How forming a walking habit changed my life.
Sirens wailed and helicopters roared, the only sounds that jumped out of the grey noise that is near constant traffic. I was nervous to even glance out of my window to see what was happening.
It had been months since I even opened my window, let alone opened the blinds. With the blinds closed, I was safe from the world outside. The city I didn’t know, the life I was unhappy in. The studio apartment I dwelled in was a safe house where I could ignore my life with books, movies, and video games.
Each day it was a fight to not feel lost, out of sync, or depressed. Stuck in the lulls of the freelance life, when the money is tight and nothing is satisfying. Like a prisoner in my own life, trapped in a cage and getting fat. I couldn’t find work and I was extremely bored. Too broke to have fun or maintain any friendships.
After much deliberation, I worked up enough courage to peer out of the blinds. There was no helicopter, no more sirens just a normal city street bustling with the evening rush. Was it my imagination?
I had not adjusted to the culture shock of city life in Los Angeles. Being from Reno, Nevada this world was new and strange, with it came a lot of anxiety and fear. The stack of bills on the kitchen counter and the occasional sounds of gunfire made for a compounding of fears.
The career that I moved to the big city for was not going to plan and disaster seemed to loom around every corner.
The fear was winning and it kept me from making friends. A lonely pessimist, I joined the long list of people happy to hate Los Angeles which came as only a temporary help. With the city as my negativity scapegoat, it only allowed for more negative thoughts, I noticed how much weight I had gained, how little I was socializing, and how rare it was for me to have any fun.
All of this came crashing down on me when I got a life-changing phone call.
It was my Dad’s close friend informing me that he was being rushed to the emergency room after his heart stopped during an operation.
I was on the next available airplane to Reno.
A month of getting him back on his feet while living in my hometown reminded me of all the reasons why I left. The angst I feel in a small town, the variety of the city. I came back to Los Angeles, returning to the cave of a studio apartment in the swamp of dejection I was calling my ‘home.’
The happiness of having my Dad still alive and working toward better health was quickly turned to sadness at the way I was living. I had to make changes, life was starting to feel shorter and a life depressed is no way to live.
The doctors wanted my Dad to begin walking to strengthen his heart and lose weight to make the heart’s work easier.
I decided that wouldn’t be a bad plan for me either. After all, I was walking distance to grocery stores, bars, coffee shops. I was holding myself back from entering a world I moved four-hundred and seventy-one miles to experience.
It was just my anxiety, social and regular, that kept me from emerging into the community around me.
Anxiety and fear go hand in hand and create a snowball effect. I was determined to stop that from happening. To roll my snowball of negativity up a hill until it got smaller and eventually vanished, perhaps then it would be non-existent, and I would be on top.
I was going to walk whenever I had time, starting small with places close by and work my way up to landmarks further away. The lack of work on the horizon gave me no excuses, so I put on my walking shoes and got to it.
The only way to get better is to stay dedicated, I knew it would not be easy but having been at rock bottom for so long I had no choice. The only direction for me was up.
On day one, I felt like a complete loser for shlepping my microwaved dinners over a mile. Though I never had a reason to fear, I was still jumpy and constantly peered over my shoulder. It did not feel good to be out. Walking over fresh piss, inhaling the engine exhaust, watching trash dancing in the wind from cars passing.
With the second day making the walking feel better, I still felt out of place in the realm of the streets. It was on the third day when I finally noticed the same few people in their routines. I realized, the neighborhood was bustling with stories to tell. This was the real world beyond my doors.
I finally found excitement in where I live. Walking was stepping into a new world, every day. After the third day, I was fully addicted.
Out on foot, there is more time to appreciate the quirks of an area. The dead bird on the sidewalk, the graffiti on the tree, the shoeless man sleeping on the dirt patch next to the sidewalk. I found an interesting world outside my four walls and each day it provided me with fresh experiences.
I became excited to walk, to hit the pavement and see the ways people were living their lives. To be a part of a world that has always been outside. For the first time I felt connected to the city, a pea in a pod, four million peas strong.
I would increase my distance every few days, eventually partaking on an eleven-mile round trip hike to Griffith Park and back. I started doing this once, sometimes twice a month. On the days that I was bored of a neighborhood, I drove to Santa Monica for beach walking or up into the San Gabriel Mountains for a trail hike. Those days cost money, so urban hikes were more constant.
To keep from boredom I began listening to audiobooks and podcasts as I walked. With at least one hour of walking a day I had the ability to pour through information. With the intellect inspired and the body in motion I couldn’t help but smile, it felt like I was cheating the system, I could be active and study at the same time.
This made the times with no work pass quickly, suddenly I stopped having bad days. The months went by, if I was walking then I was winning, and I began to feel like I was winning a good amount.
I was addicted to it. The strange sights of the city providing entertainment when the audio couldn’t, and vice versa when the city became drab and boring. That isn’t to say I never had aches or questioned my sanity, but I knew I just couldn’t stop.
A year later, I have lost over forty pounds and listened to over two-hundred hours of twenty-eight books.
When I found my excitement for walking decline, a major life event gave me no choice but to press onward.
This year of walking has left its mark on me. I have started to notice the small intricacies of life and the details of the world around me. The respect for those around me has grown, seeing them live their lives like the real people they are. It sounds silly, but it is easy to forget television and social media build a warped system of expectations and false view of the world.
I have discovered that so many of my fears were complete bullshit. I have a greater sense of that is real, what is normal, and it has improved my confidence immensely.
Walking helps you to see the world with honesty and provides a silver lining to life’s complexities. It allows you to know your neighborhood and feel the natural rhythm of the world around you.
Find something to listen to, put on your shoes, and get outside. There is a world waiting for you to explore it, just be sure to keep a smile on your face.