My Experience Using Nature As Therapy

Recently I completed a 2300 mile trip down the Mississippi River in canoe. For the most part I paddled alone. There were several periods of my trip where I had another paddler on the same journey hang with me. I intentionally decided to do this trip solo because I needed the time to reflect on several issues I was dealing with and process them.

Back in 2005 I was diagnosed with a personality disorder in the Army and medically discharged. Well, it was more like, “Thank you for your 12 years of service. Sorry you couldn’t deal with the constant, overwhelming stress. Here’s an honorable discharge. Now beat it loser.” I’m not going to go into details concerning  the treatment one receives once they confront their command. I’ll save that for later discussion. Anyway, turns out I had PTSD. The massive scar on my left wrist was a pretty good indication that something was wrong. There were so many things that led up to that suicidal moment, none of which I understood or even noticed until it nearly cost me my life.

For the next 10 years, I still struggled to understand it completely. I participated in several VA programs to help you learn how to deal with PTSD. They were beneficial. My only problem was hating the medication. First of all, I can’t remember to take it. I also have a Traumatic Brain Injury that greatly affects my memory. It’s a constant pain in my ass. It takes me forever to get things right, unless I’ve done it a million times. Secondly, the meds just turn you into a zombie. Ok, maybe a sociopath. Either way, that’s not living. There’s a difference between living and being alive. Once again, another subject to talk about.

So, after years of struggling to improve I sat down and thought about what relaxed me and brought me joy. Fishing immediately came to mind. It wasn’t the act of fishing so much as just being outdoors in a secluded area without any distractions. I found clarity there. I found time to actually think about life and come up with a decent plan. Sadly, I’d usually forget the plan by the time I made it home but that’s ok.  At one point, I knew that I needed more time than just an afternoon or a weekend to really make a difference.

I learned through a friend that people canoed or kayaked entire river systems over many days. After researching the idea, I knew it was the exact thing I needed to do in order to make a difference in my life. I also knew that I had to do alone for it to really change me. I needed it to be tough. I needed to be pushed in order to regain confidence. I needed to survive on my own. I needed to learn how to approach strangers for help. I needed to become comfortable alone.

I also needed to save up some money because I was also homeless. I could only benefit from a journey where I was completely immersed in nature. The great thing about the outdoors is it’s simplicity. It is what it is. There’s no judgement, deadlines, or outrageous expectations. You just simply have to open your eyes to the world around you and go with the flow. On the river, you live on a totally different  timetable. I called it “river time.”

This scaled back way of life gave me plenty of time to process many of the things that caused major setbacks in my life. The repeated thoughts actually started to stick in my mind as well.  After a while I could tell I had much more positive thoughts about the world around me.  By the end of my journey, I had regained trust and faith in strangers. I also knew that I was going to be a much better father and friend. So far, its proven very effective.

Now that I’m on track and dealing with my PTSD much better I can maintain this progress with smaller outings. Its easy to get overwhelmed now that I’m off the river, but I know that a simple walk outdoors or a trip to the river can do wonders. It doesn’t have to be a 3 month journey.

This just a small introduction to a theory I found beneficial. Naturally, if you find nature stressful, avoid it. I’m not an expert, but I wanted to share my experience that helped me and I’ve seen it help others as well. I’ll continue to update this blog with any useful ideas or locations that we may find helpful. I also know a of a few links I want to share in my next post.

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