By Dennis Deitchman
I have always been pretty physically fit, and what I thought was mentally fit. In reality, I was just being stubborn and completing tasks in hopes of coming out the other side “fixed”. I could not be in the moment. I could not recognize my accomplishments for what they actually were, and never felt like my successes were ever good enough. I didn’t feel as if it was me accomplishing these feats, I always felt as if it were someone else checking these boxes off I had created in my mind. I felt that since I struggled while doing something hard, and there were thoughts of giving up the whole time, that I was unworthy to even mention it. I almost felt ashamed that I would struggle so much on hard hikes, long unsuccessful hunts, or intense workouts. I was always putting myself down, saying I was not good enough, and nitpicking every little thing. Always striving for “perfection” and in my eyes, always falling short.
In addition to low self esteem, I’ve been suffering with really bad anxiety over the years. The anxiety became much worse during my time in the military. My mind would be going at 200% all day and night. I got little to no sleep most nights, and I was constantly nauseous as a reaction to anxiety attacks. Over the last year my anxiety began to ramp up, and began to affect daily life much more than usual. Things were quickly deteriorating for me mentally and physically. I kept trying to push my thoughts away. I thought “this is what I am now”, and that happiness just wasn’t for me. My brain was foggy, I was barely sleeping, barely eating. I was worn down to nothing mentally. The worst part is, nobody knew I needed help. Not my closest friends, not even my family.
So I decided to attack the problem head on, instead of just “dealing” with it. The difference was I had help this time around. I met Chelsie in early 2020. We immediately connected. She could tell pretty early on that something was wrong, and that I was struggling with something. I tried my hardest to push through, and improve our relationship on my end. But as things were falling apart for me, it became too much for both of us. In early 2021 Chelsie suggested I see a doctor, and get professional help. I was hesitant as always to go to the doctor and pessimistic that nothing would change. I went to the doctor, and he listened to all of my problems. I did not feel judged, and I felt as if he actually cared and was listening. I had to cycle through a handful of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), to find the one that might work for me. Dealing with the symptoms of anxiety medication was like putting my brain and body through a meat grinder. It sucked. My symptoms were amplified for weeks. You really have to want to be better. You have to work on yourself along with the medicine, push yourself. You have to face yourself head on. I have done some challenging things over the years, but this has been the hardest thing I have ever done. But thankfully this is where my stubbornness, and motivation to push through, came into play. Over time, you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You begin to see progress in your work, even if it’s only an inch. But that inch of progress was the most amazing feeling in the world.
In late 2019, shortly after moving to Washington, I came across Washington Backcountry, and their mission of “Mentorship is Conservation”. As I became more involved, I began to realize that everyone has value to give, even if they don’t feel like they do. I had found an outlet to express myself, and share my knowledge with others. This was a solid stepping stone to where I am today. I started my spread of knowledge with recipes for Washington Backcountry to share out to the community. I did not feel as if anyone would care, or would think my creations were even good. I have been itching to push a bunch of content out, but due to my mental issues above, I struggled with it. Didn’t feel like I deserved to, didn’t feel like I was the right one to do it. Why would anyone care what I have to say? Lots of self doubt.
That was until a Washington Backcountry event that I mustered up the courage to show up, and was welcomed with open arms. Johnny, the founder of Washington Backcountry, greeted me, and we talked a bit as he introduced me to people there. Later in the evening, as he was giving a speech to everyone about the Washington Backcountry mission, he pointed out that I was the one who had been making recipes on the website. After the speech, people came up to me and told me how much they liked them. One member took my phone number, and texted me a few weeks later telling me how amazing the newest recipe was.
At the time of writing this, it has been about 3 months since getting help. After a few weeks of leveling out, I began to notice positive changes. Felt more open, felt more optimistic, felt more “normal” and genuinely happy. Because I was finally getting out of my head, I had the opportunity of going on my first steelhead trip with One Outdoors, a new company similar in mission to Washington Backcountry. I had stressed about this trip for months before I started my medication, feeling the anxiety build up. I knew this trip would be a solid test for my progress, and to see where all the work I had been doing mentally was getting me. I was beginning to find courage to try new things, which quickly began rewarding me, and opening doors.
