Hiking With a Toddler Part 2: Hiking With Anxiety…and a Toddler

This is a little bit about hiking, but mostly about how hiking has unexpectedly become a tool to help me win against my anxiety.

My 2018 New Years resolution is to hike once a month every month this year. When I shared this goal back in February, I mentioned that my 3.5 year old was the reason why. I wanted to inspire in him a love and appreciation for nature at an early age.

I stumbled upon an event on Facebook; a Women’s Hike in March organized by DNK Presents. I decided I would go outside my comfort zone and attend. I found a babysitter (thank you, Mother-in-Law), I invited a friend (because anxiety), and I hiked at Eagle Creek Park with nearly 40 women on a gorgeous Saturday. There was something truly special about being among this encouraging group of women in the woods. They were welcoming, engaging, supportive…I felt free to exist. I knew I had to join their next hike.

As I eagerly planned for the next adventure, my anxiety crept back in. I knew that this time, I would have my toddler on my back so that added more anxiety. And I had a lot of down time while potty training my toddler to sit and let my anxiety tell my why I shouldn’t bring him with me.

My anxiety said to me, “Hiking with a toddler on your back was weird. People will think that is weird. You’re weird for doing it. We should probably stay home.”

My anxiety said to me, “Bringing your toddler while potty training will mess up all of his progress and cause him to regress. It will be your fault if he doesn’t succeed. We should probably stay home.”

My anxiety said to me, “You’re not very strong and you’re really small. You’re going to slow everyone down and everyone will be looking back at you like ‘Ugh, why would you bring your kid?’ We should probably stay home.”

But my anxiety, like it typically is, was so very wrong. And I am thankful that even on approximately 5 hours of real sleep and only 3 sips of coffee because I forgot my thermos on the counter, I got outside. I did the thing I said I’d do. I took  my son on an adventure.

My anxiety had me checking the weather forecast daily leading up to the April hike. Luckily there was no rain/snow that day, but it was definitely chilly. We’d had a crazy intense week of hibernating at home due to all of the potty training, but I really wanted to go. I needed to just keep moving forward.

But my anxiety was persistent. It whispered that he’d get a cold and be sick and then we’d regress with potty training again. My anxiety threw everything it had at me all the way up until 8am. My anxiety had me paralyzed. I was still laying in my bed and trying to motivate my body to move. When I saw the time, I finally whispered back;

“No.”

I got up. I put on the clothes I’d set out in my mind but had kept in the drawer in case I didn’t go so I wouldn’t have to face them and put them away later.

I packed our backpack with the things I’d set out in my mind but had not gotten out because I didn’t want to have to put them away later when I didn’t go after all.

I grabbed the clothes for my son that I’d set out in my mind as well. I looked at him sleeping. My anxiety met me there and saw him too. “He’s sleeping so well. Don’t wake him up. Just stay home.”

“No. We’re going.” My anxiety took a direct hit, and although it was weakened, it was still holding on. I kept moving forward and it just dragged along behind me.

I woke my son up from his peaceful sleep. He used the potty. I dressed him (while he was pretty much still asleep), loaded up my car with our backpack and snacks, and drove to Fort Harrison. While driving my car, my anxiety told me to just turn around and go home. “Grab a coffee on the way home and pretend it’s too cold for him or that he’s acting up or something.”

We arrived at our destination. I heard my anxiety say “You’re going to regret going, just leave now.”  I looked in the car seat mirror back at my son, sleeping in his car seat.

“I am going to do this.”

And so I did. For the next hour and a half or so, I hiked about 2.5 miles with a 28 lb toddler on my back with about 20 other women who were excited to be outside and share in this experience together. The first part of the trail was definitely challenging. Leading to the creek, I’d pushed myself through the toughest part of the trail; where it gets thin, mostly uphill, and a little rugged. And also there are stairs. I knew all this. I’d hiked this trail before. It didn’t make it any easier, but somehow I was able to keep up for the most part with everyone else. We paused briefly at the very end of the hardest part where thankfully there is a bench. I grabbed our snacks out of the backpack, and carried on. We were in the very back of the group, but we did it. We kept moving forward.

While on the trail, our leader Kate (who also happens to be the founder) asked us to try a little experiment with her. As we entered into the nature preserve on the Fall Creek trail, she encouraged us to “Hike mindfully, whatever that means to you.

At this point of the trail, there is a station to brush your shoes off to prevent non-native/invasive plants from being tracked into the nature preserve. This caused everyone to basically enter the trail one at a time. I don’t know if Kate did this intentionally or not, but it was honestly the perfect moment to ask people be mindful.

I walked into the nature preserve with my son on my back and thought about how thankful I was to be there at that moment. Every time I’ve hiked this trail, I’ve always felt a beautiful calm when entering this particular area, and this time, I tried to soak that feeling in. I felt the weight of my son as I carried him, the indescribable love I have for him, and how thankful I was in that moment to be here with him.

I reminded myself to treasure this journey; that this stage of life is temporary. I felt the peace of nature ground me to it with each step. I listened to the quiet sounds. The birds. Squirrels. I could hear the distant sound of the creek behind us and took a moment to be proud of myself for being there. I’d made it through the hard part of the trail at this point. I did all this with my son on my back. I reflected on the journey to that point, acknowledged the success, and kept moving forward.

Reflecting now on that mindful moment on the trail, I can see so clearly that my anxiety had been left far behind me. It will come back, no doubt. But at least now I know where to find myself again.

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