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Personal: Don’t Jump

In December of 2015, after a long downward spiral during my senior year of college I attempted to commit suicide. I’m not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “30% of colleges students reported feeling ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function.'” Even as a Resident Assistant who was trained to help other students through their mental health problems. Even after coping and meditation training. Even after walking other students to the hospital or to counseling because of their suicidal ideations. I still attempted to commit suicide.

The question I get the most about the incident: “What stopped you?”

To be honest what saved me is what I have long considered to be my worst personality trait: GUILT. Everything makes me feel guilty and worried. At that moment standing at the top of that parking garage, I saw people walking on the sidewalk below me, people driving past in cars, a couple holding hands and eating ice cream. If I jumped and landed right in front of them, hopefully dead, I would completely ruin their days. That poor couple would probably think of a dead girl every time they ate ice cream… Is that really something I wanted to put on someone else? And as much as my suicide was about me, I realized that no matter how I did it, I was hurting someone else as much as I was hurting at that moment. To me, that didn’t seem fair.

What drove me down this dark road was a large mountain of problems and feelings. But most of all what I felt during this time was loneliness. Even though I had some friends and parents who loved me and told me they loved me, I spent the majority of my time alone due to my ridiculous schedule. Since my depression and anxiety were so bad, I also found it difficult to be around people. I just wanted to be alone and asleep.

The day after my attempt, I went to the hospital for other physical problems unrelated to my attempt. In the emergency room they ask you questions about your mental health. I answered those questions honestly. I was sent to the psych ward. I was admitted on a Sunday and left that Friday with new medication, new friends, and an exhausted sense of hope. My parents, my sister, and my aunt and uncle were very supportive through this process.

Fast forward almost two years and I am back in New England at my new psychiatrist’s office in Boston.

I am starting a medication that I have taken before again. I am beginning counseling again with a new counselor. I am fighting my depression every morning when I get out of bed and my anxiety every night when I return to my bed. I am trying to do all of the things that my doctors say will make me feel better. But it is really hard to do all of them and to feel like myself. As the days get shorter my appetite fades and my insomnia kicks in. I begin to see in myself that college senior and I try even harder to do all of the things that are supposed to make me happy.

Although at first I regretted it, I am glad that I got help.

I am trying my best to push on and that’s all you can really do. If you are in need of help or you need someone to talk to the hotline is always available: 1-800-273-8255. I am also available through my contact form or any of my social media.

If you are planning a long hike, like me, it is super important that you’re mentally ready, especially if you are battling a mental illness. I know that the trail makes me feel better and happier, but it is also a mentally challenging thing and it will not solve all of my problems. Your depression won’t magically go away, do something about it.

Thanks for reading,

Rachel

 

 

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Personal: A Big Decision

When I first thought about this decision I said, “Do I really need to publicize every decision I make in my life on social media?” Then I remembered the agony, frustration, uncertainty, and confusion that I felt when making the decision and how I wished someone could just tell me what to do or why. Hence, I am writing this to tell anyone else who is unsure of their path that it is okay to feel these things, that these are some reasons why you might also make the decision that I did, and that if you need someone to talk out your ‘quarter-life crisis’ with I’m here.

So here it is: every reason why I made this decision.

I’m pretty sure I’ve been sabotaging myself from the get go.  

From taking a year off to doing poorly on my first exam, registering for an online class without owning a computer to not making sure I had wifi every Tuesday for said class, missing the registration deadline for my second LSAT to misplacing my syllabus before the first day of the class, I clearly didn’t have it together. That’s the thing: I usually have it together. If I want something I make a plan, stick to it, get it. If I don’t want something I half-ass it, ho-hum about it, and make justifications (*ahem* excuses). My parents saw all of this, why didn’t I?

Statistically, I have a 10% chance of having the career I actually want in the legal field.

If you were given a choice to spend ~$150,000 and 3 years of your life with a 90% chance that you WILL NOT get what you paid $150,000 and 3 years of your life for, would you take that chance? I want to do humanitarian work, societal improvement, legal counseling, environmental protection, and other ‘do good’ legal things. I also don’t want to get stuck in a corporate cog just because I have to pay my bills. There’s a 90% chance I’ll be in that corporate cog with $185,000 worth of debt (including undergrad loans) miserably working 60+ hours per week. For what?

Law is not what it was when I first decided I wanted to attend law school.

Once upon a time, in a far away land called Massachusetts 2004 there was a young girl who met an old lawyer. She was wealthy, wore fancy suits, drove a nice car, had her own house, and was very intelligent. She went to law school for less than $20,000 total. Her house was mortgaged at an affordable rate. Her car was payed off by her 40’s. She worked in corporate law.

