Thirty One

 

Today’s post is not going to be about fashion.  It’s going to be about something so much greater.  It’s going to be long, and full of photos.  Some of these photos are flattering, some are not.  Most of them I had no idea were being taken but each of them has a story, and each of them carries an emotion.  I wasn’t expecting my journey to be captured in such a raw and authentic way…but for that, I am ever so grateful to my wonderful boyfriend who, in his pride for me, decided to document the steps of my journey – both good and bad.  I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift.


 

Yesterday, I began the journey to conquering my fears.

One of those is a crippling fear of heights.
Like, we’re talking heart-stopping, throat-tightening, won’t-even-walk-near-a-second-floor-railing-in-a-mall fear of heights.

So naturally, I decided to climb a mountain.

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This whole thing started a week ago.  My boyfriend and I went on a casual hike in the mountains to Heart Creek Trail.  While we were there, he took notice of Heart Mountain, which the trail runs alongside.

 

His first instinct – “Wow!  I want to climb that.”
Mine? – “Are you INSANE?!”

But the day went on, and the more I thought about it, the more the idea intrigued me.  It wasn’t until we saw other climbers along it’s edge that I started to think, “Okay, we could totally do that.  It can’t be that hard.”  So with very few hours left in the day (and a watch telling us the incorrect time), we set out to find where this mountain climb began.

We made it (what we thought) about half way up, until the weather turned and a storm started rolling in.  I’ve watched enough movies and documentaries to know that when weather on a mountain starts to change, you don’t take it lightly.  I made the executive decision to turn around and head back down, though my win did not come without a fight.  We decided that we would try again, and next time we would make it.

Fast forward a week to April 10.  We once again found ourselves standing at the base of Heart Mountain.  This time more determined than ever, and clearly having brought our naivety along with us for the ride.  Our previous venture had seemed like a breeze.  I was surprisingly not scared at all, given the circumstances, and regardless of the insane reviews that we had read since our first failed attempt, I was totally convinced that this would be a cake walk.

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I was not at all prepared for the experience I was willingly walking right into.

I was doing this to face a demon, a fear that has plagued me intensely in my adult life.  I had expected there to be some physical challenge, but I could never have prepared myself for the psychological torture I was about to be drug through.

The first part (what we now realize was about a quarter) of the hike went smooth like our first attempt.  We both took notice that we didn’t have the same energy as the last time, but we chalked that up to lack of sleep/lack of heat/lack of warm up/lack of oxygen… basically any excuse we could give ourselves that would convince us to keep going.

Great start, amiright lol

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See? Breezy!

Everything was truly going dandy, until we breached our previous turn-around point.

It was in this moment that I was playing the comedian and scoffed, “Oohh looks like the fun really starts here!”, but little did I know how accurate my ‘comedy’ would become.

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The thought that I was maybe in for more than I realized crossed my mind, but I quickly shot that down and told myself it was just nerves.  I’ve never climbed a mountain before!

I even took a moment to twerk a little since my boyfriend is a genius and brought along a portable radio for us.  (I can’t believe he actually took a picture of this LOL)

Werk, werk, werk, werk, werk, werk…

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Peekaboo!

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Ahh, still happy!  Still quite clueless.

I had already had a few moments of having to reiterate to myself that I could do this, that I was capable… though it was previous to this point that I had decided it was time to put up the blinders, and try my damnedest to NOT look left or right – and ESPECIALLY DO NOT LOOK BEHIND YOU/DOWN.

CHEERS! (Obligatory tourist shot)

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Moving forward didn’t seem so bad now.  I was keeping my eyes on the prize aka staring directly at the ground in front of me, only briefly looking up and forward to remain on path and nothing else.

It was here that my first true anxiety attack came on.  I had tears well up in my eyes, my throat started to close in and restrict my already low intake of oxygen…I was shaking so badly I thought I would slide right off the side of the mountain.

I actually had to stop and bring myself into Tree Pose to reground.  RIDICULOUS, right?! My boyfriend had a mild heart attack when he saw me standing on one leg on the side of the mountain.  It took everything in me to calm my nerves and re-centre myself to keep going; that tiny bit of yoga that I brought with me made a world of difference in that moment.

In fact, here is a photo I took just after I got myself together; for the first time in a long time I snuck a peek to my left…and just about shit my pants.  There’s the slope for ya!

I muttered to myself, “Terrible idea…” and owned a moment of self-hatred for straying from my plan of action.

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I reminded myself, swallowing the lump in my throat, that I could do this, that I was safe.  That I needed to put those blinders back up and everything would be just peachy!

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Yeah.  Safe.  Peachy.  All good!

Well, it must have worked, because my smile was back!

(Or maybe that had to do with having no idea that THIS was behind me!?!)

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It didn’t last for long.  Tackle one hurdle, only to come face to face with another more challenging one.  If it wasn’t having to navigate our way up increasingly steeper slopes, it was having to straight up free style rock climb over a ridge (or two).

It was here that I looked up, said, “Are you f***ing kidding me!…”, turning to my boyfriend like:

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He chuckled at my expression, and I half hoped I was joking – although seeing this photo now, there is no denying the truth behind it.  I was terrified and feeling defeated.  I had made it through the first rock climb required and was hoping with all hope that I wouldn’t have to repeat it.  But here we were.

