Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Six Months: A Reflection

This past weekend marked six months since my life changed forever. It's been one hell of a ride, and I'm sure it's going to continue to be. Saturday, as we hiked to Humphreys Basin to celebrate Dave's birthday, I had a lot of time to reflect about the past six months. I thought sharing some of my thoughts would be good...

The Bitter Aftertaste

If you ask Dave what has been one of the driving forces in my recovery, he'd probably say something relating to how bitter I am. Actually, if you ask most anyone who knows me well, they'd probably tell you the same. Sure, being bitter can have negative connotations, but at the same time, it can really motivate you. 

Things were really starting to look up for me on so many fronts before the accident - financially things were getting better and more stable, job interviews (!!) in the aerospace industry, an upcoming vacation that involved skiing and buying a sweet Dynafit setup, several cross-country hiking trips planned for the summer, and I could go on and on. Well, it's obvious where all of that stands right now. Trying to make ends meet, with all of my bionic back and other bills, while not working is entertaining to say the very least. You should really ask Dave how many time I've been in tears on his shoulder over this whole mess. Needless to say, we didn't go on a ski vacation and we don't have sweet Dynafit setups yet. We haven't done any cross-country hiking trips either, although I hear EVO calling my name very soon. If you really want to know about bitter, ask me what it's like to get a call from a NASA contractor (that I've interviewed with before) about a specific position opening a few weeks after getting out of the hospital. I was months from being cleared to work and drive at that point. Just imagine how I felt. Just try imagining... 

It's been very hard to deal with feeling like everything was ripped away from you in a split second. The past six months, I've been trying to stay strong and fight through it, but it's been painfully difficult. Some days the only thing I can do is smile and pretend like everything is okay. In reality, I'm being torn apart inside. All I can really do these days is hope that it will all work out. I mean, I'm still alive for a reason, right?! 

The way I've come to see things over the past several months is that there are three different outcomes that could have happened - 1) I could be dead, 2) I could be paralyzed and bitter or 3) I could be walking again and bitter. I am thankful, and I'm sure many others are too, that Option 1 didn't happen. It's been pointed out to me several times that people have fallen from shorter distances and died. I fell from 15+ feet, landed on "concrete" snow/ice, and SURVIVED. That still blows my mind. I don't like option 2 either. My surgeon reminded me at the three month follow-up that they weren't sure I'd walk again before surgery. My doctor and physical therapist remind me that I am very lucky I had such an awesome surgeon. It's absolutely crazy to think about how close I was to being paralyzed and having to live with that for the rest of my life. Talk about a reason to be bitter. Struggling through learning how to use my legs again was a small price to pay for being able to walk again. Option 3 is what I was dealt and I'm learning to adapt to it. Even on the most frustrating and upsetting days, I am still alive AND I can walk again. Mind. Blown.

Making Bitterness Taste Good

I remember telling Dave that I was bitter as we looked out at the Great Western Divide the weekend that I made it to the top of Moro Rock unassisted. He asked if I was just bitter. I quickly responded, "I am so fucking bitter." He could tell, as I was staring at the mountains I love, that it was killing my soul not to be exploring them. It was that moment, staring at the Great Western Divide, that I was going to use the bitterness I was feeling as a driving force to get me back in the Sierra. I wanted to get my soul back.

As we hiked to Piute Pass on Saturday, I thought a lot about the progress I've made and just life in general. I remember when I first started hiking again, I was devastated about not making the goal I set of getting to Shadow Lake on my second hike since breaking my back. A month ago, when we didn't make my goal of Lamarck Col (due to weather and Dave's AMS symptoms), I was okay with it. I've learned over the past several months, that life is all about adapting. It hasn't always been easy to do, but I'm learning and evolving as days go by. As we were heading up the final slope to Piute Pass, I was shedding tears of joy. This was the first time we'd hiked to the west side of the Sierra Crest since I became bionic. As I sat in Humphreys Basin and soaked in the views, I still couldn't believe I was there. I did my longest hike to date on Saturday, 12 miles, and remembered how grateful I was to be hiking again.

