One woman’s search for emotional healing guides her outside her own doorstep into the embrace of Mother Nature
I’m a wife and a mom. I buy groceries, give hugs, cook meals, plan adventures, scrub floors, and wash dishes. I’m also a writer and I homeschool my teenagers, and for the past two and a half years I’ve been trying to work remotely full-time, travel with my family full-time, homeschool full-time, manage a full-time graduate school schedule, and start my own business. To say it’s been too much is putting it mildly.
I knew it was too much for anyone to handle (apart from Captain Marvel or Superwoman perhaps, neither of which am I anything like), but I told myself it was temporary – a necessary evil in a season of necessary transition. Still, it’s been too much for too long, and I feel myself breaking and barreling towards burnout.
I’m in the process of untangling myself from the fray, reducing my workload, finishing projects, adding margin to my schedule, and learning how to rest in simple pleasures — but admittedly, it’s hard to let go.
I don’t deserve a medal or an accolade; what I need is therapy – someone or something to help me find the real me again.
I saw a therapist for the first time last summer. Although I grew up believing therapists and counseling were for people unlike myself – people with problems bigger than mine – thankfully, someone taught me better. On top of overcommitting myself, I had been through a lot the year prior, and I was feeling shaky. So, I made an appointment and drove the hour it took to get to her office. It was raining, and I was so nervous by the time I got there that I spent the entire hour babbling on about nothing to the point that she didn’t get a word in edgewise. I made a follow-up appointment a few weeks later to try to remedy the situation, to listen and seek her advice, but the same thing happened again, and I felt worse when I left.
In that moment, I realized that therapy can mean different things in different seasons of our lives. I needed to find my kind of therapy, so I started looking outside, and I found it in nature.
Some part of me knew nature was my therapy all along; it just took me a while to embrace it.
As a little girl, when life got too heavy and too hard, I would grab a journal or book and run outside to the big sweetgum tree in our backyard and sit there reading and writing until things turned around. As a teenager, I would go for bike rides on old dirt roads to sort out my feelings. In college, I would take my books to the big open field on north campus and watch deer meander through the meadow while I tackled the never-ending stack of homework.
As a young mom in the suburbs, my husband and I chose the home with woods in the backyard and a neighboring wooded lot. In the spring and summer months, I took my babies outside for bike riding, walks in the cul-de-sac, and runs through sprinklers — driven indoors only by the summer heat. In the fall, we gathered piles of leaves and jumped into them. We even got outside in the winter months too.
When my kids were older, we moved to the coast for better weather, and I piled them into the car every other day for a drive to the beach where we enjoyed hours of fun in the sun.
Eventually, we ditched traditional living and started traveling full-time as a family to experience nature all over the U.S., to connect with our kids on a deeper level, and to escape the unnecessary busyness that was plaguing our lives. Since then, we’ve seen 48 states, spent months in national parks and national forests, tried our hand at sailing, and had unforgettable experiences in our rolling 200-square-foot camper home.
Looking back, I can point to the times when I’ve been my best self; it’s always been the times I was immersing myself in nature. Other times, it felt like something was missing. I should have seen it sooner.
And now, I go back to nature again for the therapy I need to help me shift toward my best self in this new season. Thankfully, it seems to be working so far.
Just recently, I felt a peace I haven’t felt in a long time as I drove with my husband to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to watch the sun set over islands, mountains, and a dense fog rolling over ocean waves. The next morning, I stepped out of my camper door and hopped onto my paddleboard at high tide in the salty waters of Somes Sound to take in another stunning view. A harbor seal watched me warily as I stared at the mountains in the distance, breathing deeply and enjoying the water for hours, letting a deep sense of gratitude wash over my soul’s broken spaces.
In moments like these, it seems like I’m living inside someone else’s journal entry from a beautiful vacation week on the coast of Maine, but thankfully, this is not a week-long vacation. As I write this, I’m sitting outside on a cliff overlooking the outgoing tide while birds sing back and forth to one another from neighboring islands announcing the storm that’s rolling in.
Because we’re slowing down our family travels for a while, we’re parking our little rolling home here for the foreseeable future, and I know it’s exactly where I need to be to heal.
Nature is my therapy.
It may not always be this way, but for now, I feel more alive in nature, like I’m coming back to myself. I gain perspective and peace, and I find it easier to walk away from the clutter I’ve invited into my life. I may have to try returning to a human therapist when I need another shift (hopefully she won’t run the other way), but in the meantime, I’m leaning into what I know helps.
My life feels too loud sometimes, too chaotic, too full. So, I step outside and let the woods and the salty-sweet smell of the sea take me to another place. I feel alive almost instantly, miles away from the bleary-eyed mama standing over a sink full of dirty dishes I was only moments before.
My brain feels too tired sometimes, too full, too scattered, like I’ve been asking too much of it for far too long. So, I close my MacBook and step outside. Almost instantly, I have a new perspective, a clearer view. I feel awake and alive, thankful and free.
My heart feels too heavy sometimes, too worried about the world, too defeated to be a part of the solution. So, I go for a walk with an audiobook that helps me realize I am a part of the solution and my voice matters. I come back to my family an hour later a new woman.
These stories play out over and over for me. I feel like myself when I’m sitting outside, even if I’m writing or working or teaching homeschool to my kids, my breathing is easier, my face rests in a smile, and I can relax. This lets me know my nature-therapy is doing its work.
When I’m depleted as profoundly as I have been these past few years, I have to find what feeds me, what fills me up, what gives more than it takes. My faith does this sometimes, and so does my family and friends, but in those relationships, I’m far too tempted to perform – something that can be destructive for people like me. With nature, there is no performance, no temptation to be anything other than me. No pressure to keep a conversation going, no way I could be depended on for anything.
I show up, and nature is there to feed my soul. She doesn’t need one thing from me.
“I can’t believe we get to live here,” is all I could say the other night as we watched the sun set on top of that mountain in Acadia – words that have been echoing in my mind ever since. The fact that we’re surrounded by so much beauty still astounds me. I’m not extremely wealthy by the world’s current definition of the word, but my life feels richer and fuller than I ever imagined it could. I didn’t inherit a home here or grow up in this wild and wonderful place, but I’m raising my children here as a girl who found her thing and chose a life that’s allowing me to chase it – even if that requires a tiny home and camping lifestyle to achieve.
John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
I’m pretty sure he was talking about me, and I often wonder how many people feel the same. For every soul searching for his/her kind of therapy, seeking respite from days, weeks, months, and years that are too much, too heavy, and too busy, maybe nature could be your kind of therapy too. There’s plenty to go around. Let’s remember to embrace Mother Earth and care for her as she does us…let’s return the favor.
You may also enjoy reading Nature Rx: The Healing Power of Nature, by Justin Bogardus