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I can’t count the number of times that I said both inside my head and out loud, “Why the hell did I think this was a good idea?”…and I wouldn’t know the answer to that question for another almost 2 hours.

Being the sweet man he is, my boyfriend softly suggested I try a more upbeat approach.  We had both been reciting positive mantras to the other when one of us started to question our inner confidences.  It served to help the other, but I think it helped ourselves more.

So I responded:

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Fake it ’til you make it, right?!

I had a moment of utter weakness at this point, and all I could think was, “I can’t fucking do this. There is NO WAY that I can do this.  If I somehow find a way up, there’s no way I’ll find a way down.”

Out of nowhere, like the clouds parting and the rays of the sun bursting through,  I got a second wind;  I had come up for a breath of air.

“F**K IT.  What am I doing?! I’m bad ass!!! I can totally do this.  I’m just gonna do it, and that’s that!”

Off I went with gumption.

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That confidence lasted all of 5 minutes.

“Babe, look back here for a second.”
“No thanks.”
“Come on! Just a quick second.”
“… okay fine.”

CHEESE!

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And, in this moment of looking back when I promised myself that I wouldn’t – my friend Annie Anxiety had returned.  ALL that consumed my thoughts now was, “How the fuck am I going to get off of this mountain if I keep going? I can’t keep going. I have to turn around.  I’m probably already stuck here.”

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A little voice inside me started to speak and I remembered the reason why I was doing this – that I was fighting against this very thought – and it gave me strength to push on.  I had already made it THIS far and there was no damn way I was doing this a third time.  Now or never.  We were way too close to the summit to pack up now.

Onward!  Pull those big girl panties up.  Find a way.

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NAILED IT.

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A short while later and we had reached our destination!  SUMMIT! FINALLY!

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Nothing could have prepared me for the emotion that would hit me like a freight train.

All I could do was cry (and thank God for sunglasses 😉 ).

The pride that overwhelmed me was incredible.

I DID IT.  I ACTUALLY DID IT.  I’M SITTING HERE THOUSANDS OF FEET IN THE AIR AND I’M STILL TERRIFIED BUT I’M HERE.  I MADE IT.

The tears that I swallowed, the trembling, the fear that I had to continually beat down inside of me – to push my body and my mind past its absolute limits – all for this moment.  This achievement. This victory.

Now I understood why I knew this was a good idea.

I drank it in like nectar to a bee.

And then I just sat there.

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Alone with my thoughts.  Totally engrossed in this divinity of nature; in this connection that I was pulled towards so strongly.  Revelling in my glory, but also in sadness.  How can moments like these go so unappreciated by some?  This Earth.  Our home.  Its magic.  These majestic, strong, jagged peaks that literally thrust their power and beauty into your face.

Perspective.  Appreciation.  Respect.  Gratitude.

And I cried again, out of grief for this world.  I was so overcome.

Eventually, I gathered my emotions, and my belongings, and wandered off to explore with my love.  To take in the grand scenery that enveloped us.  To dwell in what we had accomplished together.

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Truly on top of the world, by all definitions ❤

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We were speechless.

The views the whole way through this trek were breathtaking; worth the pain and sweat, worth every tear, worth every thought that I had had to combat.

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(I have a thing for contrasting textures)

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After sending out a little gift of love and thanks, we began our descent.  I had no choice but to look down at this point, and something strange was happening.  The more I embraced the view, connected with the Earth, trusted my own strength – the more my fear and anxiety began to fade.

This climb was far more psychologically challenging than I could ever have imagined.  I wasn’t expecting my anxiety to join me, in all her glory, on this journey; to skip along beside me, chanting taunts into my ear.  I was not at all prepared for the physical or emotion breakdown that I would endure.  The grip of terror that would wrap itself around my throat, choking me.  The breath that would be harder and harder to take, and not just because the air was thinning.

When I made the concrete decision to summit Heart Mountain and face my fear of heights, I had no idea what I had signed myself up for.  I’d seen photos of people who had done it, and I’d thought that it looked so easy.  So attainable…and attainable it is, but it was not without a price.

When I decided to summit Heart Mountain, spending a solid 1.5 of the almost 3 hours it took fighting back tears wasn’t what I pictured.  I had to battle so much of my mind that I questioned each step of the way if this was what I actually wanted to do.

Had I made a good decision?
Was I crazy to think I could do it?
Who the hell decides to do this in their right frame of mind anyway, especially with a paralyzing fear of heights!?!?
Couldn’t I have started with a jungle gym or a ladder?! 

In setting this goal, and stopping at nothing to reach it, I learned a few things.

I learned that the only limitations I have I’ve set myself, and they exist only in my mind.

I learned that maybe to conquer our fears (and our minds), we must learn to walk hand in hand with them.  We have the power.  We always will.

I learned that I can trust myself, because that trust will carry me through.

I learned that I am an extremely emotional being, and to allow myself to live in those moments of emotion is empowering.  It’s brave, and bold.  It’s human, and it makes me stronger.

I learned that I am so much more capable than I ever would have given myself credit for. That when I think it’s time to quit, I’ve only just begun.

My face might be burned to a crisp (because I always fucking forget sunscreen), and my body might be aching in places I didn’t even know could ache – but my soul is so beyond fed and I am so humbled and changed by this experience.   I can’t wait to do it again.

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