In 2004 there were about 1 million registered lawyers in the US total. In 2017 that number rose by more than by more than 300,000. During that thirteen year period the job market tanked, the stock market crashed, the great recession raised inflation, the cost of living more than doubled, and the chances of a top school went from scoring a 160 out of 180 to a 178 out of 180 on a standardized exam.

What 9 year old me saw was opportunity, financial stability, intelligence, and exciting things to read (which was all I did back then). When high school me rolled around and decided to go into helping professions I saw the law as another way to help people. An official way. A smart way. When college me rolled around I saw non-profits and state governments and Boston immigration law. When post-grad me rolled in she saw crippling debt and her parent’s couch.

I read a book called Don’t go to Law School, Unless and you should too if you are considering law school.

Someone decided to make the contents of the book into an amazing flowchart. This flow chart, I kid you not, made me cry. But it was the brutally honest answer I needed to a question that I didn’t want to ask: Should I really be going to law school? READ IT!!

I want to put my mental health first because I don’t want to end up where I did before.

As most of you know, I was hospitalized in 2015 after a suicide attempt. I met some of my best friends there, learned a lot about myself and coping, finally got on some much needed medication, and realized that my schedule and lifestyle was killing me slowly.

To put it this way: I once put my career above all and it brought me loneliness, misery, uncertainty, and a need to please everyone else. I don’t want that. I want happiness, excitement, and passion behind my work. I want a reason to get out of bed every morning. I want to have a sense of purpose. I don’t want to be stuck inside all day feeling guilty for wasting a perfect fall day. I don’t want to feel the need to harm myself. I don’t want to live life in my bed or behind my desk wishing I wasn’t there.

I am BROKE (just like most millennials)

It feels as if I am putting the integrity of my entire financial future on the line for a 10% chance I may get what I want. Sure, you say, but someone has to be the 10%! The fact that I may not be that 10% and that I would have to rip pages out of library books (I feel worse about ruining the book than screwing over the student that needed it) to get to that 10% for the next 3 years just does not seem worth it to me.

I was once very competitive. I even cried in a math professor’s office over a B+ during my undergrad because my GPA dropped 0.5 points over it. I don’t think that I want to be that obsessive person anymore.

$35,000 is a lot more manageable than $185,000. As much as I love my parents, I don’t want to live on their couch for the rest of my life.

Rachel, SO WHAT?

This was a really difficult decision for me. I’m sure it is a difficult decision a lot of people have to make. I am really thankful that I have extremely supportive parents who helped me through it. But I also know that not everyone has parents like mine. Seriously, if you need help with a decision like this I am here and there are a lot of people who will still root for you.

All the feels:

I am feeling (despite the fact that people have told me I don’t need to feel this way and I know that I don’t) guilty, lost, ashamed, scared, overwhelmed, anxious, happy, exhausted, unsure, and so much more than that. Those feelings are totally okay. I’m essentially losing a part of what I thought was my identity. I will, obviously, rebuild. But 2015 Rachel would have seen this as a life-ending and devastating blow. It is not.

Thank you for reading my rant.

I specifically am not editing this post because I want it to be raw and communicate actual feelings.

Keep Trekking,

Rachel (trailname TBD)

 

Special thanks to:

Mom + Dad

Disclaimers:

IF YOU NEED HELP (mental help) PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call someone or use the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255

If you need someone to chat to about your life, I am really a live person here with feelings!

Don’t make this decision because I told you to, just do the research.

 

 

Pre-Trail: I got my pack!

So this week my pack finally arrived, after being detoured in the mail due to hurricane Irma, and I love it! You can see all of my base gear here. I realized when I got my pack cover in the mail the week before this that I had accidentally bought the wrong size. So I did end up finding one on a gear forum on Facebook for $10 that had only been used once.

I had originally planned to go camping this weekend at Baldface Shelter in Evan’s Notch. This plan was derailed by a surprise visit from thunderstorms. Welcome to New England! Without a pack cover or a plastic liner inside my pack I didn’t want to risk getting my sleeping bag or down jacket wet. Instead, I decided to test out some of the gear I have anyway by packing my bag up a few different ways to see what I liked best (will do a separate post once I have my gear in order), weighing my pack (25.6 lbs with 2 days of food and water), buying some trail food, and taking an inventory of what I still would like to get.

