News & Events
Nature Heals by Connor Boyle
The following is a brief account of the writer’s struggles with mental health, how nature immersion played a major role in addressing his struggles and a link to an Outside Magazine article titled “Science’s Newest Miracle Drug is Free.”
“A grassroots movement of physicians are prescribing time outdoors as the best possible cure for a growing list of ailments. Can they really convince big health care that free medicine is the way of the future?” - (“Science’s Newest Miracle Drug is Free,” Aaron Reuben, Outside Magazine, 2019)
Can they convince big health care? Probably not. There are not enough insurance reimbursement dollars for prescribing a hike in the mountains or time in a kayak. But are they correct in believing in the healing power of nature? Yes. Yes they are. And I am living proof that nature truly heals. Not in a symbolic or metaphoric way, but in a real, tangible and magnificent way.
By 2018 I was back living in New Hampshire after a dreadful, short, and, simply put, pathetic time living in Florida. The disastrous “Sarasota Experiment,” as I now call it, was not doomed from the beginning because of anything having to do with the location. It had everything to do with my suffering mental health. By the time I got to Florida I was entering my ninth year as a practicing corporate attorney and my eighth year of significant substance abuse. I also was mired with sporadic anxiety attacks, debilitating depression, and an exponentially growing apathy toward my own life akin to a frog sitting in increasingly hot water and never jumping out. And although my eating disorder and passive suicidal thoughts were behind me, their departure from the ranks of my mental health crisis were due to my overwhelming indifference towards anything meaningful, and not due to any efforts I had made to work on those issues.
The anxiety was bad. Although I was no longer going to the emergency room because I was sure that I was having a heart attack, the attacks would virtually, if not literally, paralyze my body while sending my rabbit-hole exploring mind into overdrive.
The depression was worse. I couldn’t retrieve my mail, let alone open it. Waking up to no texts or missed calls was eclipsed in self-loathing only by waking up to literally any texts or missed calls and the panic and perceived pressure associated with having to respond. If God came down and told me that there was a pill on my nightstand that, if I took it, would cure all my problems, I likely wouldn’t have had the motivation to take it. And speaking of pills, I was on all of them. Well, “on” is a generous term. Rather, I was prescribed all of them and was too depressed or drunk to ever take them consistently.
And speaking of “drunk,” I was all of the time. But gone were the days of simply drinking after work. I needed alcohol in me at all times to stave off the withdrawals and the fear of suffering another round of withdrawal-induced seizures I had experienced in the past. Also gone were the days of drinking only vodka or whiskey. Listerine, after all, resulted in a different kind of drunk when the normal kind of drunk was no longer sufficient to effectively remove me from reality. A reality that I could not stand to bear.
Back to 2018. I was at my parents’ house. I was drunk by virtually any standards but in my view, maintaining functionality. I felt slow. Hot. And my father approached me in the kitchen and asked me what was going on. He wanted to know precisely what was happening to me. He acknowledged my drinking was certainly an issue but, beyond that, I had lost much more than my sobriety somewhere along the way. I lost who I was. I had lost everything that mattered. I responded by saying that I had no self-worth, no self-confidence, and no self-value. He was visibly taken aback. And although those realities had become so embedded in my own mind that they just rolled off my tongue as if I was reciting the alphabet, his physical response took me aback. At one point in my life I had been the high school valedictorian, a dean’s list student at a prestigious college, top of my law school class, and had an impressive office at the most highly regarded law firm in Boston but now I had no self-worth, no self-confidence, and had no self-value. You see, every hour of my life had made sense to me given the previous hour. One thing leads to another and you lose track of how you got to where you are. But the sight of my father sinking back as if he’d been shot in the stomach made me realize how far I had fallen.
From there the answer was relatively clear – It was back to rehab for me. My first rehab stint, although, not a complete waste of time by any means, did not stick. With the help of a tremendous family friend I ultimately landed in North Carolina at a wilderness treatment facility.
Forty hours after arriving I was medically cleared to go into the woods, where I would spend thirty-seven of the next forty-five days and nights backpacking, meditating, camping, and learning who I was. And two days into my time in the woods my facility therapist approached me to discuss medication options, as he had been told by everyone in my circle that medication seemed to be the only possible way to combat what was going on with my mental health. He said to me, though, that he did not know what to prescribe me because, in fact, there was nothing to prescribe, nothing to treat. He was right. Two days into the woods and my depression had evaporated. My anxiety had vanished. My self-loathing had completely dissipated. I literally had done nothing other than enter the woods with an open mind, the willingness to be engulfed by nature, and the hope to heal. On that day, and for the next forty-one days in Pisgah National Forest, I continued to heal and grow. There were small steps that I did not fully understand until much further down the road. And there were large steps that could not be denied in the moment that they occurred. The most meaningful coming in the form of a true physical release of shame and guilt, a sensation that I felt literally, not figuratively, through my back and shoulder and release into the night sky above me.
