May is Mental Health Awareness month. I’ve gone back and forth on writing this article. What pushed me to this side of the fence is realizing that if it this helps one person get through their struggles, my personal reflection will have been worth it.
Covid has brought a number of things to light over the past year. Unfortunately, the prevalence of mental health issues and suicide increased more in the past year than any other 12-month period. Maybe my story can help you or someone you love.
A long line of athletic injuries not only kept me from the sport I love but also from spending time hunting, scouting or doing pretty much anything physically demanding outside and it sent me into a deep depression in late 2020 and early 2021. I suffered in silence, trying to be the strong athlete that couldn’t be shaken. But things got so bad that I lost hope in ever regaining my life and the physical well-being I once took for granted. My self-worth was trickling out, and as a someone who is learning how to hunt big game, that too seemed to be lost before it had even really begun.
In early March 2021, things were at their worst. My income was anemic, I had more physical limitations than any 29-year-old should, and both of our dogs had died in the preceding seven months. Things had been better to say the least.
My grandfather lost his life to suicide before I was born, and at times, I couldn’t help but wonder if my destiny would someday be the same. Luckily, one of my closest friends and former college teammates invited me out to his ranch to hunt wild boar. Having never shot anything bigger than a specklebelly, the thoughts of harvesting my first critter got my behind in the truck. He set me up in a drainage ditch near where the pigs typically entered the barley field and drove off yelling, “45 minutes!” (until they typically come out). As I sat there, only accompanied by my thoughts and a .308, I waited for the pigs to meander their way out of the junipers. Sitting, watching and lost in thought, I waited. The pigs never got the memo, but those uninterrupted 45 minutes provided an opportunity for intrapersonal dialogue that changed my life and allowed me to address the root of my sadness. I realized that I was a good person and had a lot to offer the world. Somehow, the mantra, “tough times don’t last, but tough people do,” crept into my head and never left.
Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and realizing I wasn’t alone or the only one going through challenging times was the biggest hurdle.
In the past, I would have a recurring dream where I’m backing up my truck, but I can’t find the break. It’s a terrible feeling that typically awakens me. Now, I’m no shrink, but it doesn’t take a genius to put those pieces together. Finding a way to spend time in the outdoors helped me find that break and throw the truck back into gear. In the effort to overcome the self-imposed mentality of “these are my problems and no one else’s,” I’ve since opened up to people around me about what was going on and was surprised by the amount of unwavering support. Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and realizing I wasn’t alone or the only one going through challenging times was the biggest hurdle.
I’ll leave you with this: If you’re someone who is dealing with depression or any adversity in your life, you’re not crazy, and you’re not alone. Everyone has their struggles in life, so don’t be afraid of how you will be perceived for being vulnerable. The reality is people will respect you. Talk to your closest friends, get the help you need, and get outside with your buddies because there are bigger and brighter days ahead. If you know someone who is struggling, take them on your next hunt, whether it be for sheds or a world class bull elk. There’s something about the rawness of nature or a backwoods fire pit that has a way of melting one’s walls.
I may not have seen a single pig that evening, but what I took from those 45 minutes allowed me to gain the confidence and hope I was missing. It’s always great to go out in the woods and fill a tag, but in many cases, we can walk back to the truck with something much more valuable than a punched tag.
You Are Not Alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health connect with one of the following organizations and a mental health professional.