Returning to Redwood Therapy

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The magnificent redwoods, my therapists

When I started tapering off bipolar meds in 2012 (which I’ll never do again since I almost died) hypomania caused me to become an exercise fiend. I was experienced at working out because I worked as a certified personal trainer at a gym for a few years. But when given a choice, I definitely preferred exercising outdoors. Bypassing a gym was economical as well, so I felt good about my fitness plan.

The road in front of my home wasn’t pedestrian-friendly; it was “pedestrian-deadly”. Our steep, curvy mountain lane was devoid of sidewalks, and speeding cars barrelled down it every few minutes. I needed a safe walking option, so I headed for nearby Fall Creek State Park, home to a centuries-old redwood grove.

Fall Creek is a tree lover’s dream containing old-growth woods such as Douglas fir, madrone, oak and ponderosa pines. I know it sounds hippie-dippy, but the energy in this forest felt almost magical. A unique sort of quiet enveloped me as soon as I got on a trail. Thick rays of sunlight peeked through the tree branches so that I didn’t feel claustrophobic. I loved smelling the fresh, pure air.

The state park attracted many visitors, but it was so large that I seldom came across other hikers. An occasional horse or two startled me, but they seemed mellow. As much as I enjoyed the lack of people, it was cause for concern, especially as a woman hiking alone. (This was before my glorious, protective collie Lucy came into my life!)  

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A place I call “The Hobbit Hole”

I bought a pepper spray and reviewed how to use it properly.  I always told my husband when I’d go to the woods. He wasn’t thrilled about my hiking in such isolation, but the pepper spray made him feel a little better. Whenever I went to Fall Creek I held the spray in my hand, ready to use it at any moment. I always brought my fully charged cell phone, and I was lucky I had good cell reception in the forest.

There were other risks besides meeting an unsavory human.  Mountain lions have roamed these hills for ages. Sightings were very rare; at least there weren’t any bears!

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A baby puma/mountain lion

However, there have been a few times when I felt that my sanctuary had a sinister feel. I think the creepy sensation was more about my projecting my dark mood upon the innocent forest rather than there being an actual cause.  This gloominess usually happened when the sun disappeared from view.  Sunlight always has had a tremendous affect upon my psyche, and I’ve used a bright Sunbox light for over a decade now.

When my med-free attempt failed and I relapsed, I admitted myself to the mental hospital once again. I was in the unit three times that summer alone. Patients weren’t taken outside unless they had a doctor’s note. (I wasn’t informed of that ludicrous policy when I was there. I found out about it long after I was released. It was truly insane that patients who were able to handle being outside with supervision weren’t exposed to fresh air and sunlight.)

After I came home from the unit, I couldn’t stop thinking about the forest.  I felt like a caged animal who had finally been given her freedom. The day I was able to drive to Fall Creek and walk on the paths I tread so many times before was a momentous accomplishment.  

During my summer hospitalizations there were many times I thought I’d never be in a forest again. After being cooped up in what I can only describe as a horrible hell, it was incredible to use all my senses to savor Fall Creek once more. While I was still depressed, it helped to be around my “redwood therapists” for their very real comfort.

Being in a mental hospital does many things to you.  For some resilient souls, they stay at a unit, they get out, and they don’t look back too much or get stuck when they reflect.  On the other hand, and I don’t use the following term lightly, I know I have PTSD from being in these units multiple times.

The difference between a locked-down unit full of suffering and a spacious forest comprised of graceful trees and streams is enormous. It doesn’t get more “bipolar” than the difference between sterile civilization and majestic nature.

This summer not only did I return to my beloved Fall Creek forest trails, but I brought Lucy for the first time, and per their spirited request, my two girls! Now more than ever before, I’m grateful for the freedom of being able to visit such a stunning, peaceful place with the ones who I love with all my heart.

I hope that each of you enjoys your own special place in nature as often as possible this summer!

Love,

Dyane

Mom & Girls @ Felton

Enjoying a yummy lunch at the historic Cremer House before heading to explore Fall Creek State Park

Girls

Dyane’s memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder will be published by Post Hill Press in 2017.

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My Redwood Therapists

imagesNo, the banana slugs are *not* my therapists…but they are pretty cool, aren’t they?

imgres-2These magnificent redwoods are my therapists!

Last year when I started tapering off bipolar medication, I became an exercise fiend.  I knew how to work out well because I was an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer in the late 1990’s.  After teaching in a gym for a few years, I definitely preferred exercising outdoors.  Bypassing the gym was economical as well, so I felt good about my fitness plan.

