Dealing With Post-Expedition Depression

Leading up to an expedition is a stressful time, and even during the expedition you’re faced with physical rigor and unimaginable requests of endurance from your body – but you wouldn’t have it any other way. We often run into the same problem after the expedition when we’re home planning for the next trip or just “relaxing.” But we don’t really relax. All the downtime spent on the couch is spent recounting the days on the mountain, the snow, the good times, the ice, even the weather as annoying as it may have been at times. Once your boots are firmly on the ground, you find it hard to not have crampons on. You look around and don’t know how to manage the concept of walking into a grocery store and have no one know you just climbed Everest or K2 – no one around understands mountaineering life and most don’t even know mountaineering is a “thing.” How do you cope with this? How do you cope with wanting to be back on a mountain that terrifies and beats you down at every turn?

Believe it or not, it’s more similar to being in love with the wrong person or when someone you know tears you apart with their actions, but you just can’t live without them. It’s a toxic love. And it can lead you down a path of false redemption when something goes wrong or the stars haven’t aligned right.

How to Cope With Being Home

The first thing you need to understand once you get home is that if you’re married or in a committed relationship, they’re happy that you are home. Some of the things they may say to welcome you home may upset you and sound like they don’t care about your love of mountaineering, “Now that you’re home, we can get back to the important stuff.” “I’m so glad you’re off that rock.” In your head, you’re probably wondering why they’re so happy you’ve been taken from what feels like “home.” But you’ve got to leave that mindset and think of yourself as two people, that together, make a whole person, the man/woman on the mountain and the parent, spouse and friend at home.

RELATED: Relationships and Mountaineering: Why You Shun it But Shouldn’t 

Finding a spouse that accepts mountaineering is an arduous task on its own, trying to hold onto them once you have them and handling post-expedition depression at the same time is worse than climbing the mountain in the first place – for many, their solution to this is to leave again and not deal with it at all.

In his book, Left for Dead, Dr. Seaborn “Beck” Weathers recounts how until the 1996 Everest Disaster that almost killed him, he had neglected his wife by disappearing into the mountains every time he got the slightest bit of post-expedition depression and missed the mountains. On many occasions, he’d leave without ever telling her where he was going. Part of his reasons for leaving was an attempt to not deal with the separation of the mountain and his family. He did not want to choose, he did not want to work on it, he just wanted to be in the middle because being home felt like a place he sometimes did not belong. But he didn’t want to admit this and risk sounding cruel to himself.

The first step to dealing with post-expedition depression is to identify that this is the problem you’re experiencing and why you aren’t as happy as you could be. The second step is to tell your spouse about it and, even if you’re not married, sit and reflect on the following:

  1. As with all things, and expedition must come to an end.
  2. Your family and friends need you to give them all of you when you’re home.
  3. The mountain will always be there, your life back home may not be.
  4. If the expedition does not end, you’ll never have a chance to miss the destination and want to do it all over again.

You Don’t Just Miss the Mountain, You Miss the People Too

Once you understand these things, you can move on to accepting the end of your adventure. Start by taking a very long hike while you’re home. Spend some time completely alone for a few days. Give yourself the chance to miss the comfort of your home and life. Part of the reason your depression surfaces is because, whether you know it or not, you’re not just missing the mountain. You’re missing the mountain, the environment, the people and your team. These aspects combined create an environment you don’t want to leave, sharing the laughter, frustration and hard work with others working toward a common goal that no one else understands. But this isn’t something that can last; everyone, including you, must go home.

The best thing you can do is separate yourself from others before returning to the routine of life. When you don’t do this, all you are experiencing is the exchange of one group of people for another, your family/roommates. It may sound harsh, but your family does not have the tools to compete with the environment you just left, neither do your friends, parents, work or the town you live in.

Acceptance of the End is Hard But Necessary

While you are away, work on accepting that this expedition is over. The team is back home, the season has ended and you need to get back to your life and responsibilities. If you do not work on this, you will be in a constant state of melancholy that will lead you to overthink everything and the inability to focus. This can come back to hurt you when the new season comes and you’re so eager to move, move, move that you may fail at many things within your expedition plan because, in the back of your mind, you are still reeling from the thought that this one too will end. You will try to cram every ounce of fulfillment into the next expedition and leave no space for genuine enjoyment.

Accept what cannot be changed.

If you’ve reached a point where you begin spiraling down in the next season and nothing seems to go right, do not just head out on a “redemption” mission just to prove to yourself that you can still do it. This will get you killed. Wait until you have your mind sorted out and are clear-headed, confident again and in a better place to tackle anything too difficult. We will talk more about this in a separate article in the future. But until then, take life day-by-day and try to remember why you married your spouse, why you moved in with your roommate and why you love the people around you. Recount stories from home to yourself to help you remember that this too is a great part of your life and one you don’t really want to give up.

2 responses to “Dealing With Post-Expedition Depression

  1. I don’t think I’ve seen it explained like this before. Most of us don’t know what to call it. How do you tell your wife you are not happy at home without sounding like an asshole? This is some perspective. Truth.

    Like

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