On a bright, late spring day, I sat behind a ridge on Pitchoff Mountain and cried tears of joy.
The photo below captures this moment — behind the glasses, I’m crying.
There were times I never thought I’d get this far.
See, over the preceding two years I had been so ill that I’d begun to think I’d never climb a mountain again. Moreso, I thought I’d never live a normal life again.
As regulars of my blog know, I have Functional Neurological Disorder. Sparing long scientific reasonings (although if you’re interested you can find that in previous articles. What this essentially means is that my brain stopped functioning properly for no currently identifiable reason. It left me with a host of problems including seizures, weakness, blackouts, confusion, debilitating fatigue and more.
At the worst of things there were days I could barely walk. There were days I could not stay awake. I was so tired that I slept through mealtimes to the point that I began to not recognize my reflection. Once, I accidentally went three or four days without eating and finally became so weak and nauseous that I could not stand. It is a demoralizing feeling, I found, to have to drag yourself across the floor to access just the basic necessities for life.
How can one go from this — weak, helpless, barely able to stand firmly — to strong enough to reach the truly wild places of creation?
So, I lost hope…for a time.
Then, finally, I received a glimmer of hope: a diagnosis and an avenue toward healing. I still felt my chances were slim…I didn’t have cohesive information, or access to specialized care, or even a physician to coordinate my rehabilitation plan. But I made up my mind to fight; not to be passive and hope for the best, but to really, truly fight. I made the decision to do everything I could to get back the things that brought me joy, even if I had to do everything myself that no one else was doing for me. If I didn’t have a specialized rehab clinic, I’d create the next best thing. If others weren’t educated, I’d teach them myself. If things seemed impossible, that meant that I just had to work harder.
So it comes as no surprise that in making this decision, I needed something to fixate on. I needed a goal to work toward to keep me motivated when things seemed overwhelmingly hopeless. That fixation became the mountains I love so dearly.
Every day I spent in physical therapy, I thought about the places my stronger legs would be able to carry me. When working to build up tolerance to sensory input, I thought about the bright sunlight, the reflections off the water, the flicker of a warm campfire and all the other natural wonders I want to experience. And I thought about the feeling of what it would be like to stand, triumphant, on the mountaintop. For someone previously too weak to stand at all, standing on top of one of the highest places in creation is an impossibly beautiful thing.
These goals propelled me forward. They motivated me. When I was tired at the end of a day and didn’t want to go do my rehab work, I thought about how much closer it would get me to the top of the mountains. In that context, the choice was easy. I improved more rapidly than I think anyone thought was possible. It wasn’t coincidence though…it was hard work. I couldn’t have done it without something to work toward.
That’s why I recommend setting goals like this to anyone going through recovery. It doesn’t have to be mountains, not everyone loves them the way I do, or is in a position to go to them just yet. But find whatever it is that adds value to your life, and decide to work to be well enough for it. And set goals along the way, too. Climbing a mountain seemed so far off when I was still seizing and losing balance all the time. But, going for a hike in the woods was attainable. Falling was a bit safer but I still felt a sense of adventure that I’d been missing, I built confidence that I could handle longer and longer activities without getting too tired, and the enjoyment of nature was a reward for my work. And incrementally through continuous work and goals that gradually increased in difficulty, I built up to the mountains.
And finally, that glorious spring day, I hiked up Pitchoff. The going was gradual and slow, with lots of ups and downs in the trail. I rested many times, but finally I stepped out from behind the tree cover to the bald side of the mountain and witnessed one of the few truly breathtaking things I have ever witnessed. Beyond a landscape of rolling, cracked and impossibly placed rockface I saw the most pristine meeting of open sky and rolling, endless mountaintops that one can possibly imagine. I’d never seen a view like that. I thought I never I would.
It overwhelmed me completely, and I sank down behind the ridge and cried tears of pure unrestrained joy.
This is my story so far — these are my struggles and this is my triumph. This is one of the joyful moments in my life, and the feeling that I’m chasing. This is how I’ve come back from a place where so many never return from — the precipice of defeat, where all hope seems lost. This is why my goals are mountains.
I implore you, however it looks for you, do the same. Whether your mountains are literal like mine or merely figurative, find them. Work for recovery with all the strength you have. Chase down that joy. You won’t regret it.
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