Just a few short weeks ago, if you were to look through my eyes all you would see is pain. You would see hope falling through your hands like sand that once brought you so much comfort in the past. You would look up to the sky and wonder why the sun didn’t provide the warmth it once did. I contemplated whether my life was worth living. If I had to hurt this much, I did not want to go on. The thought of waiting one more day living like this, was absolute terror and sheer disgust.

I simply could not do it any longer. My anxiety had taken over and was inviting its good friend depression to unpack their bags and stay awhile.

Depression was a guest I was not familiar with. Sure anxiety always had a home with me, I had lived with it for so long that any sign of it was actually comforting. Like an old boyfriend who I knew wouldn’t serve my soul in the long run, but continued to let it through my door regardless. This time was different.

Depression aired its dirty laundry all over my house and made it impossible to feel happiness. Without happiness, I had nothing. All my life I have always been happy.

Through any ups and downs, I was optimistic, and I knew the light was never far from me. Depression weighed heavy on my heart and I felt no joy and no hope. My smile faded, and my thoughts were intrusive and dark.

Who was I anymore? I simply could not see the way out. I didn’t know where to go. I searched for ways to die. I looked up suicide hotlines online and read articles. It always led me back to not wanting to experience human form any longer. It wasn’t until I was hunched over lying on the ground outside with my fingers penetrating the earth that I thought to myself I cant go on. This was true. I could not go on like this any longer.

I remember breathing in the crisp air on a sunny beautiful day looking to the heavens for reassurance. My tears welled up in my eyes as I turned to the sun waiting for it to give me a sign.

It seemed ironic to me that on my worst day, my surroundings were so serene.

It was in that moment when my rock bottom scoured through my back and gave me no other direction to go. I had two choices. I could stay and die or I could make a change.

My world around me was falling apart. My husband lost his job, I wasn’t going to work, my thyroid was out of whack (made me feel more exhausted than I have ever felt in my entire life, and I’m a mom!), I felt like I was letting my son down, my family didn’t seem to understand and all the while I felt like I was an insane person needing a padded room.

Everyone’s story is a little different but when we strip away all the outside chaos, we find a perfectionist who wants to be in control and that is where my issue lied.

I wanted to give you a little back ground before I go into the meat of the story. What is a burger without bread right? Fast-forward a week when one of my soul sisters flew into town to help me. We decided to go inward and truly focus on ourselves. We tried to avoid our conscious mind that wanted to tell us what was best for us and get lost in nature. This is where our journey began.

I live near a beautiful national forest and we thought how cool it would be to hike a few miles and truly delve into nature. What a good remedy for the aching soul, to throw it all to mother Gaia. We packed almond butter sandwiches with fruit, a backpack full of water and of course her singing bowls. Oh, don’t forget the journal! We layered our long underwear and put fuzzy gloves on. We were totally prepared to go deep, deep, deep within ourselves. The universe had a whole different plan in store.

When we got there it was as suspected, COLD. We parked off the highway at a diagonal, which seemed impossible to get out of. We would deal with that later. And we were off. Off to wherever our intuition took us. We let spirit decide which trail to take and turned off our conscious brain as much as possible.

We met our first fork in the road and decided that the steep uphill climb was what our souls needed.

Not even a fourth of the way through and I was regretting that decision. My breath was labored and I was really feeling that burn in my thighs. We moved to the side for the people running past us. How on Earth is this lady running up this steep ass mountain?! I watched in awe of how this middle-aged woman didn’t feel phased running up what was clearly killing my 25 year old body. That’s when it dawned on me. She must have trained months or years to be able to run up this mountain and I have only just begun. Odds are she started exactly where I am, one foot in front of the other.

I quickly realized Mother Nature decided this hike would teach us about life. All right grandmother willow, I am listening.

We were going up the steep, rocky hike in our lives and it seemed nearly impossible to reach the top both internally and physically. We had to stop a lot on the way up and we acknowledged our pain we felt and honored our struggle. We knew it was okay because we had never tried to go up that path before. We smiled as people passed us and decided to stop halfway through. We sat down in the mud and dug our hands into the mountain staring at the surreal beauty around us.

We talked about our fears and released them into the earth. Even through the struggle, we couldn’t help but be honored to be apart of a world this stunning. We cried and laughed and thanked our ancestors for paving the path for us. We looked up at the rest of the steep mountain and trudged on.

We decided not to look up because it was too overwhelming to see how much further we had to go.

One foot in front of the other was our mantra for the day. Our legs burned more still and my head was getting dizzy, but we finally reached the top. It was as if we had stepped into a new world. The forest turned into a meadow with green grassy planes. We were sure we had just walked through Narnia. Even though we were at the top, it didn’t feel like we were finished. We were told the trail looped around and would spit us out where we started, which sounded great because we really didn’t feel like slipping off a mountain on the way down.

We continued on our path trying to find the perfect place to stop and eat, but just wasn’t sold on any place in particular. So, we kept on the trail. At this point, our bodies felt pretty dang good. We had climbed the steep dangerous trail and it appeared to be downhill from here. We giggled and joked around singing made up songs about our adventure.