Soaking in the view of Mt Humphreys

I'm not going to rehash a lot of what I've said in other posts about the strides I've made and how hard I've been fighting to get back to doing what I love. If you look at the progress I've made over the past few months, making it to the Great Western Divide actually has the potential to happen this year. It's still a stretch, but I think this is a lesson that nothing is impossible, not matter how impossible it seems or what obstacles get in your way. 

The Big Picture

There have been several lessons that I have learned over the past several months. Some big, some small. I've learned what really matters and what does not. I've learned that I can't please everyone. There are going to be those that aren't thrilled with the fact that I'm hiking again, or that I'm "graduating" PT already. I'm going to have my critics and I'm just going to have to deal with it. I have to do what's best for me... which is getting back to the Sierra.

Another lesson that I've learned, that really hit home late last week, is to live life to the fullest every single day and never take anything for granted. It could all change in a split second. I learned that the hard way in February. You never know what nature will throw at you, especially in the mountains, so cherish every second that you have and live every day like it's your last. Do what you love and are passionate about. That's what really matters. 

Humphreys Basin

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Interrupt This Program... v2.0

Disclaimer: This isn't going to be a post with exciting hiking progress like the last few have been. The first "We Interrupt This Program" wasn't at all easy for me to write because I'm not exactly one who likes to open up to others (just ask Kim). I think version 2.0 might be more difficult. There was no ass-kicking from Kim this time. You could say Mike kicked my ass, but it was more like nudging me back on course. I think he'd rather leave the ass-kickings to Kim... or to me kicking my own ass.

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere. :: F.A. Clark

One of the most difficult things for me is opening up about how I'm feeling. Recently it's been getting easier to do with Dave, Mike, and Kim, but it didn't start off that way. Even after months of being more open, at times it is still a struggle. When the accident first happened, especially when I was in the hospital, I had my game face on the majority of the time. Yes, I had moments of many tears being shed, but it was when others weren't around (the exception was in the first aid hut when I was in shock and just wanting to sit up). I knew everything was going to be different, but somehow I stayed fairly positive while in the hospital for weeks. 

As mentioned in previous posts, recovery has been up and down, both physically and emotionally. Lately, I've gotten a big dose of both. I've talked about the physical aspect of things a lot before, so I'm not going to touch on that much. I've been dealing with a lot more aches, pains, irritated muscles and nerves over the past few weeks and it has made life rough (more than it already was). At times it scares me to death because I don't know if what I'm feeling is normal in the recovery process or not. I know that things aren't going to feel the same ever again, but what is the "new normal" suppose to feel like? Will I ever be able to stop worrying about my back again?! The most important question to some people, and a sore subject for me, is will I ever get back to a healthy weight again? The joys of dealing with a healing body...

Mind Games

I really don't like dealing with emotions. I don't like talking about them even more. Talking about them with Dave has been getting easier. I'm pretty good at avoiding it with Kim if I want to, but then I kick myself in the ass for not doing it and talk to her about it anyway. It's a lot harder to do it on the blog. You'd think it would be easier since it's not a face-to-face talk, but it's hard opening up when you don't know how it will be received or you can't fully explain yourself. Well, sometimes you have to do things you don't like, and this is one of those times. 

