Escaping Anxiety

I have discovered a magazine I really enjoy lately: Travel & Leisure. I like their first-hand accounts of experiencing a new place. First of all, I have been to many of the places described in this journal. I have also always been a bit of a master at taking vacations in my own head. The Internet has made that so much easier. And at a time when so many of us are seeking escape from our predictable daily lives, I look forward to the next issue of this magazine to help me decide where I want to go next.

Yesterday, I started reading an article about escaping anxiety at a Riviera Maya healing resort. The writer spoke of “living with anxiety for many years; my mind wanders constantly.” Luckily, this author found themselves relaxing into “extreme calm” surrounded by nature, chimes, horns, drums, and gongs.

When I spoke to Mike about this, he immediately pointed out that “going on vacation can be quite anxiety-producing.” Mike, always the realist. Yes, first choosing a trip to take, buying tickets, flying, etc. can be quite stressful, especially with my new handicap, being on oxygen full-time. Did you know that most portable oxygen machines aren’t allowed on airplanes? Who knew?

So is a trip the best way to escape anxiety? Well, that depends on where your anxiety comes from. I learned the most about my lifelong case of anxiety (really fear of others) by moving away from society.

Almost seven years ago now, Mike and I built a passive solar home out in rural southern Colorado. On our three acres with very few neighbors, I finally found myself truly relaxing after a few years. I believe living close to nature instead of others was the main ingredient in this process. Yes, we have some serious snowstorms and amazing wind storms down here, but I feel secure and comfortable looking up at the Spanish Peaks each morning. Nature feels so much more safe to me than most other human beings.

What was most interesting to me was my eventual perception of the nearly unconscious vigilance I apparently felt my whole life in cities. That slowly melting away out here. Whenever I’m in cities now, I feel that subtle fear slowly creeping back. I believe it is the simple equation of having too many people per square mile, the constant possibility of someone disturbing us or worse. When I’m at home, that need for keeping a careful watch over my life and my loved ones slowly recedes and I find peace like I have never known before.

So, where does someone like that go on vacation?

Courage is the mastery of fear

Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.

Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.

Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.

There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:

“Take each breath as if it were your last”

I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.

I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.

Walsenburg and La Veta Colorado, Living Between Two Very Different Worlds

For the past five years, just over 40 million Americans moved each year, or about 13 percent of us. Most moves are local, either within the same county or within the same state. Within-county moves accounted for 65 percent of all moves in 2019, while moves between counties in the same state accounted for 17 percent, according to the federal government’s Current Population Survey (CPS) data.

We moved from one of the northern most counties of Colorado (Larimer) to one 50 miles from the New Mexico border in 2014. Larimer County’s population has grown over 30,000 residents since then, while Huerfano County may have gained 200 residents. The only reason Huerfano has not lost residents since 2014, when it reached less than 6,400, is the beauty of the rural areas west of Walsenburg.

When we moved here from a nice suburb of Fort Collins, I experienced extreme culture shock, and most of the residents we talked to could not believe we had chosen to leave Fort Collins for here. I gravitated to hanging out in La Veta even though we lived in Walsenburg while having our solar home built in the foothills, halfway between La Veta and Walsenburg. I did not find Walsenburg residents particularly friendly to outsiders, and La Veta people seemed a little more welcoming. I later learned that most long-term residents here don’t like newcomers and don’t think they’ll stay, so they choose not to invest in friendships with them. I’m sure you see the self-perpetuating prophecy in this. La Veta was not super friendly either, but at least I did meet some nice people there.

Six years later, I continue to try and understand this area and its resistance to newcomers and new businesses. At first it really bothered me, especially when our next door neighbor offered friendship at first and then decided to hate us within six months for no apparent reason. After a few years I didn’t care as much because we were so happy in our solar perch with phenomenal views in every direction. As of today I only have one close, local friend and she is wonderful.

We have had to adjust to many differences between city and rural life, but being able to order almost anything on the Internet has made all the difference! I would say if you are very independent of mind and truly celebrate natural silence and beauty you may end up loving it here. However, trade offs must be made. None of our restaurants are stellar and most are closed down now. No pizza deliveries here! You need to like cooking and have a few different avocations than city people, avocations like hiking, camping, gardening, photography and the arts.

As far as the differences between Walsenburg and La Veta go, Walsenburg has one of the highest crime rates per thousand in the U.S.

“The 2016 crime rate in Walsenburg, CO is 628 (City-Data.com crime index), which is 2.3 times higher than the U.S. average. It was higher than in 98.0% U.S. cities.”

Just about everyone I have met there has been robbed. I cannot find a crime rate for La Veta, but it’s very low. The main difference you will find in Huerfano County is that land prices east of La Veta average around $5,000/acre or less, and those in the higher mountains can be well above $50,000/acre.

Springtime view from our solar perch!

The apparent draw to this area, including ourselves, is that you can still find inexpensive rural land with tremendous views for reasonable prices. Just remember there are very few decent jobs here and most of this county is above 7,000 feet, which can challenge the breathing of many lowlanders.

Want to learn more about moving here? I kept a journal of this process:

Why we decided to move here after first checking out Ecuador (!)

The difficulties of renovating our old home and leaving our old life behind.

The culture shock of very small town living.

Building a passive solar home in a rural area,

and so many other challenges & adjustments to be made when you choose living rural.

Check it out here:

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado