Consumed with anxiety and indecision, one year ago today, I boarded a plane to North Carolina. For five days, I planned on backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, but that wasn’t what was making me nervous. Instead, it was a decision I had been avoiding for weeks and time was ticking away.
That dilemma? Whether to quit my job or keep at it for another year. Teaching was quickly wearing me out, and I was frustrated that I could only travel during certain times of the year. I needed more freedom. But, there was stability in my job and since I had been at the same school for seven years, I had great friendships with people who made going into work each day less painful. But, that didn’t heal my exhaustion, especially while balancing teaching English and keeping up with the blog. I knew my career in teaching was holding me back from living the life I wanted and something inside of me was telling me it was time to say goodbye. I gave myself an ultimatum: make a decision on the trail.
So off to North Carolina I went to meet up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in over four years. Christy and I barely knew each other, as we had met for a few days on a cruise in the Bahamas. But we were about to embark on a life-changing journey. Turns out, we both needed each other to get to this next stage in our lives.
Adding to my nerves and anxiety was the fact that I had never spent an night in the woods this way or carried all I’d need on my back for hours each day. Add in bears, collecting my drinking water from a stream, and cooking over a fire, this was all overwhelming, especially with what was on my mind. But, I embraced the unknown and hoped it would help me get back where I needed to be.
From Asheville, Christy and I drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where we would begin our life-changing trek. As soon as I stepped on the trail, I knew I was in over my head. I wasn’t in the shape I needed to be, and the previous weekend I had been partying at a bachelorette party; it was a bad combination. But, with Christy’s help and support, I pushed through.
Each day got easier, as my body got stronger and conditioned for the hike. But, the real work was what was going on inside of me. During the hours we’d walk each day, there was a lot of time to think. Often, I’d weigh my options to help make my decision. But, most of the time, the thoughts I had were about the trail,
Just put one foot in front of the other.
What was that noise?
That fly buzzing around my head is going to drive me insane.
Ouch, ouch, ouch
Aside from thoughts, I counted my steps and sang, a lot. For me, the walk was meditation. I needed to calm my monkey mind to release myself from the anxiety and that’s what I was doing. For the first time in weeks, I began to feel better.
For five days, I was away from technology and communication with anyone other than Christy and the very few people we met on the trail. We were both at a crossroads and tried to use our time to help each other out. We sang Disney songs while endlessly trekking and laughed each evening over the day’s events while comparing blisters. We had deep conversations about life and what we wanted out of it. It brought us close together in a way we couldn’t have imagined when we had met in the Bahamas.
But, even more than that, it gave me time to analyze my life in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to do in years. Instead of putting everyone else first and letting my worries get the best of me, I thought about myself. I concentrated on my goals and dreams. Letting go of my job would allow me to go after those more than ever, so what did I have to lose?
After walking for fifty-five miles, I arrived at Standing Indian Campground feeling conflicted. Happy to be off the trail with a shower and beer in my future, I was also back to reality, which meant making that hard decision. I wasn’t ready; my head and my heart were still not on the same page, but I was finally listening to my heart. I knew it would take a few days for the work I did on the trail to soak in.
By the time we got back to Christy’s house, I knew what I had to do. Still, I was terrified of making that life-changing decision. I knew I could always go back to teaching, but I could never go back to my school, and that was scary, as it was a place I truly loved. But, I was also afraid of not allowing myself to move forward. That fear of being stuck is what propelled me forward. The day after I got home, I went into work and quit my job completely unsure of my next move or how the year would pan out. Spoiler alert: everything worked out, as it usually does.
Christy made a few life-changing decisions of her own after I left. She put in her application for travel nursing, something that she had been thinking about for a while. A few weeks later, I found myself back in North Carolina to help her move across the country to Oregon. The trip was during the time I’d be heading back to school, so we were able to start our new lives together; in my mind, it was a sign that we both had made the right decisions.
Though the journey was tough, both physically and mentally, it healed me just as I hoped it would. My anxiety stuck around for a few more months, until I fully healed during my time in India, but not once have I regretted my decision. Sometimes we need to get out of our comfort zone to live the life we dream of. My time on the trail taught me to trust myself and gave me the strength and courage I needed to change my life for the better. I may not be exactly where I want to be, but I do know that I’m closer than ever.
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