I'm going to preface what I'm about to dive into by saying that I am very, very grateful to be alive. I am ecstatic to be doing so well in the recovery process because I know for a fact that things could have been so much worse. The past several weeks have been extremely rough for me. Most people wouldn't know because I've become pretty good at putting on my 'everything is peachy keen' face in public. I'm usually pretty quiet, so unless you know me well, it's hard to tell when something is wrong. Well, it's getting harder and harder to keep that peachy keen face on. The past week or so I've broken down so many times because of everything that I've been burying inside of me. I'm being ripped apart emotionally. I'm angry, bitter, pissed off, frustrated, etc. Dealing with the "new normal" while wanting to still live the old life is taking its toll on me. At times I honestly feel like I don't deserve to be alive or even doing so well because of how I'm feeling. Yes, there are times when I think I don't deserve to be alive because of my attitude some days. I know, I put it out there. Judge me if you want, but I'm just being honest. I don't feel this way all the time, but I have my days. I know that I am progressing fantastically, and get reminded of it all the time, but sometimes the negative shit happens. As Mike told me yesterday, the mind likes to play games with us. Well, my mind really likes to play games right now. I'm trying to keep the fight I had up, but some days it's just not there. Lately it has all been overwhelming and felt impossible to deal with. I know that it's not, it's just the mind playing games again. All I know is that I really need to get my fight back... it's been gone for too long.

If you're going through hell, keep going. :: W. Churchill

Mike told me in the hospital to "be strong and don't be shy about wanting to talk to Kim and I". Even with the vast amount of love and support I get from them, and the fact that they are like family, some days it's really hard to talk. They've seen me at lows and at highs, but some days I just can't do it. When I do though, even if only a little, it helps. They each have their own way of being supportive - Kim likes to kick my ass (I really do think she enjoys it), Mike likes to nudge me in the right direction and threaten slap therapy (it will hopefully never come to that). Dave is a good balance between them because he tends to like to listen and be supportive in that way. All of the love, support, and patience from them has kept me grounded and on track during this long road to recovery. Even on the painfully difficult days, I am grateful for having an amazing support system (including all those that aren't named Dave, Kim or Mike).

Bitter Anyone?!

The theme of my summer is bitterness. Depending on who you ask, it can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, I think it's both. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bitter about losing half of a ski season, just when I was falling in love with it (I was going to get on my first BD the day the fall happened). I'd be really lying if I said I wasn't bitter about losing all of the epic backpacking trips Dave and I had planned for the summer. I'm not sure if I can say that I'm more bitter about one than the other, but the backpacking one is hitting hard. Our annual trip to Precipice Lake, the Cloud Canyon-Deadman Canyon loop we had planned, exploring areas we hadn't been yet, all down the drain. The real knife-twisting stab in the heart for me was no week+ long adventure exploring and climbing the peaks in EVO. That was the soul crusher for me. I've been waiting to get back to EVO since we did the John Muir Trail last summer, and now it's going to have to wait even longer. I am ridiculously happy and grateful to be hiking again, but it's not really the same right now. My quads are still beasts, something that doesn't thrill Dave when it comes to tackling elevation gain, but having to be cautious and paying constant attention to my body takes something out of hiking it seems. I know that I'll be back to backpacking soon, and that the mountains will be there next year, but damn it's destroying my soul. Bitterness has it's downside...

Bitterness is a driving force in my recovery. It's pushing me to fight to get my life back to where it was before (or as close as I can get now that I'm bionic). I push myself in PT to go harder on the bike, to do more reps on the sled (gotta keep those quads strong), to just keep going and giving it my all. I push myself when we go "hiking" to get as far as I can, hopefully making it to the destination. I push myself because I want to get back to the way things were so badly. It hurts not being able to backpack, to work, to do all the the things I use to do, so I just keep pushing. Sometimes I push myself too hard. I hate not making it to our destination when hiking, so I keep pushing myself, even when I know I'm not listening to what my body is telling me. I push myself to move forward in recovery, burying the nasty emotional stuff that I need to deal with. Some days I push myself too much. Some days others push me too much. I've got to find a healthy balance, because that's the only way that I'm going to make it through this madness.

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. :: Dale Carnegie

Sometimes it's really hard to see what you have and appreciate it, especially when things are rough. This whole experience has been life-changing for me, in more than just the bionic sense. It still isn't easy, even with all that I have learned about myself in the past 5+ months, but I'm learning to appreciate every single day because I know that things could have turned out drastically different. They didn't for a reason, and I am very grateful for that, even if I don't always show it. I am learning that every day is an adventure and I am so grateful to those that are a part of my life... you know who you are.