We often discuss the vast array of benefits that our children receive from regular time spent outdoors and in nature. What we routinely neglect to mention or focus on is how important it is for us, the parents/caregivers! Not just to provide positive role modeling, but to meet our physical and emotional needs, in order to be the happy and healthy people our kids need us to be.
This is true no matter where you live, but it is paramount in a place like Alaska. This is a place known for its remoteness and isolation, way up in the north, disconnected from the "Lower 48." Even here in Anchorage, the state's largest city, isolation is a very common experience. It is a land of transplants, with one the highest, if not the highest, rates of transiency. Few are born, raised and stay here. Even when you are, you become accustomed to making close bonds with others only to see good friends move away. Most have no local family support system to rely on. Combine this isolation with an extreme climate and drastic shifts in daylight and you have a recipe that can make even the most positive and educated people unexpectedly fall into a bout of depression. Now add kids into the mix - all the emotional, physical, hormonal and schedule changes that happen when you become a parent or add a new family member. For both parents, depression, whether it be postpartum or S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder), is a concern not to be taken lightly. Suicide rates in Alaska are exponentially higher than other places in the world, especially this time of the year.
What can you do to avoid this potentially dangerous place? Well, go on a Trek of course!
Part of the reason I started Taiga Trekkers was a need to get out, but I have a very active imagination that bears around every corner. I know, the more active I am, the happier I am. My son and I were growing out of the Cuddlers and Cruisers groups at Providence Hospital, and I knew I needed something to combine my need for exercise with continuing to network with other moms who had kids my child's age. I had so many questions, and the best resource is always peers. There is not a single thing that is better for a parent's sanity than other parents to share with and relate to. Nothing. Fortunately at that time the meetup.com group Anchorage Parents of Infants, Toddlers, and Young Children was just getting off the ground, and I started organizing and posting hikes there. The idea caught on and, at the same time, my good friend Lia started organizing Skedaddle. Together we came up with the Anchorage Outdoor Family Network. The combination of exercising, networking and organizing kept me from a place I thought for sure I would go at some point after the birth of my son - postpartum depression land. I never found it... then. My life was a dream. I don't want to rock the boat.
Fast forward 2 years. My son is now 3 and I'm 34 weeks pregnant, my husband is out of town for work for weeks at a time, our impending birth is not a planned one. My plate is a little full and I know I'm already heading down the trail of full on postpartum, before I'm even in the post. I'm not good at being slowed down physically. I'm a mover. I'm not one who can run a half-marathon when pregnant... well I did but that was before I knew I was pregnant and it kicked my butt. I go dormant in the sleepy stages of the first trimester and don't really recover until the baby pops out. I can usually eat whatever my heart desires because I'm always on the go burning calories. When there's a bun in the oven, this mama gets huge. I am depressed. I start going to counseling while my son is at preschool. She suggests getting together with other mamas, Check. Finding something I can focus on. Organizing a non-profit should qualify. Check. Exercise. Check... well kind of. I've been skipping out on the very hikes I organize. While, yes, I can afford to cut my Type A personality a little slack, when I do get to the hikes... those days are the best. I get my endorphins going, I've conquered my own road blocks and got my butt out of the sedentary place it was in. Getting my testy toddler with an OPINION out the door is its own great victory. We both get exercise, fresh air, camaraderie and stunning Alaska views. If I remember that sense of satisfaction of breaking through a barrier I can break through just about any funk. Like they say, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Taking care of your needs first, usually means taking care of your family's needs. That easily gets lost when you get lost in the vortex of your love for your children. I know. When you're hiking with your kid you are doing both.
My hiking friends are my surrogate Alaskan family. Many of us have had or are having our second kiddos, and we are supporting each other through meal trains, mama's nights out, swapping child care, passing down our children's outgrown clothes.
Ways to keep up morale:
Lots of people get caught up in New Year's resolutions that fall flat right away. To me this is the time of year to give change the momentum it needs to take root. The return of light and lengthening of the days is obvious now and the energy is palpable. Do something good for yourself and your family.
Although our winters aren't as severe or dark as in Alaska, they can seem that way to people who don't embrace what winter has to offer. Is it cold? Yes, but not once you start moving, even when it's -30. The secret to my happiness in winter is to embrace it. That seems to have rubbed off on my 12-year-old son. He says winter is his favorite season. You can ski, snowshoe, toboggan, build snow forts, have snowball fights...and this is from a kid who we literally had to force to learn to how to ride a bike. That's his red hood peaking up in the foreground.