In England researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School recently analyzed mental health data from 10, city dwellers and used high-resolution mapping to track where the subjects had lived over 18 years.
They found that people living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment all of which are also correlated with health. In a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space. And in an international team overlaid health questionnaire responses from more than 31, Toronto residents onto a map of the city, block by block. Lower mortality and fewer stress hormones circulating in the blood have also been connected to living close to green space.
Is it the fresh air? Do certain colors or fractal shapes trigger neurochemicals in our visual cortex? Or is it just that people in greener neighborhoods use the parks to exercise more? Moreover, the lowest income people seemed to gain the most: In the city, Mitchell found, being close to nature is a social leveler. What he and other researchers suspect is that nature works primarily by lowering stress. Such results jibe with experimental studies of the central nervous system. Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.
But he has experienced the difference. A minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology. Japanese researchers led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University sent 84 subjects to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: Overall they showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate.
Miyazaki believes our bodies relax in pleasant, natural surroundings because they evolved there. Our senses are adapted to interpret in- formation about plants and streams, he says, not traffic and high-rises. We love our state and national parks, but per capita visits have been declining since the dawn of email. So have visits to the backyard. One recent Nature Conservancy poll found that only about 10 percent of American teens spend time outside every day. According to research by the Harvard School of Public Health, American adults spend less time outdoors than they do inside vehicles—less than 5 percent of their day.
We think other things will, like shopping or TV. We evolved in nature. In some countries governments are promoting nature experiences as a public health policy. In Finland, a country that struggles with high rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide, government-funded researchers asked thousands of people to rate their moods and stress levels after visiting both natural and urban areas. Perhaps no one has embraced the medicalization of nature with more enthusiasm than the South Koreans.
Many suffer from work stress, digital addiction, and intense academic pressures. More than 70 percent say their jobs, which require notoriously long hours, make them depressed, according to a survey by electronics giant Samsung. Yet this economically powerful nation has a long history of worshipping nature spirits.
The Shock of War | History | Smithsonian
They attacked and then retreated, forcing the British to pursue them into the woods in a running skirmish. Ferguson detested these ruffian militiamen whom he regarded as "backwater men," "barbarians," and "the dregs of mankind. They retreated over the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains to the safety of their homeland, the secluded overmountain region in the valleys of the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Holston Rivers.
He saddled his horse and rode hurriedly forty miles to the home of John Sevier, another prominent militia leader in the overmountain region. After lengthy consideration, the militia leaders decided it would be best if they crossed the mountains on their own terms and defeated Ferguson on the east side of the mountains. Thus did Patrick Ferguson, the would-be hunter, become the hunted. The two leaders called for a mustering of militia units from throughout the overmountain region and beyond.
Shelby brought militiamen; Colonel Sevier brought a like number. One hundred-sixty men from Burke County, under the command of Colonel McDowell, had taken refuge in the overmountain region after their earlier skirmishes with Ferguson. Growing day by day to some one thousand strong in number, the militiamen prepared to cross the mountains, committed in their pursuit of the man who had threatened to invade their homeland: Major Patrick Ferguson. While the militiamen waited for all to arrive, they prepared themselves for the cross-country campaign and the battle they expected to find at the end of it.
They tended their horses, mended clothing and equipment, and prepared food such as parched corn and beef jerky. The men cleaned their rifles and mined lead from the hillsides for making "shot" or ammunition. At Sycamore Shoals, they received from Mary Patton pounds of gunpowder she had made at her own powder mill. On September 26, the throng of a thousand militiamen headed south from Sycamore Shoals. Most of the men were on horseback, but some walked. This was not an army in the strictest sense of the word. All the men were volunteers; none was paid. Each expected to serve for only a few weeks before returning to his home to tend to his chores, his farming, and personal matters.
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The militia did not follow strict military protocol. They elected their commanders deciding among themselves whose leadership they would follow. The men were all skilled hunters and woodsmen. They were fighters, too, but they lacked the discipline of a military unit. For this last reason alone, the British military, the best army in the world, generally dismissed any threat from a fighting force composed of American volunteer militia.
On the morning of the 27th, the militiaman began to ascend the mountain barrier. It was little more than a horse path, most probably a well-trod buffalo trace later adopted by Indians as a footpath through the mountains. The militiamen followed it through the woods, ascending the steep slopes, riding and walking their horses to reach the gap in the mountain ridge. Many feared the two Tory traitors had deserted the campaign so they could run ahead and warn Major Ferguson that a host of Patriot militiamen was coming over the mountains to destroy his army.
The band of militiamen had no choice but to continue. They descended the mountain a short distance and made camp along Roaring Creek. From there they could see the Catawba Valley opening before them. Knowing that two good paths descended the face of the mountains, the leaders made a bold decision. They split their forces—a militarily risky move—to assure themselves that Ferguson and his army of Loyalists could not come up either path unimpeded and get around them into their homeland.
The Patriot militiamen suspected that Ferguson and his army were in Gilbert Town. They proceeded south, but two days of rain forced them to make camp.
On the morning of October 4, the men continued their march toward Gilbert Town but soon learned that Ferguson had already departed. The two deserters from Yellow Mountain Gap had indeed arrived at the Loyalist camp and told Ferguson of the Overmountain Men's pursuit. On October 6, Ferguson sent a message to Cornwallis advising the General of his plans and asking for reinforcements. Three or four hundred good soldiers, part dragoons , would finish the business. Something must be done soon. This is their last push in the quarter, etc.
The force of Patriot militiamen rode hard all day October 6 to reach the Cowpens on the site of the future Battle of Cowpens , where partisans from South Carolina joined them along with some thirty Georgia militiamen. The entire party of volunteer Patriot militiamen numbered near 1,; none among them was a Continental soldier or officer. Learning from scouts that Ferguson was near the safety of Charlotte, the Patriots knew they had to move quickly to overtake him. The leaders formed a smaller group, choosing from their ranks the best marksmen mounted on the best horses.
As a light rain began to fall, the men took off their hunting frocks and wrapped them around their rifles to keep the weapons dry and ready to fire. Although the men had already ridden some 21 miles that day, they had to cover 35 miles more through an all-night ride to overtake Ferguson. I told the doctor that I thought the Klonopin might be making things worse. I remember that he was sitting at his desk. He sketched a picture on a piece of paper. It was a picture of crossing perpendicular lines with a waveform running along the horizontal axis, a graph showing a sine curve. He pointed to the picture.
It was an explanation for a child. He was trying to reach me, to get through to me. His voice was insistent, and I could hear, and feel, that he wanted the session to end. Agony and anxiety. I told the doctor that I understood the drawing, but nonetheless believed that the medication itself was a problem. The doctor asked if I had been thinking of hurting myself. Was I having suicidal thoughts?
I made it down the first flight from the roof, and then the second. My clothes were filthy, and my hands were black. I held the bannister. I padded in torn socks along the landing to my apartment. The door was unlocked. Nicky, Janice, and Regan were in the living room. They came toward me, but then retreated, as if afraid of getting too close. Where had I been? What had happened? Why had I scared them? I remember that they made a circle around me. Nicky told me that we were leaving for the hospital.
A bed was waiting—the psychiatrist had arranged for a pre-admit. I told my friends that I wanted a cigarette. I remember looking in the bathroom mirror. Dark circles showed around my eyes. I put on a belt. Nicky told me to forget the cigarette. I put on a coat. I remember traffic and lights. We were there. Regan helped with the forms, and later Janice and Nicky drove back to Manhattan. A nurse came with a plastic trash bag, and I took off my belt and unlaced my shoes and tugged the laces through their holes and handed them over, and Regan and I put laces, keys, change, and the belt, anything that might be used for harm, into the bag.
The nurse took the bag, and I was led to a small room. Regan waited with me. A doctor came. The doctor asked how I was feeling. He told me to try not to worry about all that—I needed to get well. Then Regan had to go. It was late at night. After a while, a man arrived with a wheelchair. He rolled me through the halls to the elevator. I was in a room of my own. The ward was rectangular, with steel doors, cinder-block walls, a nursing station and medication dispensary, an isolation room for stressed or threatening patients, and, behind the scenes, offices, supply cabinets, closets, restrooms, and, presumably, a communal area for the staff.
A common area doubled as the dining room. The television was on all day. Patients leaned in doorways and sat on beds. Nurses checked the rooms, counting us every twenty minutes throughout the day and night. Many of us had had more than one hospitalization. Some knew one another from earlier stays. Had I been admitted before? What was I taking? By the next day, Saturday afternoon, my body felt lighter, and my thoughts, I thought, were pretty clear. Was it the Ativan?
I stayed on my bed, or talked on the pay phone down the hall. I called my father and my sister and my friends, and told them where I was, and then I joined a table with male patients and a supervisor, who gave us disposable razors, shaving cream, and water in cups. My hand shook; the razor scraped my face.