The weather went from piercing cold to a warm squeeze from the sun. We took off some of our layers and took artsy pictures in the trees and rocks. We felt as if we wrapped around the mountain and were heading back to end our adventure. The terrain had turned into an African Savanna and we were sure we stepped into the twilight zone. What in the world is going on? We told each other how cool it was that it appeared as if we were traveling the world on this one hike.

I looked into the distance and saw a few horses trot with humans in tow and thought it was so mesmerizing. While staring at the ponies, I got a glimpse of the sky. Dark clouds hovering over us snapped me out of my haze and fear quickly took over.

We were not even close to being back to the car yet and I was beginning to really worry whether it would rain on our mountain.

My mind raced, and I thought of a thousand ways this could go wrong. If it rained, we could potentially slip and fall off the mountain and get seriously hurt or die. Floods could easily cut us off because of the many waterfalls and creeks that hugged the mountain. I looked at my friend and said, we have each other and we can get through it if it rains. Luckily, I looked at the wind and it appeared as if the angels had pulled the dark grey clouds up and away from us and onto a neighboring mountain.

This made me think that just because the most difficult part of the hike is over does not mean that grey skies won’t come. It isn’t a straight uphill climb, obstacles come in other forms and will continue to knock us down and strengthen us. I thought of my problems as an onion. It has many, many layers and the middle is awful complicated to get to unless you peel the outer layers first. If you cut down the middle into your onion, you are left with stinging eyes and tears.

I thought best to start with my smaller obstacles and work my way up to my core issues. That is what the mountain has taught me.

The mountain was whispering to me, sweet daughter you have only just begun. Starting is the hardest part and you pulled your first layer to prepare you for the next layer.

Dear child, she spoke softly caressing my ears with comfort. Each layer is more difficult than the next, but you will be ready for the next challenge as you strip layer by layer until you are left with a speck of what once was.

You must prepare, just like driving a car. You cannot learn to drive without learning to turn the car on first. You adjust your mirrors, learn the signals, and buckle up before you even press the gas. This is what you must do young one, she spoke with certainty. This didn’t ease my fears but gave me a new hope. Simply put, one foot in front of the other.

I kept thinking to myself, but what about all that time I worked so hard on myself in the past? There was a time where I overcame anxiety and prevailed. What happened to that? Do I really have to start over?

She kissed my cheek and told me I had climbed up the steep hill once before but when I reached the top I had stopped going. I was a marathon runner that stopped training and with that I lost what had helped me in the past. You mustn’t worry my child, all you need to do is push the cobwebs out of the way and flex those muscles you had forgotten about.

You aren’t starting over, you are remembering how to run.

With that, I had a new confidence and found a layered rock that was staring at me. Into my pocket it went. What a great reminder of my struggles and determination.

We walked into once again another world. How many other worlds are we going to see today? The moss had grown on the thousands of trees that were bellowing over us. The rocks that tucked into the wall of the trail had overgrown foliage and vines growing up into the deep blue sky. One tree grew sideways to rest itself on its buddy creating a tunnel for us to walk under.

We could hear running water and had felt we had entered the jungle. We decided to stop and eat because I was getting pretty hangry and dizzy. I thanked the mountain for the wisdom it bestowed upon me and ate my delicious honey, almond butter sandwich. People ran by us and we exchanged pleasantries. Looking up at the clouds just barely peaking through the ceiling of trees. It was getting cold and we were getting tired, so we continued on. We finally saw the end of the tunnel and out of the woods we were. Or so we thought.

I looked intently around at the road and this was not right. Cars were rushing by us as I looked down and up the street. My car was nowhere in sight. Oh crap, where were we? I looked back at the trail and the thought of having to walk back up and around seemed overwhelming. We had walked for hours without realizing, it would take us three hours just to walk back the way we came. My heart began to race. I took out my phone and saw that we had traveled 2.5 miles away from the car but we were not even in the same town anymore.

Okay, that isn’t too bad, we just have to walk alongside the road to get back to the car. We were still high up on the mountain and the road was a two-lane busy highway that carved through with barely any room to walk.

Although we weren’t far in miles, it was estimated to take us 50 minutes to walk back. I began to panic. Oh my God, the car is so far away. We don’t have our money or wallets on us. If we called for help, we are in the middle of nowhere. It would take longer for someone to come get us. Does this mountain get Uber?

My calves were screaming, and my back was weighing heavy with the singing bowls I just had to pack and the rock I picked up on the way. It was at least a thousand pounds and we must have walked at least 6 miles prior to getting to that point. I just couldn’t see how we were going to go on. My breath was becoming shallow and my friend looked at me and said, “We got this”. We once again sang, one foot in front of the other and followed the windy concrete road.

The buzzing cars that zipped by us drowned our thoughts of the many miles we had left. They were so close, we could have reached out and touched them. We looked out in front of us and saw that we had no more room to walk. We decided our best bet was to go into a manmade trench and walk it until more room opened up.

