Outside My Mind

by Owen Emerson

Jennifer Hu / Daily Bruin

Did I remember to take my pill last night? How do I look? How is this day going to go?

My shoes crunch over snow as I walk toward the cliff.

How many miles do I have to hike today? What do my friends think of me? I wonder what we’re eating for breakfast.

I move past trees weighed down by blankets of snow.

Is my camera OK? What if the cold is too much? I think I need a new one. What am I going to do after high school? Will college be OK?

I reach the edge of the cliff and stop.

Half Dome stares right at me on the mountain across. The campsite and forest surrounding me is covered by fresh snow. The air is silent, and my mind goes blank. I breathe deeply, taking in the cold, fresh air and release it in a visible, ephemeral cloud. The only quick, audible noise comes from my hands releasing the camera shutter for a picture.

All my worries and thoughts are forgotten, ideas and opinions lost, angers and frustrations disappeared.

Clinical depression runs deep on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother suffers from it, and my mom underwent therapy, so it made sense that it would be passed on to either my sister or myself. It hit me, and it hit hard.

Thoughts of sadness, worry and fatigue suction onto my brain and won’t let go. I’ve had days where my thought process was so controlled by negative emotions that it no longer felt that I was controlling my body, like a dementor squeezing all happiness and care from me.

At first, I hated the outdoors. I was dragged out on tiring walks with my family and climbed up never-ending mountains in Maine that only made my knees hurt and body ache. But that ache turned bearable as my body grew stronger, and after years of adventurous travels to different environments, I saw more of the world and loved it more. I stood out from most of my high school friends, who had never gone camping and weren’t used to the experiences of summiting mountains or hiking through forests.

During a vacation in high school with my family, we hiked through Coyote Buttes North near the border of Utah and Arizona when we began hiking through a series of petrified sand dunes.

I walked alone into the dunes, immersed in silence and surrounded by walls shifting in shape. Reds, oranges and yellows were all naturally painted into the delicate and fragile sand walls. Seeing the incredible beauty of what lay in front, all my problems seemed minute and incomparable to the greater sense of wonder that the world and my environment offered.

This feeling of being overpowered by nature shook my emotions to their core and made me realize the true importance and purpose of living. The summer before my freshman year of college, I went on a weeklong backpacking trip into Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite with Outdoor Adventures, a group within UCLA Recreation that leads UCLA students on backpacking and camping trips. During one of our hikes, we stopped by a waterfall to take a dip. I wanted to be more adventurous, so I started climbing up the mountain of boulders that the waterfall ran down. As I carefully stretched my legs and arms up each slippery surface, I slowly made it to the top. Perched on the head, I looked down at the water rushing in and out of the giant wall of rock crevices I had just scaled.

I was in complete awe of how I had conquered the feat without falling, but even more excited to see what was below me.

Many of the guides and students had seen my inspirational solo journey, and followed in my footsteps. After everyone had climbed to me, we all looked out over the lake and expanse of forest that laid in the distance.

From the flow of water to the grass meadows and mountain ridges beyond, it was like a scene out of a painting. And it wasn’t just the landscape that moved me, but the people I was with. They had all shared the same daring vision of adventure to scale the climb and join me for some fun at the top.

Sunbathing on rocks in Joshua Tree, taking deep inhales of air from under the giant sequoias looming over me, Half Dome’s presence catapulting my mind into a state of awe and searing sunset hikes in Idaho replaced my thoughts with sensorial dopamine.

My mind was so taken over by the beauty and groundbreaking feelings of being in nature, that I was no longer Owen Emerson, but a singular being freely existing and knowing no boundaries. This was the ultimate therapy to my affliction, a way to wipe my mind of the noise inside and replace it with Mother Nature.

I took my pill, but I didn’t need it. I looked amazing. The day was great.

I never recorded how far I traveled. My friends were always there for me. Breakfast was delicious.

My camera was fine. The cold was sensational. And life is good.