Here’s what I had packed for the weekend:

Untitled presentation

The first aid kit will definitely be edited before I leave. I love my HydraPak and really want to bring it. But I am concerned with its many parts that something will most likely break. I may take it and just use it until it breaks! I will probably get a compression sack for my sleeping bag.

My clothes bag just contained extra clothing for sleeping in and a warm layer:

UP 3

Not pictured here: a Nike quarter zip longsleeve light weight running top; Rain coat. Also not pictured here my Chacos (post to come about why I won’t leave them at home).

My cook kit, which I will be doing a separate post on later, consists of:

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I will most likely be switching out my Light My Fire Spork for a long handled spork of the metal variety. The Bic will be switched out with a Bic mini. I found that pot scraper lying around from a stoneware kit my mom had so I may replace it, we’ll see. I love my pot so far, my only qualm is I can’t use it over a campfire. But, there are sticks for that! I have been keeping my cook kit inside the mesh bag that the pot came in but I may ditch that later.

My food bag contained two days’ worth of food. Varying slightly but they essentially looked something like this:

Food

I would like to add more starch for lunch, maybe some pita, and possibly one or two more snacks. I will also be adding some BCAAs for muscle recovery. I will not be buying nuts in shells again but these were on sale. They’re hard to eat with sweaty hands and while walking. I will definitely have to experiment with calories and possibly add more.

My toiletries bag contained:

Toiletries

I will probably add more to this, but this was enough for a weekend.

In conclusion, I will definitely be changing some things up. But this is major progress!

Things I still NEED to get:

  • Water Filter + Dirty Water Bag
  • Trail Runners + Insoles
  • Bear Kit of some sort
  • Compression Sack
  • Head Lamp
  • Trekking Poles
  • Underwear
  • Waterproof Phone Case
  • External Battery
  • Summer bag liner (might buy on the trail), I sleep hot and will not need a down bag all summer.
  • Light Wallet
  • New Headphones (probably Yurbuds)
  • Gaiters (Dirty Girl)

Things I still WANT to get:

  • Butt pad
  • Pillow
  • X-Mug
  • Bandanas
  • Snow Peak Hot Lips

Things I MIGHT bring:

  • Kindle
  • small notepad, pen, mini sharpie
  • B12 supplements
  • Guthook’s App (need $$)

 

That is all for now in the world of my progress! Keep trekking,

Rachel (trail name TBD)

Bonnie the sleep expert added food aficionado to her résumé:

 

 

Bonus:

 

 

Gear: The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1

The Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 has been a dream so far! I’ve used it for two nights so far along with my Marmot Angelfire bag and my Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad. My favorite thing about this tent is the weight. At just over 3 lbs. including the footprint, this lightweight tent will fit perfectly in my pack for the trail.

With temps only in the 40’s the sleeping bag was a bit too warm. But with one leg out and half unzipped it was perfect! The bag was so comfortable and soft. The sleeping pad was difficult to inflate, which is mostly attributed to being used for the first time. I had to inflate it manually, close the valve, roll it a bit to move the air to the end of the pad, open the valve again, and blow more air. Once inflated it worked really well and was quite comfortable. I will say, though, I would not recommend this pad to side sleepers who are not used to sleeping on ultra-light pads! On the second night it inflated on its own really well and took about 3 minutes.

Now, the tent! It held up well. Both nights it was not windy, rainy, or excessively cold but I loved it anyway! The mornings were very dewy, as they typically are in Maine in the fall. I stayed completely dry, even my sleeping bag. The tent was easy to set up, just under 3 minutes. The single pole practically snapped together on its own! The rain fly even had a prop for the ventilation screen above the head of the tent. Although not very roomy, it will work fine for a single thru-hiker with enough room for me and my pack. I wasn’t even nervous about my sleeping bag touching the sides of the tent because there was almost no condensation on the inside of the tent.

TL;DR: I love this tent so far along with my sleeping bag. The sleeping pad, however, is still up in the air!

Safe Trekking,

Rachel (tntbd)

Thank you to Chuck at REI for  helping me pick out my equipment. Big Agnes for making an awesome tent. And Marmot for the perfect bag!

The biggest thank-you to Bonnie, my sleep expert, for testing out my tent with me:

 

 

 

Pre-Trail: REI!

Thursday I jumped on the bandwagon and went to REI in Framingham, MA. IT WAS THE BEST DECISION I’VE MADE YET. I walked in and was greeted by an employee who directed me to a guy named Chuck. Chuck had personally hiked the Appalachian Trail, is a product tester for REI, and teaches courses on backpacking and beginner thru-hiking. I think I learned more in the hour that I spent with Chuck than I have in the many hours I’ve spent researching.

