If you type Harts Pass into the Google search browser, you get a listing of images, videos and websites solidifying the danger of this mountain road. It’s description, according to DangerousRoads.org, is the ‘highest mountain pass that you can drive to in Washington State,’ with a summit of 6,100 feet above sea level. At the peak, you can camp overnight among the mountain meadows and the remains of a once lush forest, now reduced to charred skeleton from years of wildfires blazing through the area.
While dangerous, the hairpin turns along the crag of the mountainside will even out, bringing you to the peak, where there you can rest in complete silence and serenity—besides the few campsites occupied by PCT thru hikers and adventurous families, you are completely alone in the wilderness, devoid of cell service, electricity and the stresses of your daily life.
I’m not much of a person for heights—I admit, that while I love hiking, I still experience the dizzying sensation of my vertigo setting in when I look over a cliff (or, to be more honest, a railing). Even with my feet firmly placed on the ground, the image of falling makes me panic—all it takes is one thought of what ‘could’ happen to trigger it.
The idea, though, of what sparks my vertigo made me wonder: What if this sensation isn’t vertigo, but a branch of my own anxiety? The cause is the same—a simple thought ignites a story in my mind of all the ways things could go wrong. And from there, it overpowers me.
I’ve dealt with extreme anxiety for most of my adult life. At some points, the anxiety is minor, but there have been days, weeks and even months when the feelings are unbearable. Mainly it’s social anxiety I’ve dealt with—I tend to convince myself that my friends are annoyed with me or do not want me around, that even though they haven’t said anything to confirm that suspicion, I convince myself that I am not worthy of their friendship. I isolate myself, shut down when these feelings start to appear. I’ve lost friends because of it, I’ve ended relationships with people I truly cared about, just because I was afraid.
Ninety percent of the time these feelings are wrong—I let my analysis of something consume me, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of this, and I try to push through the anxiety until I can feel better. Once these feelings subside, I’m left with a clearer idea of how happy my future can truly be. But what about that other ten percent? Those are the moments I can’t control, the things that make me doubt myself and my inner strength. It’s a constant, uphill battle, where the roads are narrow and rocky, and the only thing you can do is keep going, even when you are afraid.
That was my last year. My worst fears came true—people I once relied on could not understand my melancholy, and instead of listening, they told me to suck it up. I fell deeper and deeper into the darkness, fighting my own inner demons without a hand to hold. I didn’t know who to trust anymore, who to confide in. I hurt people I cared about, sabotaged my own happiness. I felt completely alone.
Things always seem to get worse before they get better. At Harts Pass, even on the clearest of days the road is treacherous. When I traveled up the road, we had been playing chicken with a thunderstorm in the distance. The hope, of course was that we could make it to the peak before sundown, and that the storm would go over us. But as we pushed closer and closer to the top, it became more evident that the worst was going to happen, that the storm would reach us right on the ridge. We were afraid, alone, without protection. And the only way we could go was up.
It’s important to test your inner strength, to remind yourself of your confidence and your ability to survive. For so long, I had lost that part of myself. I had let my own anxieties take over, obsessing over what others thought of me and why, and let that shape my opinion of myself. But at that moment, with lightning crashing through the clouds outside our car, the wind pushing us closer and closer to danger, I suddenly forgot about the party I wasn’t invited to, the people who made me feel like I didn’t matter. I wanted to survive this, to see this through, and to return with renewed energy and confidence.
As we entered the campground 6,000 feet up, we could finally park and wait the storm out. As the rain patted against the window, and the winds died down, I looked out to the sky to see a sight unlike anything I’ve experienced before—there, above our heads and out on the ridge, was a rainbow. In the Bible, a rainbow was a symbol to Noah representing the promise that God wouldn’t bring another flood. It was a sign that everything would be ok.
That was what that moment brought me—it was a reinforcement of confidence, a promise that with so much change and regret in my life, that I would be ok. It was the push I needed to welcome peace back into my life, and begin again.
This may be an apology to those I hurt in my past. This may be an excuse I use to justify my feelings and my actions. But really, what this is, is a release. I know people don’t always like to talk about their own mental health, myself being the number one offender. Anxiety has always been my own personal demon, something that I was ashamed of for so long. But I’m not ashamed anymore. That’s why I want to open up, to be honest with myself in a form I am comfortable with—writing. This is my rainbow, my moment of clarity, my moment to remind myself that everything is ok.
Clarity is a series of personal essays or vignettes about my travels and the lessons I learn while there. You can read more pieces of Clarity here.