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I Started Walking to Overcome My Anxiety–Here's What Changed

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Walking every day made me realize a lot about life.

For as long as I have had an imagination, it has carried me places meaningful and frightening, snagging always on potential catastrophe. There has only ever been one cure for this anxiety, and it is to walk at sunset. Watching the light go through the windows gives me the terrible feeling that I’ve missed something, but feeling it fade, out in the weather, makes me feel I’ve been a part of it.

I remember the first time I noticed this fear in myself: I was about 6, and my father had taken me to a matinee. As we emerged into the darkened parking lot, I started to bawl, having the strange feeling the world as I knew it had shifted unalterably without my knowing. The next day, as the sun went down, he made a point of our being witness to it. We went on a walk.

In my small hometown in Northern California, where I came to be known as the Little Girl Who Walked, the wooden Victorian houses took on another quality at dusk, the reds and golds and lilacs of the trim becoming softer, putting me in mind of artfully iced cakes. The slow river changed too, looking less brown and more green.

The world was becoming different, as it did every night, but I held the magical belief that if I watched it, I was becoming different too, a girl who would not worry in bed about the absence of her parents—reporters who were often gone on a deadline until late—or the things she was learning in school that scared her, that people killed others because they were different, that the earth had frozen before and would someday freeze again. There were blackberries, wild and sour and uncut, growing across the street in the yard of my blind neighbor, and I would eat them at the end of my walk, making my face the same color as the sky.

Wherever I have lived, the years in New York City or summers in Maine or Vienna, the sunset walk has been the anchor of the day, and it still makes me feel powerful. I may no longer believe I’m changed by walking, but I remember all the things that remain the same, no matter how old I get: how much shorter I am than most trees, how many colors there are, more than I can imagine, more than I’ll ever forget.

Alcott is the author of Infinite Home and most recently, America Was Hard to Find, which was published in May 2019.

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