Self-confidence/self-esteem/happiness with yourself, whatever you want to call it, I’ve struggled with it since those lovely tween years. I could point fingers and say it started with the stereotypical pressures of being a dancer, but some people handle that pressure with the utmost grace. I guess I wasn’t prepped to deal with the constant scrutinization of my weight, body or how much I ate. Teachers would tell me to lose a few pounds and “tone up” despite having a normal figure, and I’d see dancers around me starting to starve themselves and be rewarded for that. We stared at ourselves in mirrors as we danced and saw every tiny flaw that we could possibly perfect whether it be the body or the dance technique. Seeing my imperfections so much, I started dreading being seen or heard by others. I felt insignificant and unworthy.
My insecurity manifests in my daily life as awkwardness, but that’s why you love me, right? I used to weigh myself 5 times a day. I would avoid looking at people so I wouldn’t have to talk. I’d let someone else give their opinion first so that I could pretend to agree with it in hopes that agreeing would save me from putting my own ideas out there. I can thankfully say I’ve improved on these things in the past few years, but my AT thru really has been chicken soup for my insecure soul.
How does taking a simple walk in the woods work such wonders on your mental state? It does sound a bit extreme, I know. Do the trees whisper “you’re amazing, you got this!” as you traipse through the forest? Some might say yes. I know a hiker who thought all the birds tweeting at her were giving her sounds of encouragement. Another hiker I was with laughed and said that he thought their calls were just mocking his ineptitude. Everyone has their own interpretation, clearly, but here’s what has gotten me out of my shell a bit:
1) Holding Yourself Accountable
Making my own decisions and goals that only I care about if I reach. No one is bothered if I don’t do the 20 mile day that I set out to do. There’s no pressure, it’s just living out my trail life in the exact way that I want to. That simple. It’s just me doing what I want to do, and it works out for me. I’ve kept myself alive, I’m making miles and I’m slowly getting to Maine. Realizing that my choices and decisions are valid is a huge step toward accepting myself.
2) Viewing my Body as a Tool
You see some of your parents’ old tools in their basement. They may have their quirks, you have to jiggle the wrench handle a few times before it can do the job, but it works. Despite what imperfections I can see with myself, my body is climbing mountains every single day. I’ve made it over 1,400 miles now. My legs are extensions of my trail runners. My back is an extension of my pack. The body I have is strong and can accomplish more than I ever imagined.
3) Everyone is Gross
All thru hikers smell like a pile of poo, they have dirt smeared all over their body and they drip sweat. There’s no mirror to scrutinize each part of my body or face. There’s just equally gross people around me who could care less about what I’m wearing or how I smell. It’s freeing to not worry about how I appear to others. All I can see is how far I’ve hiked, and how much I’ve achieved in the day.
4) Talking is Easy
There’s a sense of community and trust between hikers. We all have miles, gear and crazy trail stories that we can bond over during dinner or setting up camp. Most hikers are stoked to hear about other’s experiences, and it’s made me aware of how important each of our days are. No one is out here to nit-pick your stories or conversation. The genuine nature of people out here helps me feel less anxious to share my thoughts.
5) The Forest is Yoga for those Who Hate Yoga
I get a lot of questions concerning what I think about during those long hours hiking. Honestly, for most of it, I think of nothing. I stare at the ground, because if I look up for two seconds I’ll be face planting into the ground, and think of nothing. I hear my breath, I hear the birds and I hear the slight squeak of my pack. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to meditation. When my mom drags me to yoga, I can’t ever seem to “clear my mind” as the teacher encourages. So, the hike is truly a time where I can let everything fall away and just be. Lesson of the day: if you hate yoga as much as I do, getting outside is just as good as Shavasana.
There’s never a simple, easy or real “cure” for insecurity, but the trail has come pretty darn close for me. It’s the most relaxed and happy I’ve ever been. My body is strong, I’m seeing how capable I am and there’s an immense sense of support from the trail community. So, hike yourself happy, folks.
If you want to follow more of the day-to-day happenings, follow me on Instagram: @SeeBagsGo
P.s. if you’re wondering why it looks like I’m wearing the same clothes in every single picture. It’s because I am.