Banner rests in our backyard in Chicago
Have a nice day!
Banner's favorite toy, especially when
stuffed with treats and cheese
Banner tries to check his email
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The Journey Ends:
But a new journey begins...
*** Before you read this update, please note that I have also posted updates for Segments 9, 10, 11, and 12. Click "Previous Update" to see stories and photos from these segments ***
It has been a very, very long time since I have posted anything on our web site, and for that I am now sending out my sincere apologies. I know that many people have been checking this site, wondering where Banner and I are and if we have finished the trail yet. Some of you have probably given up by now and decided that we must have dropped off the face of the earth...
I would like to use this, my final update, to explain why I have been out of touch for the past few months and why Banner and I were unable to finish the entire PCT this summer. It has taken me a very long time to reach the point where I have enough confidence to write this update, especially since it will likely reach a wide audience. You see, the reasons that Banner and I were unable to finish our journey are extremely personal and it is difficult to know how to explain myself on this web site which will be read by my friends and family as well as complete strangers. Nevertheless, I owe you all a coherent explanation...
I know that many of you have explored my web site very thoroughly, and I am grateful to those of you who have. If you read the page entitled J. Bradley's Story carefully, you will remember that part of the reason I decided to hike the PCT this summer had to do with mental and emotional problems that I struggled through last fall (about a year ago). Banner's companionship played a large part in helping me through the weeks when I was plagued by intense sadness and loneliness like I had never experienced before, negative feelings beyond all proportion to the events of my life which were at that time mostly positive and moving in a good direction. I could not fully explain or understand those feelings then, but it seemed to help when I left my masters program at the University of Vermont to live with my parents for a few months and visit a psychologist several times during those months. It felt so wonderful to have relief from these terrible feelings and I was so thankful to my parents and to Banner for helping me through the darkest days that I was inspired to dream up the PCT for Pets concept. However, as it turned out, this treatment proved to be insufficient and these terrible feelings would soon return to haunt me.
If you have read the previous update for Segment 12, you will know that Banner and I returned to Chicago after leaving the PCT in the vicinity of Bishop, California, at the beginning of May. My plan was to spend about 2 weeks with my parents in Chicago, during which time I would pack food for the remainder of our PCT journey and work on fundraising. In mid May I planned to travel back to the University of Vermont for graduation ceremonies. I have not yet completed my masters degree there (due to the previous fall's emotional crisis), but I wanted to attend these ceremonies to be there when my fellow students from our small close knit team graduated. After this I would return to hiking the PCT. Normally, I am a very focused and self motivated individual; when I decide I'm going to do something like hike the PCT, all my energies are bent to this purpose, and that is how I operated in the months leading up to our March 7 departure date. Thus it was very mysterious and frustrating to me when I found it very difficult to work during the two weeks at my parents' home in Chicago. Feelings of sadness and apathy had begun to creep back into my psyche but I mostly tried to ignore or deny them and to continue forcing myself to work. When I traveled to Vermont it proved to be inexplicably difficult (emotionally) to attend the graduation ceremonies...it didn't have anything to do with feeling ashamed about not having completed my masters degree while everyone else was graduating. All of my instructors and fellow students are people whom I love and trust, wonderful folks who were super supportive when I chose to leave school the previous fall. Those intense feelings of sadness and loneliness and despair were flooding over me again and I just couldn't seem to fight them...I certainly couldn't understand them. I had a long conversation with a good friend, but I was still reserved with him about my feelings, still clinging to the idea that I didn't want to burden others with my problems. This conversation did provide some relief, but by the following day the feelings were back and getting stronger. By the next day, my mind began entertaining thoughts and visions of suicide.
I now understand that suicide is a highly misunderstood phenomenon. It is not always the last choice of a completely desperate person who can see no other way out of a terrible situation. It is not always a cowardly act...strong people often commit suicide, irresistibly compelled by an imbalance of brain chemicals. You see, while I was suicidal, my mind seemed to have split in two. Part of my mind (the part that really felt like ME) had absolutely no desire to die...this part was able to see all the wonderful and positive things about my life--good health, intelligence, great friends and a loving family, a future filled with opportunity--and feel grateful for these things. This part of my mind simply could not understand why these things had ceased to bring me joy, why any part of me would give over to sadness and despair. However, there was another part of my mind that felt like an alien intruder, like a huge, black, evil void somewhere in the depths of my consciousness. It was from this void that all the negative feelings seemed to emanate, all the anxiety and fear and hopelessness. It was this void that seemed to force me to fantasize in horrifying detail about how I might end my own life. My rational self was losing the battle against this seemingly demonic alien presence that I was soon to learn was a chemical imbalance.
