Hike it Baby Member Molly Porzel from the Harrisburg branch shares her inspiring story of how getting outside and hiking has helped her fight depression and anxiety.

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Today, I cried on the trail. Don’t worry, I wasn’t overwhelmed or frustrated (though I’ve had those days). Tears of happiness just couldn’t be contained as I pushed through the end of a 6.5 mile power-walk.

Three years ago, I was sick. I spent the first half of 2013 in and out of hospitals and the second half mainly bedridden and depressed. Even as my health improved, the depression lingered and began to fester in my brain. Sitting indoors and immobile took its toll and I had little motivation to fight the battle against my mind. By October of 2013, I decided enough was enough and swallowed an entire bottle of my medication in an effort to end my life.

That incident forced me to get the help I so desperately needed, but still every day was a coin toss of whether I would function normally in society or feel too paralyzed by my anxieties to get out of bed. Over time, I improved immensely and in January of 2015, my husband and I found out we were expecting.

Just when I thought I had some semblance of control over my mind, pregnancy exacerbated my anxieties. I was worried for the life inside me and cut my medications cold turkey out of fear that they would harm my daughter. I committed to being more active, if not for myself then for my baby. At that point in time, I had no idea what Hike it Baby was, I simply wanted to have some physical control over my anxieties and walking in my neighborhood seemed to help.

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Fast forward about a year: I had a new infant, lots of postpartum hormones, and absolutely no support group as my husband’s job relocated us. Meeting other parents frightened me, as I always felt like I was being judged. Taking my baby out in less-than-ideal weather was out of the question because I was afraid of something bad happening to her. I had stopped walking in my neighborhood because I lacked the motivation to be physically active. I was a student with a full course load and I used that as an excuse to keep myself and my daughter secluded from the world. Despite my attempts to be active during pregnancy, I was floundering.

Once I realized the negative toll my isolation was taking on me, I sought out some sort of support system. When I mentioned that I wanted to meet other parents, someone recommended that I look into Hike it Baby. I thought the concept was absurd as I was likely the last person someone would think of when the word “hiker” was mentioned. After watching the Hike it Baby Harrisburg Facebook page for a couple weeks, I mustered up the courage to attend a downtown stroll.

That stroll gave me the motivation I needed to get moving – it felt so good to have adult conversation and time outdoors! I joined the April challenge and even though walking a mile in my neighborhood left me winded and my anxieties had us doing most of our miles without the local branch, my daughter and I achieved our goal of 30 miles.

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Over the course of the summer, I got a lot more comfortable leaving my home and hiking with other families. Hike it Baby Harrisburg has turned into my family and my safe place, where I’m welcome to discuss the trials of motherhood rather than create a facade to mask them. On days when my depression begins to creep back into my life, I combat it with physical activity and time outdoors. My daughter shows an affinity for nature that I was unaware an infant could be capable of. I’m living my life, truly enjoying it, instead of watching it pass me by.

Yesterday, I got a migraine. I succumbed to the pain, stayed at home and indoors, and even ate a few ice cream sandwiches to ensure that my personal pity party was complete. This morning, I woke up to the remnants of that migraine, almost like a hangover from the pain. I wanted to stay indoors and repeat yesterday. Instead, I joined my branch for a 3.25-mile power walk. After that walk, I completed another 3.25 miles by myself.

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So, why did I cry? I wanted to give up. My brain argued that I needed isolation. My brain implored me to rest. But Hike it Baby has conditioned my body to fight back against those parts of my brain. Hike it Baby has sparked a fire that allows me to combat the darkness that I once fell victim to. I cried because I am a fighter and that is one of the best feelings in the world. I wish I could go back to my 2013 self and tell her how amazing it feels to fight.

I cannot thank the National team and the local branch team at Hike it Baby Harrisburg enough. You guys are changing lives and I’m grateful that mine is one of them.

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