Snowshoeing saved my life this winter. It not literally saved my life, but figuratively. I don’t know how I would have survived the cold, dark, snowy winter without this sport. Here is my story.
Take care of your body, and take care of your mind. It seems like a pretty simple concept, right? Studies have shown an overwhelming link between positive mental health and a healthy fitness regime (even in winter). In looking at my own fitness, I think it’s pretty good. I eat well and remain active by snowshoeing in the winter and swimming and biking in the summer. Although I may not be able to enter any fitness competitions soon, I feel I am in good shape. I also have a pretty good life, with a great family, two wonderful kids, a great job, and a great home. Generally, things are going right.
So why was it that I was crying in my shower every day? Why was I feeling immense frustration when my children simply spilled a glass of water on the floor? It turns out depression can hit you out of nowhere. And boy, did it come at me hard. I was shocked and somewhat relieved to be diagnosed with depression at the start of the snowshoe season.
My first thoughts were, “I am that statistic.” The statistic that 1 in 5 Canadians will develop a mental illness in their lives.
Mental illness is no stranger in my life, though. My brother and sister have both been diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. My brother has gone one step further and created a clothing line to encourage people to speak about mental illness.
Depression can look different to everyone. For me, it was the struggle to pull myself out of bed and get my kids off to school. At that time, I wanted to sink back into bed and sleep the day away. Depression for me was wanting to hide inside whenever it got cold out. It was me not wanting to snowshoe or ski or do anything physical. Depression made me sad and unmotivated.
Part of my job is to snowshoe, explore new places, try out new snowshoes, and write about it. So I was forced to strap those snowshoes on for the good of everyone who might read something I wrote about in my articles. Thus, I couldn’t sit trapped indoors writing about a sport that I wasn’t even participating in at the moment. I couldn’t ‘fake’ it even though I wanted to hole up in my bed and invent a world in which I was motivated to get out there.
Getting Out There
One day, I had this pivotal moment where I didn’t know what I would choose. I was lying in bed, no longer able to sleep, with it still dark outside. I needed to find a way to get out of the house.
So I dragged myself to the door and layered on my winter clothing, grumbling to myself about how cold it was outside. I started to go out to try and get some clarity on things. Then, I noticed my snowshoes leaning on the door, and as there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, I decided to stick them on.
It was the best decision of my life. As I trekked along my silent street in freshly fallen snow, streetlights still on, I began to feel better. I breathed in the fresh air and looked back to see my tracks behind me. I watched the sun start to rise across the horizon.
As I walked along the back city streets for an hour, I watched the world wake up. I saw people get up and brush off their cars. I saw delivery trucks and people taking on the world one step at a time. Then, I returned home with a new sense of purpose and a spring in my step that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Help Your Mental Health This Winter
I won’t sit here and tell you that I got better immediately. But, I will say that every time I felt a tiny bit of sadness or lack of motivation, I put my snowshoes on and went out into the world.
Before I knew it, I got lost exploring the trails of my city that I had never bothered to explore before. I met up with friends and introduced them to a sport that meant so much to me. I conquered mountains and hills and treks I didn’t think I could do.
Snowshoeing pushed me to be better in life. I absolutely feel that if I hadn’t gotten on my snowshoes this year, my world would be a lot different right now, with a lot more darkness. But, it opened something up inside me, and I didn’t feel alone anymore.
Mental Illness is a very real and scary thing, and as more people speak out about it, the more people will feel comfortable talking about it. For more information on mental illness and how you can make a difference in someone’s life, please go to the Canadian Mental Health Association or National Alliance on Mental Illness.
What about you? How have snowshoeing and other winter sports helped your mental health during the cold, dark winter season? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
This article was originally published on April 20, 2015, and updated to include new information on December 23, 2021.