The road in front of my home wasn’t pedestrian-friendly; it was “pedestrian-deadly”.  The steep mountain lane was devoid of sidewalks, and speeding cars appeared on it every few minutes.  (If I could do it over again, I would have bought a different house on a street that wasn’t full of near-death experiences!) I needed a safe walking option, so I chose our local high school track.  The track was set against the spectacular redwood-blanketed Santa Cruz Mountains, which served as a beautiful focal point .  The weather was usually warm and sunny, and I brought my iPod so I could listen to my favorite music.  I timed my track walks to take place when students usually weren’t there.  Walking made me feel grounded and healthy and I rarely missed a day.  I knew that I needed to exercise regularly in order to achieve my goal of being medication-free.

One day I wanted a change of scenery.  I headed for a trail next to the track which led into Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park’s Fall Creek sector.  This state park is home to a centuries-old redwood grove.  It’s a tree lover’s dream as it has other old-growth woods such as Douglas fir, madrone, oak and ponderosa pines.  At the risk of sounding like a hippie (which I am, in a way) the energy in this forest feels almost magical.  When I entered the forest I encountered a unique quiet.  The quiet was interrupted when I approached Fall Creek, but its gentle burbling sounds were welcoming and soothing.  Rays of sun peeked through the tree branches so that I didn’t feel claustrophobic.  I loved smelling the fresh, pure air.

I knew the state park attracted many visitors, but I found it so large that I didn’t come across other hikers too often.  An occasional horse or two would startle me, but they seemed mellow. The lack of people, as much as I enjoyed it, was cause for concern, especially as a woman hiking there alone.  As a resident of the area for years, I read reports in our local newspaper of occasional illegal incidents in the park.  I bought a pepper spray and I reviewed how to use it properly.  I always told my husband when I’d be there.  He wasn’t thrilled about my hiking in such isolation but the pepper spray made him feel a little better.  When I walked in the forest I had the spray in my hand, ready to use at any moment.  I didn’t use my iPod in the forest for safety reasons and because I wanted to hear nature’s sounds.  I was surprised to observe another park regular, a female runner, pass me on the narrow, rocky trails wearing her iPod (and hardly anything else) – that definitely seemed like an unsafe idea. I also always brought my fully charged cell phone, and I was lucky I had good cell reception in the forest.

There were other risks besides coming across criminals.  Mountain lions have roamed these hills for ages.  I doubted that my measly pepper spray could fend off an attacking mountain lion, but actual sightings were very rare.  At least there weren’t any bears!  There was the remote chance that I could come across Bigfoot.  Yes, Bigfoot.  The park entrance was five minutes away from the town of Felton’s infamous Bigfoot Discovery Museum.   Despite the museum’s claims of Bigfoot hanging out around here, I never obsessed about running into the hairy beast in Fall Creek.

In case you want to learn about the Bigfoot Museum, (who doesn’t?) here’s the link:

http://bigfootdiscoveryproject.com/

However, there have been a few times when I felt that my sanctuary had a sinister feel.  I think the creepy sensation was more about my projecting my dark moods upon the innocent forest rather than there being actual cause.  This gloominess usually happened when the sun disappeared from view.  Sunlight always has had a tremendous affect upon my psyche, and I’ve used a bright Sunbox light for a decade now.

My med-free attempt did not work.  When I relapsed while tapering off lithium last spring, I admitted myself to the mental hospital yet again.  I was in the unit, off and on, for over three weeks last summer. Patients were not taken outside unless they had a doctor’s note.  (I wasn’t informed of that ludicrous policy when I was there.  I found that fact out long after I was released, to my disbelief.  It was truly insane that patients who were able to be outside safely, with supervision, were not exposed to fresh air and sunlight.)  After I came home, I couldn’t stop thinking about “my” forest.  I felt like a caged animal who was finally given freedom.  The day I was able to drive to Fall Creek and walk on the path I had tread so many times was a momentous accomplishment.  Many days during the past summer I never thought I’d be in the forest ever again.  After being cooped up in what I can only describe was a horrible hell, it was incredible to use all my senses to savor the park once again.  I was still depressed, but it helped to be around my “tree therapists” for their very real comfort.

When the Indian Summer shifted in much colder weather, I dressed for the chill in a down jacket and gloves, with plenty of layers.  Finally, when my walks became too uncomfortable despite all my gear, I stopped my Fall Creek hikes to use my home elliptical trainer.  I missed Fall Creek but I was still lucky enough to be able to look out the window and see trees and sky on the elliptical.

Being in a mental hospital does many things to you.  For some very resilient souls, they stay at a unit, they get out, and they don’t really look back.  On the other hand, and I don’t use this term lightly; I feel that I have PTSD from being in these places numerous times. The difference between a locked-down unit full of suffering and a spacious forest comprised of graceful trees and streams is enormous.  It doesn’t get more “bipolar” than the difference between sterile civilization and majestic nature.

I will return to my hallowed forest when the weather changes yet again to warmth.  Now more than ever before, I am grateful for the freedom of being able to visit such a stunning, peaceful place.

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