Friday, May 15, 2020

Grief and Blame

I still haven’t resolved the days or weeks leading up to Yosemite in 2017.  I blame myself.  

In my youth, I didn’t felt comfortable- or learn an appropriate way— to express my needs verbally.  I do remember my dad saying something like, “if you don’t like the way we discipline you, speak up” or “ask why,” but I feared I would be criticized, joked at or didn’t want to raise a stink.  I was already a cryer, good or bad, compliment or critique.  I cried.  Many jokes about how I have cried in every National Park.  

I didn’t like the critical attention.  My coping skills took me to my bedroom.  I would talk out loud, voicing frustration, unfairness, anger, sadness to my pillow or papered walls.  As I aged, journaling became a less noticeable flare-up.  I learned to let things slide—- to a point.  My personal tipping point.  As an adult, this tipping point is where friends, lovers, even parents, on occasion, would experience my sudden exasperation of incoherent emotion-thought, with a rushed and louder voice.  

As a child, I also struggled with body image.  I think most folks have/do.  I grew up with family members who are overweight, a mom who pointedly struggles with it herself and a dad who would repeatedly poke jest in obesities direction.  My dad was playful, so his remarks were indirect asides, re-writing and jokingly performing of tv theme songs etc.  I think my mothers weight concerns, dads jokes, societal trends, my innate personality and my communication fear/barrier combined for no one to take full blame.  Just a realization I have had since my late 20’s.  The pervasive need to “earn” my beer or ice cream through cardio-exercise.  

I was working on appreciating myself, my body, my gifts, my faults — the roundness of me since I finally opened my eyes, again at a very slow late 20’s.  Andrew’s death enlightened some more flaws, followed by the unfortunate downward spiral this next relationship and I found ourselves in.  For about a year, he wanted out.  At first I was amendable to him moving out, taking space.  When it didn’t happen, we found ourselves battling for our own stances, our own versions requesting “love me, respect me.”  Working together, living together—- too much in your face time --it became unhealthy.  

I was afraid to speak up for myself in a direct and compassionate manner.  I was afraid of it ending.  I was afraid to look deeper, hard in the mud.  I was impatient with myself, impatient with him.  
Afraid but why?  

For months prior to my injury, I often felt hurt, blamed, bitchy, conflicted, defensive, confused… all the things you feel when love and communication are not clear.  My memory and perspective is relevant to my experiences and upbringing. 

He the same.  Neither is wrong.  I have never felt that he was wrong to feel or express his hurt, anger, frustrations, and sadness towards our relationship, towards my accident.   Fuck to pile on them both.  I am sorry.  We all swim in the water in our own way.  

My struggle is two-fold.  Having suffered a life-altering traumatic injury, hitting my head, coupled with having a dynamic family/friend ICU experience.  I wasn’t me.  I was on pain medication, uncharted emotional, short-term memory and task oriented forgetful-land.  I feel like I am making an excuse for myself during the first nine months to a year of my existence after my injury.  I feel like I pushed people away.  I was dealing with an exceptional amount.  I may have looked “with it” but wasn’t sleeping, was depressed, didn’t want to be alive, confused, hurt——  denial, bargaining, coping.  So was he.  We don’t know as outsiders the depths of despair people wade through.  

This rant coming around to the fact, I don’t forgive myself.  The work I had been doing wasn’t enough, not even close.  I focus on my failing relationship as a reason I fell, if I had spoken up, broken up, I wouldn’t have gone to Yosemite.  I would have, could have trained for the running endeavors with a weepy heart. 

It is not his fault.  

I could focus on my parents and the body image shit, it is not their fault either.  

I could blame social media, companies for perpetuating good-looking and success.  Nope, silly.  

It makes the most sense that I am accountable for my actions.  For not honestly or more loudly expressing to Josie that my heart hurt from Hayden dying, the entire trip to Yosemite didn’t feel right because I was running away from the truth in my 4 year relationship falling apart.   

I hoped for marriage, was clinging to prove I was good enough, kind enough, worthy enough of being asked the question.  I am not embarrassed to say it, I want to be married.  I want the story tale question to be asked of me.  
I wasn’t content with the body, looking back at photos I am an idiot.  I was strong and slender, even in the “pudgier times.”  Even now when I look at my big arms, bony ass legs and more fat layered belly squished in my wheelchair.  I have a long ways to go with this work.

After another emotionally tasking climbing ranger season, I was tired.  I love my teammates but the tight, persistent and demanding dynamic could be trying.  I was confused about my relationship with rock climbing.  Not in a good headspace.  

Self-Blame.  Anyone of those phrases, said in the mirror and I wouldn’t be paralyzed.  My choice to push them all aside, or down.  Distraction.  

This pandemic has me at another layer of loss for distraction, similar to the year following my injury.  I am not traveling.  I don’t have a job at the moment.  Friends are struggling to maintain their business’ or sanity in this small town.  We are supposed to be socially distant anyway but that doesn't feel new to me and COVID times.  Friendships, as a whole, are a can of worms since my injury.  I feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow for my friendships.  Many lost.  I feel lost.  I still struggle.  Where we are now, far far away.  Am I still pushing you guys away?  

