There are mental health lessons to be learned from nearly every activity. For NoStigmas volunteer and contributor Mike Bushman, the most indelible of those lessons were embedded on hiking trails. During the next few months, we will share the best of those lessons, and how they apply to everyday life for so many.
11) Finding Good Role Models Matters
I had just finished scrambling up the Sub Dome portion of Yosemite’s Half Dome. In front of me was a massive sheet of granite, some of it angled at 45 degrees. It was slick rock and an impossible angle. Realizing this, the Park Service embedded metal stanchions and wood footboards into the granite, connected by thick rope on both sides of the trail.
Even with the safety equipment installed by the Park Service and gloves on my hands to protect me from shredding my hands on the ropes, I was skittish. I stood at the bottom of Half Dome, staring up and wondering if I could make it to the top, or even still wanted to do so.
That fear must have been etched into my expression. As a few finalized their descent, they passed me and encouraged me to try it. “You can make it,” some said. “It’s worth it,” others exclaimed.
I didn’t want to fall short of the summit. My fears and anxieties were grappling for control. When that happens, I try to battle back with logic, moving the decision away from the amygdala section of my brain that wants to remain in fight or flight mode. I looked ahead to see who was ahead of me. Some of the people pulling themselves up the cables as they scrambled between footboards were younger, stronger, fitter. But some were not. I looked for people I could identify with. People in less than ideal shape. Maybe older. I listened to a few verbally fighting their anxieties with each section.
I saw enough of myself in the people already making their way up that I was encouraged to try it. If it turned out to be too hard, I could always turn around and join the group passing by on their way back down. I made it to the top, enjoying the stunning view of Yosemite Valley one direction and gazing off to a small forest fire in another.
Perhaps more than any other time in my life, that day instilled in me a sense of the importance of having role models. Even when we’re finding our own path, seeing that others have carved their own, unique path can be the role model we seek.