I had to find safety...and soon! So, once again, Banner and I fled from Vermont back to my parents' home in Chicago. This time (finally!) I knew I needed serious help, and I was committed to seeking proper treatment and seeing it through. I quickly located a psychiatrist and she immediately started me on antidepressant medications. Yes, I had been clinically diagnosed with chronic depression. In one sense, this diagnosis was a huge and frustrating emotional blow to me...as my father pointed out, it seemed terribly unfair that I am the kind of person who works so hard in my life to maintain physical fitness, and the thing that gets me is a neurological disorder! On the other hand, it was also a huge relief to be able to put a name to my suffering, to realize that this is a recognized illness that has both biological and environmental causes which can be treated.
Any thoughts of continuing the PCT became secondary as I realized that it would take several weeks if not months for me and my doctor to get to know each other and make progress towards my long-term mental and emotional health, and also to find the right combination of medications and wait for them to take effect. In the meantime, both I and my family were still struggling with the effects of the disease...simply knowing it was depression did nothing to take the sadness and anxiety away. During this time, I was essentially non-functional in the sense that it required an extreme effort for me to complete even the most basic tasks of daily living, starting with the huge chore which was getting out of bed in the morning. There are many vicious cycles that take place within depression. For example, the fact that it was so hard for me even to crawl out of bed in the morning made me more depressed which just increased the effort required to get out of bed even more! It did not help to think about all of the positive aspects of my life...in fact, knowing that I am blessed and fortunate to have the life that I do, and knowing that there was no logical reason for me to be depressed, only made me more depressed! After several weeks, my first set of medications began to kick in and I started to slowly climb up out of this descending spiral. However, because these meds were not acting as quickly as she would have liked, the doctor asked me to switch to a different set of meds. During the transition, I again began to slip back into the abyss, and it took a few more weeks to start making progress again.
So, you can see that the last few months have been quite an ordeal for me and my family (including Banner). I am now finally starting to feel myself again...in fact, I'm actually starting to feel better emotionally and mentally than I have in the past few years! The shadow of depression has been with me that long, though I could not see it. Looking back I can now see that depression has taught me a huge amount about myself and my relationships with other people, and I have started to mend some of the lines of communication with my family that have not operated very well for many years. I would love to write more about these insights and lessons, but I will refrain since I could easily write an entire book about this whole experience (including hiking 800 miles of the PCT with Banner). To close, I simply want to say that I am very sorry that I have not communicated about my condition sooner. I hope that you can understand that for many weeks I was literally incapacitated by depression...I was almost completely withdrawn into my own suffering and could not escape without the help of the doctor and medications. Once I began to recover, I decided to focus first on my own personal health (exercise, nutrition, meditation, and engaging in productive activity) and on my relationships with the people that I am in direct contact with here in Chicago (my mom and dad, my brother and his family, and my cousin and his family). Just this much was enough to provide a daunting challenge over the past months. It has only been in the past few weeks that I have started to feel prepared and confident enough to reach out farther, to reestablish connections with my friends and relatives farther away, and with all of you who have faithfully followed our PCT adventure.
I hope that this update is not too overwhelming or disappointing to all of our PCT for Pets followers. I am still hopeful that Banner and I will someday be able to hike the remainder of the PCT, but for now my mental health is a much bigger priority. I am currently preparing to distribute the donations we have received from all of you, but a cursory inspection indicates that Banner and I covered about 1/3 of the distance we had planned to cover, and we raised about 1/3 of the donations that we had hoped to receive. So, all in all, I still look at this adventure as a great achievement for me personally, and certainly a huge achievement for Banner. I will be in touch with you all at least one more time to let you know how much money I will be sending to the ASPCA and to each of our Sponsoring Shelters.
One last note. I decided when I began this endeavor that I would not pressure people to donate money to our cause. I simply wanted to set up a compelling web site and let people decide for themselves whether or not to donate. However, I am also a person who often makes a decision to donate to one cause or another but then simply never gets around to it because of other things going on in my life. So, I just want to say that if you have thought about making a donation to PCT for Pets and simply never got around to it, there is still time and any amount your are willing and able to send now would be greatly appreciated (even if it's just five or ten dollars). Here's the link to Make a Donation. Thank you!