The Matterhorn in Switzerland.

words by Adrienne Pastula; photo above by Dave McCollum ::

Of all the mountain faces to view as ordinary, I never thought I’d count the Matterhorn among them.

The Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland is objectively gorgeous. It’s tall and chiseled, continually tempting many into climbing its summit.

I frequently caught myself staring at photos of it with a fixation similar to that of my 13-year-old self viewing the cover of the newest N*Sync album. When my family started planning a trip through Europe, I adamantly included the Matterhorn.

I expected to be star-struck by the mountain when I witnessed its glory in person. I didn’t predict that expectation would be thwarted by a unique antagonist — my own brain.

A hopeful beginning

Swiss mountain village with the Matterhorn in the skyline

It’s a vibrant September morning in the little town of Zermatt. I wake up and slip on my pre-packed Salomon vest and running shoes before the waves of cool dawn air evaporate into mid-morning heat.

I map out an 18-mile run on the trails surrounding the Matterhorn. I’m brimming with excitement at the prospect of feasting my eyes on the mountain over the next few hours. It peers shyly at me over the tops of Swiss cottages. I quickly make my way up to a trailhead, eager for an unobscured view.

As I twist my way up one pleasant trail, I feel something tearing at the edges of my upbeat mood. I’m wary of the feeling; it has been a frequent visitor for most of my adult life. It often results in failed goals and disappointment.

I consider turning back but then chide myself. “If I turned back every time I started to feel a little anxious about what might be ahead, I’d never see or accomplish anything new,” I remind myself. I tuck the thoughts into the back my mind and continue on.

A battle of mind and body

A pond reflecting the sky in a mountain meadow by the Matterhorn.

As the miles pass and elevation climbs, the Matterhorn grows in prominence. The mountain’s face changes colors from a vivid orange to a mellow cerulean-grey that contrasts with the cloudless sky. The sight is awe-inspiring, bringing to mind my smallness against a backdrop of such scale.

But while running through the bright green hills dotted with wildflowers and tiny lakes, my mind begins to change in a way I can’t ignore.

One moment, I am breathing in the fresh air and glorying in the vibrance of my surroundings. The next, I feel the colors fading, my pace slowing, and my good mood vanishing. My chest suddenly tightens and the wariness that plagued me only a short while ago escalates into panic.

My breathing becomes heavy, my feet shuffle, and tears come pouring out of my eyes as I slow to a defeated stop. I look up into the face of the Matterhorn, desperately searching for beauty, awe, anything — but it transforms into a wholly unimpressive pile of rocks.

This sudden switch is depression and it hit me six miles deep in the hills of Zermatt.

Understanding PMDD