I remember a young man who had brain damage from sniffing chemicals from a paper bag. He told me that he was Dominican. He looked like Jesus. He had long black hair, and spoke with kindness, but his sentences ended before communicating much meaning. He passed me a pocket Bible. I still have it in a drawer. Regan came during visiting hours, bringing clean clothes.
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A few old friends were with her that Saturday. Or was it Sunday? The nurse unlocked the door, and my friends showed their backpacks and bags, and signed in, and then we all visited, as my Tennessee relatives used to say, in the common room. My friends told me that I would get better.
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What did they know? I wore my own pants and shirt, not a hospital gown. I was ashamed, and they seemed abashed. I felt that. Or I should say that we shared in that. On Monday, the in-patient doctors and their residents came. The ward busied, like any workplace at the start of a new week. My own doctor, the prescribing doctor, was not at the hospital.
I told his colleague that I was all right, and that I believed I could go home. We were in my room. The doctor was making morning rounds. There were no chairs in those rooms. I told her that the book was scheduled to come out in June. I told her about losses and errors of my own, and she watched my face and listened to my voice.
Later that day, the hospital approved my discharge. A nurse brought the plastic bag, and I laced my shoes and signed the papers and sorted my things back into my pockets. I put on my coat. The nurse with the key chain led me down the hall and unlocked the door. I left the ward and walked toward the elevators. The door closed behind me, a heavy sound, and then I heard the key turn in the lock. I rode the elevator to the lobby. I left the building, crossed the street, and got into a waiting car. Sometimes, when I think of that day, I remember that Regan had come to get me, and that we went home together.
Mainly, though, I remember that I was on my own. I was wobbly. I had my Ativan. The day was sunny; the world seemed to shimmer. I opened the bottle of pills and shook one into my hand. I was breathing rapidly. My skin felt prickly. The world did not look right. Brooklyn was unfamiliar. Was it the brightness in the light, a sharpness to the day, that Monday afternoon? I put the pill on my tongue. People passed on the sidewalks and crossed at the lights.
It was early spring. The houses and shops were in rows, and the trees were already flowering—pink, violet, white. I recognized Prospect Park, and my neighborhood, and my street. Surely I would be all right. I paid and thanked the driver, and then hurried upstairs, shut the door, and turned the lock.
The living room was as I remembered. Things were where they belonged. I crumpled onto the sofa. Where was I? I stayed out of the hospital for five weeks.
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I remember waking, startled, sick with a burning in my chest—the worst kind of waking. I got out of bed and fled up the hall to the front of the apartment, then paced the living room, where I sat down and got up, sat and got up. It went that way every night, and it was the same during the day, not just most days but every day. The itch in my temple, the need for a bullet, was constant. It lay deep. If I scratched it, I might feel clarity and peace. Without the bullet, I would never again have either. But had I ever felt clear? When had I been peaceful? How long until it was time for another Ativan?
Some days, I lay in bed, picturing the bullet moving slowly through my brain. The image soothed me. Outside the window was the fire escape. How to die? Who would find me, and then remember finding me? Who would have to remember that? I would leave a note, begging Regan not to unlock the door but to call the police instead. Children played and yelled on the rooftop of the school down the street. My hips and back, my arms and legs felt stiff, though loose, somehow.
Later, Regan would come back from work, and I would try to eat. My jaw was tight, and it was hard to swallow.
Regan and I spoke less and less. At night, she stayed in the front room, and I mainly went in back. Sometimes I took out my cell phone and dialled person after person. What were my crimes? What are yours? What do you look forward to? I looked forward to poverty, abandonment by my remaining family members, the inability to write or work, the dissolution of friendships, professional and artistic oblivion, loneliness and deterioration, institutionalization and the removal from society—abjection and the end of belonging. I slept two or three hours, and then sat up watching the light change with morning; and, later, during the day, took the death position, phoned those who might answer, or sped from back to front in the apartment, dragging the tarp.
It was April, and then May, an eternity in real time. I worried about my shoulders. Over the spring, the joints had seemed to weaken. But what to make of the strange fluctuations in balance when walking, the tipping sideways, one way and then the other; or the effort required to hold a cup or a glass, or to write with a pen? Why did sounds hurt? I remember stumbling downstairs and out of the building. I stuffed keys, cash, and my meds into my pockets and called a car.