I went to grab the side of the rock to hoist myself down and lost my footing. It didn’t hurt but it sure scared us. I looked around the hole at the trash that surrounded me and felt like I was no longer on a serene mountain but a heaping pile of garbage. Is this what the universe was trying to tell me? That my negative thoughts and outlook is like throwing steaming piles of garbage into my beautiful pristine psyche? I climbed out of the hole and we hugged the side of the cliff so that the cars whizzing past could see us.

Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a taxi. What were the odds? We jumped up and down and waved him down, but there was nowhere for him to pull over. We made eye contact and with a shrug and a look of discernment, he sped out of our lives. The universe wasn’t about to let us get off that easy. One foot in front of the other.

Holding hands, we quickly ran across the road to the other side and out of harms way. We looked out at a pasture and saw a horse grazing. We stopped and began to say hi. I’m assuming we looked like crazy people saying “hi horsey! Do you like your food? You’re so pretty!” The horse stopped what he was doing to look at us and into our eyes. He didn’t come close, but simply stared. I could have sworn I heard him say that we were insane for being on that road. I totally agreed, but what other option did we have. As we said our goodbyes a car sped past and yelled, “Hey beautiful!” And with that we laughed. A much needed release of fear at the audacity of people hidden in cars. But that random guy was right. We are beautiful, and we can do this.

This was by far the most difficult part of our journey. It made the steep rocky, slippery trail look like a walk on the beach. This was the heart of my onion. This was the drunken vodka bottles, cigarette butts, empty chewing tobacco cans, and old McDonalds wrapper part of my journey. The garbage of my being. I had littered in my soul for years and left it to rot.

Garbage is not biodegradable (I know a huge shocker). It wasn’t something that would simply go away on its own. I have to individually pick them up off my psyche ground and dispose of them properly, or else they pile up until all I’m left with is a national park filled to the brim with putrid debris. The mountain had prepared us for this last walk to the car. If we had started here, I would have been too overwhelmed to go on. All I could think was that I could not allow myself to be swallowed by my own waste.

Fifty minutes went by of trudging through mini bottles of whiskey, old food wrappers, menthol boxes, dodging cars, embracing railings, and trying not to fall off the cliff. We finally saw my car in the distance. We jumped with a sense of peace and contentment. I closed my eyes and pictured my warm car shielding me from the treacherous walk from hell.

We began to sing once again, and I looked down and saw a butterfly seashell. How did that get all the way up here? We picked it up and saw an ivory shell with grooves of sand colored brown and a tattooed dark mark on the outer part. It was covered in mud and muck but we knew it was stunning underneath. This was a gift from above and with love and gratitude we thanked them for giving us such a gorgeous souvenir to take back home with us. The shell reminds me that no matter where you come from or how dirty you are, all can be restored.

We had about a half-mile left and I thought the worst was over. In a way it was, but my body began to shut down. My legs felt like I was dragging sand bags and began to shake. With every step, my leg collapsed a little bit more. My back began to pulse with the weight of the backpack and I could hear my feet telling me to stop. I looked at my friend behind me, having a very similar experience and told her we had to keep going.

If we were to stop, starting again would be much too difficult. Our bodies were reaching their limit and we needed to keep our eyes on the prize. Oh how easy it would have been to just sit down. I was too close to give up and began to run (well it felt like running, but with all honesty I was probably skipping at best). I reached the car and stripped off all of my belongings and breathed in the cool air. I hunched over in pain resting my head on the steering wheel. I closed my eyes and whispered thank you.

We drove away and replenished our bodies with food, a shower, and some sleep. Even though we were home, our bodies were sore and exhausted for days after. We went from the forest to a meadow to a savanna to a jungle and lastly to a human wasteland.

We felt love, joy, fear, peace, sadness, exhaustion, pain, and happiness.

It was an up and down battle during our hike filled with disgust and beauty. And in a world with duality, we must know that our journey will be difficult. It won’t be a quick climb to the top and the rest smooth sailing. It will have all the emotions, good and bad. It will be a staggering and exhausting trip but all well worth it.

You will come out not scathed free, but with a better understanding and wisdom of yourself. You will be stronger, that I can promise you, but expect to hurt. You will hurt for a while, but eventually your muscles will get stronger and that path you will run. You will learn to not get lost on a highway and take wrong turns.

The mountain is something we will always hike. It doesn’t go away. Don’t look at it like a daunting task but that its beauty is indescribable. Fasten your running shoes whether they are old or new and just start your journey.

I’m not out of the woods yet, but I have the courage to face my pungent garbage and that is enough. The mountain taught me a lot and I will forever be grateful for my struggle to get back home. It is never too late to sweep up my trash and be proud of who I am. Proud of all I have accomplished and proud of all I have yet to be.

My struggle is an up and down rollercoaster, some days are better than others. I thank the mountain for teaching me wisdom and peace to get through. I will reach the end of my tunnel, but I have the wisdom to understand that just because I’m in the light, doesn’t mean I wont have trials. I will be that marathon runner and I will be the me that I was meant to be.

Hillarie Grossi

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