Jake, the founder of One Outdoors, planted the seed in my head for the trip. He wanted to bring along Clint, the founder of Revol Entertainment, to document the trip, and get some content for Owen, the guide and owner of Rip Some Lips Guide Service. I was genuinely enjoying my time with Owen, Clint, and Jake. Great conversation was had, along with many good laughs. We got to know each other, and tell our stories. The scenery was breathtaking, there were ducks and eagles flying all about the river. The trip was quite literally life changing for me. My anxiety was less than ever before. I felt as if I was actually beginning to win the battle against my own mind. I felt myself opening up, being in the moment, and truly enjoying my time outdoors with great people. It didn’t matter that it was cold as hell out. It didn’t matter that we waited hours for the first bite. We talked for hours when, all of a sudden, a rod bent over.
We had been filming some footage of a lure underwater, sparkling in the sunlight. I was slowly reeling, as Clint did what he does best with the camera. Out of nowhere we heard “GET IT!” as Owen was pointing me towards the rod on the port side of the aluminum boat. I went for the rod, as Owen gave the boat some throttle to keep the hook set. He had the others clear the lines, and Clint sprung into action filming the whole event. I paid attention to Owen, let him guide me through the moment, latched on to his instructions, and was in awe as the steelhead moved through the clear alpine water. As the fish got closer, Owen skillfully navigated the boat, net in hand, ready to strike. I landed a beautiful female steelhead. I did that. Not the person who was checking tasks off the checklist for me before. There was no doubt. The day was full of challenges I welcomed with a grin.
Aside from my internal fight, I was doing my best to be the best fisherman I could. Jumping into action when lines needed reeled in, or cast out. Learning a new skill that is referred to as “Bobber Doggin”, which is essentially keeping an indicator with a long leader parallel with the boat as you float down the river. It was a tough learning curve, trying to keep all three bobbers in sync, but the hardest part is your reaction to what could either be a bite, or a rock. My bad habit was how I would pull the rod to the side, tip down, and start reeling. This also made me realize that reactions can be re-learned. Just because I have always reacted in certain ways to anxiety inducing situations, doesn’t mean that is how it always has to be. I just needed to focus, and adapt. When I messed up, Owen would let me know and tell me how to correct it. He would encourage us to do better, and let us know when we did well. This is not something you can just throw out and watch, every second is engaged, and every second choices have to be made. After this trip I came out knowing my internal fight was nowhere near over, but I never thought I could even make it this far.
I wanted to share my story in hopes that it might help someone else. I am finally finding out who I am after 28 years on this planet. I have a fire lit in me to help others now, so much more than before. To create more content for what I have learned, whether it be cooking, hunting, gear, fitness, or mentality. I have always loved the outdoors. I grew up in it, and thrive in it. It is healing, and therapeutic. I love the challenges it brings, the amazing views and experiences. I love hunting because it is so primal, and it almost forces me to feel emotions that I believed I couldn’t feel. The pride in accomplishing a successful hunt, the sadness of taking a life, the feeling of responsibility to honor that animal’s life. That is what I owe the animal. Even if I come home empty handed, I still feel happy that I went out and was able to spend time in solitude. Listening to all the noises of the woods, and revere the creatures I am so blessed to encounter.
I have always wanted an outlet to share what I have learned. Washington Backcountry is what really set it off. Getting to know Johnny, and the community, I have learned that people want to know what I have to say. That others are out there wanting to learn, and may not know who to ask for help. I have also come to look at this group as not being about one individual person or leader, but about the mission of mentorship. Johnny welcomed me like I belonged here. When I first came across Washington Backcountry, I reached out in an email. Johnny called me back and talked to me for an hour on the phone. He did not know me, but talked to me like he had known me for a lifetime. He gave me advice on bear hunting, and allowed me to write recipes, and gear articles for others to try and experience. I will probably always remember this phone call, where I was, and what I was doing. I believe it was a beacon for me to reach out of my comfort zone, and see how I could grow. I will be forever grateful for these opportunities, as they were the catalyst that compelled me to branch out to other outlets that I could share with. I became a mentor in the Washington Backcountry Soul Seekers Facebook group, so I could answer questions on things like backpacking gear, archery, and rifles. I became a partner with One Outdoors to offer anything I could offer tech or outdoors related. Writing articles, going on hunts, writing recipes, and making video content. I just want to do anything I can to share knowledge and support with others in the hunting and outdoor community, so that others may get in touch with what I know the outdoors to be. Everyone is searching for something. I know I was, and still am. The difference is, now I feel as if I am on the right path. I am finally at peace with my life, yet ravenous to see how I can improve myself and others around me.
Reaching out has fulfilled me to overcome my fears, and overcome parts of my mind that had always controlled me. I have met some amazing people in the process by putting myself out there, and getting my foot in the door to what feels like the right direction to really pursue my passions. Looking back at the pictures of the fishing trip, my girlfriend says she has never seen me so happy. I agree.