My favorite place in SC, on a nature trail behind our old apartments.
This is not an article about depression but about the remedy, my remedy. Yet it starts with sadness, ends in joy. Yesterday I woke up depressed. I did not wake up sad, or down, I woke up thoroughly depressed. I had two choices, wallow in those horrible feelings or fight back. Yesterday was the last day of 2013, a year that was characterized by me fighting depression. I have decided to write about it, to admit it, because so many other people deal with the same thing. It is hard to admit because I feel like I have a good life, and therefore I am just whining and being petty when I am depressed, but I have learned too that depression is a chemical thing, not always in our control.
2014 is a new year; it will be a new year! Walking is, for me, excellent mood therapy, and I have decided to make 2014 a walking year. I will walk the blues away, striding across the months and miles, cheerful and active. I plan to walk a lot in 2014, and to record my miles. I want to map how far I travel by foot, and I want to walk as many different paths as I can find here in SC. I may not be able to hike the Appalachian Trail or cross the USA by foot like other great adventurers, but I will love a local life of exploration in 2014.
So, what did I do to deal with my depression on the last day of a long year? I ran upstairs to my bedroom and shut the door. I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and put on my tennis shoes. I didn’t want my dog to know what I was doing because these were signals of a walk to her, and I wanted to go alone. I slipped out of the house with no real plans, no ID, no money or snacks, only my phone. I only knew I was going to walk until I felt better. I left my neighborhood and followed the main road past my daughter’s high school. First I turned left, then changed my mind and turned right. I walked along the sidewalk, a few cars driving by, and came to an intersection with a light. I turned left, and followed a road without a sidewalk for a few feet. Many cars passed. This busy road is lined with old brick ranch homes and well maintained yards. I had to walk along the edge of the road, avoiding mailboxes and small palmetto trees, as well as the cars. This is not a fast road, but it is busy. At the first opportunity I turned left into a neighborhood, Dominion Hills.
Palmetto tree in a yard along the walk
This neighborhood runs parallel to the busy road, but it is an older quiet area, and the houses on the left back up to the Cooper River. The car sounds fell away, bird songs surrounded me, and I felt at peace. I began to enjoy the walk, looking up at birds and around at the yards and Christmas decorations. The river was visible between the houses, and I could see off into the distance, grey water and marsh and trees. I felt my spirit soar as only nature can cause, but I knew I needed to keep walking.
At the end of the neighborhood I had to return to the main road, and quickly I came to a busy intersection. My 2-lane road dead-ended into a 4-lane road, and at this point I figured out where I was heading. We used to live in a set of apartments that had a nature trail behind it, and that was my destination. Unfortunately to get there I had to walk along the side of a busy 4-lane road, across a bridge and on until I reached the entrance to the development that included the apartments and my beloved trail. I had seen people walking along this road many times, and I felt it was safe. There was a car wide shoulder along the road. At the red light a man yelled to me, did I need a ride? No, I answered, I was walking for fun. He gave me a strange look, shrugged and drove off. I began to see myself as the other drivers saw me, a lone woman walking along a busy road. Certainly my car must have broken down somewhere. I didn’t look like a person that had to walk to get to work, so I must be in trouble. As I walked, cars whizzing past, I began to feel very exposed, not in an unsafe way, but in a very visible, doing things differently sort of way. I watched the cars drive by, every single person looked at me, glared at me, or stared oddly at me. One driver looked so hard he lost control of his direction and swerved out of his lane for a moment. Since when did a person out for a walk become a traffic hazard?
I love to read travel books, and one of the first ones was by Peter Jenkins, who walked across America. I had wanted to do that as well, as soon as I read those pages. Now I knew what it was like to walk along America’s busy roads with trucks and cars speeding by, everyone looking and wondering what kind of crazy person I was. There are still in our country many people without cars who have to walk to get anywhere, to the grocery, the doctor, work, or at least to the bus stop. Our roadways are not designed for them. Every day we see these folks crossing busy streets, walking along the sidewalks with children following, carrying grocery bags or pushing metal carts. What they do every day to survive is dangerous, and we as drivers need to be alert to them, and patient. Not everyone lives in a car dependent society, even here.
View from the bridge. I had always wanted to take this picture but couldn't from a car.
The walk along the road was long. I crossed the bridge that I usually drive over, and now I had time to look out at the river and enjoy the view. Along the river were many docks. The water reflected the sky, and rippled beside the boats tied to the docks. At times traffic would die down, and then the walk was wonderful, but somewhere a stoplight would turn green and a flood of cars would roar past, again. I kept walking. Drivers kept looking. At this point I began to wonder if this was a good idea. I loved the walk, and crossing the river, but the traffic and the amazed faces began to wear on me. I felt odd and naked. For the first time I realized I would have to return this way, I would have to come back along the busy road again.
Driving back, this was the busy road. Now, where are the cars?
I walked. I had never realized how long this section of road was. When we lived in the apartments I would often take my daughter to school, and the traffic here would inch along slowly, that is how I felt. I was walking at the same speed I always walk, but I was inching along. Off the bridge I was able to move down to a grassy bank, away from the traffic and closer to trees. This was nicer, but I had to watch for large ant piles, and broken bottles, beer cans, banana peels and other trash. Drivers think throwing out bananas is OK because they are food and biodegradable, but for the peels that is not true. I passed many black and not decomposed banana peels along this portion of the walk. The cars were further away now, but just as loud. Finally I reached the entrance to the development and I turned away from the 4-lane. Cars still passed me as I walked along the parkway that leads to the apartments and several developments. I wondered if anyone I knew was driving by, looking at me with curiosity. Again I looked at the faces of the drivers, they all glanced at me and then looked away. Were they afraid I was asking for help, or a ride? I walked on.
As soon as I entered the nature trail I felt something change, my body relaxed, my face smiled, and my spirit wanted to sing. Instead of cars I could hear birds, crickets and frogs. The huge oaks waved in the breeze above and around me, the path was gentle on my feet. I knew then the walk was worth it, even with the highway portion I had to endure. Actually, walking along the road made the nature trail all the sweeter, and more peaceful. I turned a corner and heard at least 4 or 5 different birds calling. I saw a huge woodpecker fly by, and between trees I could see the river. The wind moved through the leaves, the air felt fresh and clean. I walked along the path until I reached a picnic table by the river, where I stopped to rest. With my phone I had measured the mileage, and I had walked 5.6 miles. My feet and legs ached a little, but I felt great. There is nothing better than a walk to clear the mind and mood. But I knew I did not want to return by the busy road, so with my cell phone I called my son and had him pick me up. This was perhaps a strange ending to a therapy walk, but for me it was the right ending. I was hungry and tired, but mostly unable to face all those drivers, their looks and the noise once again. I have to find good walks that are a tad bit more private, but for this year of exploration, perhaps that is the point. Where can we walk in our traffic-focused society? I hope to find out. If this did not bore you, stay tuned for more of these discoveries, and please share your own walking adventures. Let’s see how far we can go in 2014!