How the Outdoors Helped Me Fight Depression

You can step outside and view beauty at anytime and it’s always going to be there. It never goes out of style.

Millions of Americans suffer from some kind of depression. Whether that be situational depression, long term struggling with depression, or even just the changing seasons; struggling with depression is hard, and struggling alone is even harder. I graduated from college in May of 2015. I spent months of grueling, 12 hour days of pure studying for the MCAT and then in the evenings trying to maintain a relationship, a job, and my sanity. I was dirt poor (I ate only rice for a whole month), I was working my ass off to stay afloat financially, and I was constantly tired. I vividly remember falling asleep on a date that I worked months on to plan and the whiplash of hurt that caused my girlfriend afterwards. In October, it all started crashing down. I was rejected from every medical school I applied to, my current job started cutting back my already dwindling hours, I was even rejected from a measly $18k/year job at a call center. I had to move 5 hours away for a job in the middle of nowhere, and one month after that...my long time college girlfriend left me at my best friend’s engagement party. I felt completely alone, utterly worthless, and a total failure. Depression had me in its grips and I was done trying to fight it.


Sounds like a miserable story right? It would indeed be a terrible story if that were the end, but thankfully someone came along and showed me something I had seen before, but never truly reveled in. One of those days that I was passed out drunk on the hardwood floors of my tiny apartment, a friend dragged me up out of there and into her beat-up SUV and drove me into a field of rolling hills and oak trees. She put a camera in my hand and pushed me outside. The burning orange/red light of the sunset hit my eyes as it sprayed its orange rays on the soft grass. I’ll never forget that. It was the first time in nearly a year I had watched the sun fully set beyond the horizon. That changed me. It changed my attitude, too.

I’m not saying that all my problems vanished! I still was poor, I was still single, I was still working in the middle of nowhere, and yet… it was ok. The outdoors has a way of putting life in perspective. It allows you to take a step back and look at life from earth’s perspective: You’re alive and you’re looking at something beautiful, and just that is worth living for. I think that gets lost in our consumer-centric society. You can step outside and view beauty at anytime and it’s always going to be there, it never goes out of style. No one ever stopped watching the sunset because it was too old and dependable. Nature is a checklist that never is fully completed. There is always somewhere new to go, another point of interest to add on the map, another new sight to see. You can never see it all, and that gives me hope for tomorrow. That means regardless of what happens to me or to you, we are never without the hope of viewing something extraordinary and new. That simple truth changed my entire perspective on everything, and it still is.

Struggling with depression is hard, I’ve been there, and some days I’m right there with you, in the trenches, fighting that battle. But there’s hope and joy to be found in the outdoors. There’s beauty to be viewed and to celebrated every minute of every day, regardless of whether you are rich or poor, single or married, loved or unloved. There is beauty out there, waiting for you to find it and revel in its loveliness. So next time you are feeling down and out, why not take a walk in the woods, a jog through the green grass, or a full-fledged sprint into the sunset? There’s beauty there. It’s waiting for you to revel in its grandeur. Get outside, go find something beautiful.

Published: February 21, 2017

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Matt Van SwolExplorer

Augusta

Matt Van Swol is a self-taught landscape photographer, writer, and nuclear scientist for the US Department of Energy. After personally struggling with depression for many years, he is passionate about showing others t...