doesn’t look so big. You literally climb above it all. You can escape the noise, the flash, and the bright lights and you are left with the most basic of foundations. There is something almost primal about it. As one of my favourite meditation gathas states…
“Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel stable and solid.”
This does not mean I do not make mistakes, or that I am not effected when people attack me. As a friend of mine once reminded me “You’re human.” You just cannot let those things overshadow the moment.
Trust me… get your kids “out there” and watch their faces. See their jaws drop at the sites, listen to their questions, absorb their wonder and make it your own. Yes, you may run into a couple hiccups along the way, but that is just part of the journey. It won’t take long to get it… maybe just 20 seconds.
The Walking Dad