Don’t get me wrong, there was more work done than simply entering the woods. But that was the first step. That was the most important step. And while my guides and friends in the woods helped me a tremendous amount, there is no doubt in my mind that nature not only facilitated but initiated the growth. But to say that I have no doubt does not do my certainty justice. When I say I have no doubt about nature’s role in my healing it is more like me saying that I have no doubt that 1 + 1 = 2. It just is. And nature just is.
Some things are subjectively beneficial – going to the gym, reading your favorite author, painting, etc. But others are objectively cathartic. True not because they benefit us and we like them, but true in and of themselves. Nature is objectively cathartic.
I encourage you to read this article. It speaks in technical and concrete terms to a subject that I can only write anecdotally about. And I encourage you to explore nature not just for exercise or fresh air (although those are certainly worthwhile endeavors by themselves), but for its inherent healing ability. Take it from me, it is a real thing. As real as the mountains are high.
If you are interested in reading the article refered to in this post, it is available here.
Connor Boyle is a Board member of Chasing Jade Horizons and a long time New Hampshire resident. He earned his BA from Bates College and his Juris Doctorate from North Eastern University School of Law. Following a nine-year career working as a corporate attorney, Connor, after a period of personal exploration and growth, transitioned to working in and with the recovery and mental health community. Connor focuses on wilderness emersion as part of his and others growth, introspection, and catharsis process. He is an avid hiker and fitness enthusiast.
The following was shared with Chasing Jade Horizons by Cristin Cahill, LCMHC. Cristin is a currently a guidanece Counselor at Hollis Brookline High School in Hollis, NH.
During these challenging times, here are some skills you can use to manage the range of emotions you may be feeling. These can be remembered using the acronym IMPROVE.
I- Imagery: Create a visual image of a place that is calming and peaceful. This place can be real or imagined. Use all of your senses to create as much detail as possible. What do you hear, see and smell there? What does it feel like to be there? What are you doing while you are there?
Imagery can also be imagining things going well, such as envisioning yourself responding skillfully to a situation. This can prime your brain to recreate your imagined experience when you are in the actual moment.
Imagery can also be remembering a time when you did not feel the way you do. This helps us remember that emotions are temporary and not permanent. They are like visitors who will eventually leave. I personally like to bring myself back to a fond memory.
M- Meaning: Find meaning in the pain. This can be challenging, yet, it helps to remember even in hardship we can find some positives. You might find that people are reaching out to you more, which help you recognize how many people you have to support you. This will not take away the sadness felt from the changes you are experiencing; however, it does create more balance in our emotions.
Sometimes, you might not find meaning in the moment but possibly you will in the future. For example, perhaps you will find that people enjoy more meaningful connection after we can spend time together again.
P- Prayer: No matter what your belief, the concept here is to connect to something greater than yourself, in order to recognize that life is much bigger than the moment you are in. Some people find this comfort and strength in their religious beliefs, while others find this in nature and the world around them. Imagine laying outside and looking up at the sky and comparing the vastness of what you see to your own small place in this world. Watch the clouds shift and change as a reminder that things are not constant, and will change.
R- Relaxation: This can come in many forms. You may choose a breathing exercise or progressive muscle relaxation, you might take a warm bath or shower, or do some stretching exercises. Do something that eases the tension in your body.
O- One thing at a time: When you are feeling overwhelmed be mindful to only focus on one thing at a time instead of thinking about everything that is happening around you currently or could happen in the future. Practice saying to yourself “right now, in this moment, this is what I can do”. Creating a daily schedule for yourself can help you focus on the moment and create a sense of daily purpose.
V- Vacation “mini”: Take a mini vacation from your life. Escape into another world through literature, a movie, exploring places you might like to visit, or go on-line and virtually visit different places.
E- Encouragement: How can you offer yourself some words of support and encouragement? Some examples of this are “this too shall pass”, “I have dealt with tougher things than this”, or “I know things are challenging right now, and, at the same time, there are many things I am grateful for”. Create a list of things you are grateful for, each day. The idea is to find some words or phrases that feel genuine to you and offer you some support. You can also find encouragement through others, every week I see so many wonderful examples of how people are supporting each other!
Adapted From: Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Orange Theory Fundraiser – August 25, 2019
On Sunday, August 25 at 11:15 Board Member, and fitness coach, Jennifer Brennan led an Orange Theory class at the N. Manchester location to raise money for Chasing Jade Horizons. It was great day and a successful fundraiser. With the funds from this event and our previous events we were able to donate $2000 to Making Community Connections Charter School, Manchester campus, to provide mental health training for both students and staff.
Presidential Traverse Fundraiser
On July 4, 2019, Co-Founders, Allison Spencer and Rob Huckins traversed the entire Presidential Range in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to raise awareness for youth mental health in our state. They were joined by Zack Stone and Connor Boyle and began in the early, pre-dawn hours with Mount Madison and from there headed to Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, and Pierce before decending via the Crawford Path. Thank you to everyone who supported our efforts!
Mount Washington Climb
On February 14, 2019, Board Member Ann Melim headed up Mount Washington to raise money for Chasing Jade Horizons. It was a cold day with 50 mph winds. Ann made it to Lion’s Head before making the tough decision to turn back. Ann raised more than $5000 for Chasing Jade Horizons. We are so thankful for her efforts and support!