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Finding Solace in Nature: Navigating Anxiety, ADHD, and Grief Through Hiking and Art | Disabled Hikers Storytelling Project

Written by: Meg Max

Serene winter sunset in a forested area with bare trees silhouetted against the soft glow of the setting sun. The ground is covered in snow, reflecting the subtle light from the sky. The sun is visible near the center of the image, casting an orange and yellow hue that contrasts with the cool tones of the snow-covered ground. The sky transitions from a warm orange near the horizon to cooler blue tones upwards, adding depth to the scene.
Serene Winter Sunset provided by Meg Max

Content notes: grief, loss of parent, anxiety, depression, ADHD

Because I have anxiety, exploring new trails can be hard. Usually, I walk in the local woods, my dog and I both moving at a pace that befits our middle-aged bodies. She sniffs, I stare. I pick up things that interest me, and bring them home to make art or line the windowsills of my studio. I follow animal tracks, climb trees to peek into nests and discover trails that were passable in winter have turned into marshlands come spring. Hikes hold exactly the right kind of surprises; enough stimulation that they’re interesting without overwhelming.

Although I’d had long standing diagnoses of anxiety and depression, my ADHD wasn’t flagged until I was in my late 30’s and burnt out. I’d spent my life hiding how difficult I found “simple tasks,” how exhausting I found small talk, and how much I missed when people were talking to me. Learning I was neurodivergent offered a new lens to view my life through. Suddenly, my overwhelm in big box stores, movie theaters, parking garages and other spots most folks seemed to move through without issue made so much sense. It also added another layer to the healing I had to do.

As a kid, I loved being outdoors. I walked and walked and walked down the defunct railway tracks near my home. I collected rocks. I poked at the dirt with sticks and lost my rubber boot in the spring mud while trying to pick flowers in a ditch. At night, when I was afraid to fall asleep, I’d lie in bed and imagine drifting off in the middle of a giant pink flower, stars overhead, the petals closing over me as I rested.


The outdoors have always been a place of solace and comfort. In the past few years, as I’ve navigated my burnout, processed the death of both of my parents, and learnt how to actually feel my emotions, I spent hours and hours and hours hiking through the woods near my home. At first, I hiked those trails with podcasts blaring, so I didn't have to think. I stomped. I walked as fast as I could. I was so restless I could keep moving for hours. Over time, my hikes have changed. Not in location but in intention.  

a mushroom growing on a tree
Forest scene of two mushrooms growing on moss next to a tree. By Meg Max

ADHDers are constantly pushed towards mindfulness practices. I hate meditating. It feels absolutely antithetical to the way my brain naturally works, and I chafe against the idea that my mind is an unruly thing that needs to be corralled. But hiking lets me keep moving, and still slow down. I started crying while I walked. I counted my breaths, noticed the way my feet felt on the trail, the smells and sounds and sunshine. Sometimes, I stopped and stared. Hiking became a way to calm my mind without calling it mindfulness. I unintentionally started paying attention. Being in the same woods almost daily has also allowed me to tap into nature as a way of noting the passage of time. I try to hike on the full moons and the new moons. I note the signs that the seasons are changing. I notice how I’m changing, too.

Since my safe spaces are art and hiking, it seemed inevitable that nature would become a part of my art practice. My writing has long been an exploration of what it means to be wild. Beyond writing, art-making has become an enormous part of my emotional processing and a way I feel safe exploring my feelings as a person who was not especially well resourced to deal with the depth of my emotions. 

Serene and natural setting of a waterfall amidst a forest with a stream of water cascading down between large, moss-covered rocks. The surrounding area is densely populated with green trees and plants, giving an aura of tranquility and seclusion. Sunlight filters through the canopy of leaves above, illuminating parts of the rocks and water. A fallen tree trunk is visible at the bottom right corner of the waterfall.
Waterfall photo provided by Meg Max

Living with anxiety, depression and ADHD is a constant dance between rest and movement, under stimulation and overwhelm, being afraid to do new things and needing novelty so my brain doesn’t shut off. Hiking is a way to balance these many needs. Hiking, and art, are where I’ve never been too sensitive, too loud, too excited. Where my magpie inclination to fill my pockets with treasures is welcome. Where there are no fluorescent lights or muzak making my heart pound with irritation. Where nothing feels uncomfortable or dangerous. Where I can sit and build tiny homes for my sadness to live in, or plot my next story, or just get in touch with what’s happening in my head. I take myself hiking so I can move, and make, and feel, safely.

So many people are afraid of the woods. Wild animals, strangers on the path, poison ivy, cliff edges. But, the only time I’ve been afraid to go hiking was after my mom died in February. I knew the woods were where my grief was waiting. I avoided writing or making art until a month after her death, when I turned an empty mint tin into a tiny altar to my sadness. It wound up looking like a pocket-sized forest. My heart knows where it belongs, even when the rest of me wants to hide.

The woods, first the ones near my childhood home, now the ones near the house we bought over a decade ago, and slowly, the ones I hike in as I move both into and outside my comfort zone, are where I feel the most at home. 

Sunset at a shoreline
A serene sunset over a calm bay, with the sky painted in soft hues of orange and purple, reflecting on the tranquil waters. The shoreline is adorned with rocks and a gentle tide, while distant lights from the opposite shore twinkle in the encroaching darkness.

A selfie of Meg wearing a cap and sweatshirt in front of a creek


Meg Max is a writer and artist living on the stolen land of the Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation. She's most comfortable surrounded by art and/or trees. She is the founder of Writers in Bloom, where she hosts writing workshops and creative care practices centering and celebrating mad, neurodivergent and chronically ill folks. @writersinbloom

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