I have always been looking for “THE CURE” to my mental illness, even when it was misdiagnosed as depression alone – “chronic depression” was what one psychologist called it. Then when I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and prescribed medication that actually worked to level me out, I thought that was IT. Well, it was not IT. The struggles with the irrational thoughts and intense feelings will continue forever, and can sometimes still overwhelm me into mental and physical paralysis and quaking anxiety.
Because I do not have any workplace health benefits, getting a counselor of my choosing is unrealistic financially. I have a psychiatrist of course, but he is a medical doctor, not a therapist per-se. I can get five free sessions through work, but the choices are, well, not so great. I went to one of the approved psychologists once. I found out that I am not a fan of New Age CBT. Talking about auras and listening to a little waterfall did not help me either, nor the the concept of “homework” – as if I don’t have enough stress? Plus, an assumption was made about my religious beliefs that I did not appreciate. The incense made me sneeze.
I have always been a “nature girl”, even to the point of being the number one fan of John Denver. Even as a child I would go out hiking by myself all the time, usually with my dog. Then I got into horseback riding as well and often rode alone. Everyone thought I was weird that way. Well they still think that, but guess what? Those hikes with the dog, fishing alone, camping alone and riding alone have been more effective in nurturing my mental health than anything I can think of. Along with the medication which allows me the motivation to get out of bed and out of the house, I think that I am doing quite well, actually!
When I am in the wilderness, even just a big park (which served as wilderness when I lived in the city), I am OK. I can vent my issues and have a little cry to the trees and bugs and the critters that I can’t even see, and to the dogs or my horse and then, suddenly I just AM. It isn’t even really noticeable at first, it just happens. There is nothing but the animals and the wilderness and I am a part of it. I am getting exercise on my own terms (the gym is NOT a happy place for me – there are people), fresh air, and freedom. The increased oxygen, the fragrances of the forests and flowers and meadows and wetlands, the sparkle of the water in a creek or river, the still mirror beauty of a lake, the birdsong, weather, cloud formations, sunsets, the camaraderie of the dogs or my mare…this is my therapy.
I can tell that I am having trouble with depression and anxiety when I have trouble making myself get out there. Luckily, I eventually must go as I start feeling guilty. The dogs and the horse need their exercise, too! Sometimes guilt can be a good motivator.
I often wonder if I had ended up as a Park Warden like I wanted to be in high school (the guidance counselor told me that it wasn’t a job for women and I would never make it, same as with being a vet because of my lack of math skills), I would have been more able to handle the symptoms of my illness and be almost always at peace by just BEING part of NATURE every day, most of the time. So, in light of that never happening, I must get out into the wilderness as much as I can. If I ever have to live in a city again or can not get out into nature regularly, I do believe that I will end up hospitalized and barely functioning, meds or not. I have instructed my daughter that when/if I need to live in a geriatric facility, it had better be a country one with enough staff to take me OUTSIDE into the trees and have regular therapy dog or cat visits, or I will become one grouchy old lady!
About L. Song
L. Song is a middle aged professional who has been struggling with Bipolar Disorder II since her teens. After finally being properly diagnosed and prescribed the correct medication at forty-four, she has dedicated herself to helping others who suffer from the stigma of mental illness through her work. To try to make a difference, L. Song supports organizations such as Mood Disorders Society of Canada, CAMH, as well as HMC. As an avid “horse person,” she also follows and contributes to a Facebook page, Riders Against Mental Illness Stigma. She plans to someday work with people and horses in a therapeutic capacity and publish a book about her experiences living and recovering from the disorder. You can follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds blog.