First we talked packs. He measured my torso and I tried on a few 60L packs. He put weighted pillows inside the pack so that I could see how the pack will feel fully loaded. He helped me adjust all of the straps and showed me in a mirror how each part of the pack should look when it is fitted properly. We talked about the pro’s and cons of designs, brands, and yearly updates. After all of this we settled on the Deuter ACT Lite 60 + 10 SL Pack for Women. I also nabbed a pack cover from Sea to Summit from the REI Garage for 30% off!

Next we moved on to sleeping bags and sleeping pads. We talked about DownTek (treated down) vs. Synthetic and settled on the better quality warmth and breathe ability of down. I picked up a Women’s Marmot AngelFire 20 Degree Mummy Bag. They let me try it out at the store and I loved it. With it I bought a Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad.

Lastly we moved on to Tents! We decided that I would prefer and side door one man or one man high volume tent. Chuck showed me the REI Quarter Dome 1, the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1, the MSR Hubba NX Solo and the Nemo Hornet 1p. After holding each tent to feel the weight differences and watching videos on setup and features at home, I ordered an older version of the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1 off of the REI Garage online. I saved more than $200 combined on the tent and the footprint! Although I can’t return it (all Garage item sales are final) I think the that amount of money I saved on my most expensive piece of gear was worth it.

My Essential Gear:

 

 

 

All told this REI Expedition cost me roughly $900. In addition to this I spent $20 on an REI Co-Op Membership! This one time $20 fee lasts your entire lifetime and they were doing a promotion, so I got a free $20 gift card to REI! So essentially I got my membership for free. The membership gives me 10% back on most REI items at the end of the year. I highly recommend spending the money on a membership. The advice and help I got at the store was amazing and definitely worth more than $20. I am also attending a class on August 29, 2017 on the topic of Thru-Hiking Basics which Chuck himself is teaching. Overall my REI experience was amazing and I definitely recommend visiting your local store before your hike.

Now that I’ve bought all of this gear, I am not positive I will be keeping all of it because my Aunt and Uncle are donating their old backpacking gear to me. So if that free gear is useful to me some of this may be going back. But the budget I got all of this base gear on is pretty great!

Other important advice from Chuck:

  • Aim for light colored gear.
    • Light colored gear is easier to find and organize in dimly lit situations.
    • Ticks and other small, harmful bugs are easier to see on light colors.
  • Put your heaviest items near the middle/top of your pack against your back.
    • This helps the pack distribute the load across your shoulders, hips, and back.
    • Weight will not rest only on your hips, reducing bruising.
  • Learn where to be frugal.
    • The pack that fit me best and most comfortably was actually my cheapest option even though it wasn’t the pack I originally went into REI to look for.
    • The tent I decided on was the most expensive option, which Chuck recommended splurging on.

All I can say for sure is GO TO REI!! 

 

Safe Trekking,

Rachel (trail name to be determined)

 

Disclaimers:

Featured photo of REI Framingham is from This is Framingham because I forgot to take a picture of the store! (Thanks TIF)

Although this advice and gear worked for me, it may not work for you so keep an open mind!

Thank you to my Aunt Marci + Uncle Paul for the gear donation (post to come)

Who I am and Why I am Here

 

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Why I am here: Because I want to do something I love, for myself, before it is too late (I know I’m terribly selfish). I also hate routines and the stagnation of typical day-to-day life so I am really excited to break up the monotony.

Who I am hiking for: Me.

I am hiking the AT because I love hiking, I love being outside, I love being on my own, and I want to accomplish something that I have always dreamed about doing. No longer will my dreams be just dreams. They will be accomplishments.

Who I am: Rachel. A 22-year-old with ambition and a penchant for the great outdoors.

Who I really am: A young adult battling Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, and little to no sense of purpose in life.

I have two beloved cats, Bonnie and Clyde:

 

 

And a really cool, silly, and supportive family, without whom I would not be able to do this:

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I am a recent college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Globalization with minors in Philosophy, Elementary Education, and Communications. I am attempting to go to law school in the fall of 2018 after my thru-hike. My school of destination is to be determined soon.

What I hope to gain from this experience: A better sense of purpose (or maybe a release from the need to feel a sense of purpose), a stronger mind and body, the proof that I can do anything I set my mind to, and the experience of all of the people I hope to meet along the way.

Follow along with me throughout my journey on this blog, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and GoFundMe.

Thank you all for your support!