Why am I writing all this?  Writing is cathartic and when I return to reread in a few days before possibly publishing, I can sort what I mean on paper but also in my mind.  

Why am I sharing it? In my haze, have I told those I love, and strangers afar, I love them, I am thankful?   Thank you.  I am so incredibly grateful for the cards, the books, the chocolates, the weekly visits, the hugs, the exhausting heart-broken repetitive conversations they listened to, the moody nerve pain days and answering the “surely she is crying again” phone calls.  I know I have said it in person to them but for some reason feel it isn’t enough.  I still feel a need to convince others I am; thankful, sorry, working on being pleasant, genuine nice, mostly kind, loving, a great listener, caring, compassionate— good enough—- worthy.  

This is not all them.  
This is obviously is a pervasive trait that I need to still sort.  Why do I need approval?  Why am I so concerned with others perspective of me?  The perfectionist is resistant to forgiving myself, as I am in this obvious seated position due to my own choices, habits—- me.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Life Long Loves Tour--- a draft just publishing now.

After returning from an 8 week adventure throughout Patagonia, I had a brilliant idea of traveling some more!!
I haven't written in ages and have, in fact, opened up this blog many-a-times to write something down but I feel my thoughts swarming.

I was home--Estes Park-- for 11 weeks in 2013.
The 2014 year was shaping up to be similar, as I left for a 2 month trip to Patagonia on January 3.  I find myself tired from travel.
I keep my schedule full of friends, full of trips, full of busy.

Am I distracting my heart from the loss of loved ones?

To remedy this, I had the brilliant idea of traveling some more...well with two intentions.
One, visit the people who have infected me with their brilliance, compassion, passions, and love over the years.
Two, visit those important people because time with them is often the best gift (thank you PK for that reminder).  So, off I went to spend time with those that I love so dearly, those that have taken care of me through thick and thin.

Estes Park to Moab to Mesa to Yucca Valley to San Diego to Groveland to Tahoe to Bend to Seattle to Nosara, CR to Bellingham to Leavenworth.

Plans, like always, altered.  The convergence of the 'family' (a blend of KMAC crew/Andrew's friends) in Indian Creek had me layover for an extra 4 days.  The positive support amongst one another towards all of our individual endeavors and psyche (for climbing, for fun, for being genuinely nice and caring people) is unmatched.  I climbed some of my hardest Indian Creek climbs during this week, also with some of my biggest lobbers!  Such a grand time.  I almost on-sighted Sweden Ringle at the end of my first day!  (Thank you MonKeys ---you know who you are!)

In Mesa, AZ.  My mom and I went on a Great-Horned Owl hike (she knew a sneaky spot where two were nesting). After dinner, my dad and I played with his new telescope, something we did when I was a child at our lakeside cabin in Minnesota.

There was a full moon, it was neat.

My parents, always exploring- continuing the adventures with open inquisitive eyes.

In Joshua Tree, Craig, Hogan, and Erik treated me to an awful (food not company) Mexican dinner in Yucca Valley after days and days of granite crystal wrestling.  These men, excellent athletes, have been a source of inspiration and possibility.  You can try hard every day, with a family, with athletics, with the mind, with yourself and a little scotch goes a long way!  Thank you!

Patti and I boldly plunged into the Pacific waters near San Diego for a body board session.  Catching up on our 20 year friendship.  Discussion has altered from the days of 2-a-day swim practices and Dairy Queen treats to married life and loosing loved ones.  Her mother, a second mother to me, has alzheimers disease.  It is awful to hear the diminishing of the this lovely ladies mind and body, with such hopelessness.  It is remarkable to have been friends for so long---regardless of time and space to know that we love one another.
"Bohemian," she looked me up and down as I arrived.  Ha!  I got it from her.  Growing up with Patti, I was inspired to step out from under my naive roof of existence.
Travel.  Embarrass yourself.  Try new things.  Laugh.  Laugh to the point of embarrassing yourself again.  Repeat!  Thank you Patti!

Matty and PK just got hitched!!  So, next stop Groveland, CA.  Hopes of climbing in the Valley, diminished as rain moved in.  We climbed at Jailhouse instead, overhanging sport routes that are pump worthy.  

I don't know Matty all that well.  I do know he has a  quick wit and he brings a smile to one of my favorite ladies.  PK, has been a pillar of support for years.  We giggle and chat simultaneously, faces turning blue when it has been too long since we have spoken.  We have suffered similar losses, similar need for movement and similar haircuts and colors.  This lady reminds me to be true to the important people in my life and myself.  Time is one of the more

------The road trip continued north visiting my good friend Sam Piper in Truckee.  We ran and caught up.  Next stop was Bend, visiting and randomly dog sitting for a high school friend and fellow swim team guy Micah Vitoff.  I didn't know anyone there and they were off on a trip, so I took care of their giant friendly fur and sourced out some solo mountain bike time.  Time to reflect and return to a clear mind before jetting off to Leavenworth, Washington and teaching a month long Wilderness EMT course. 

While there I reconnected with Jens Holsten, we met in Patagonia on Fitz Roy.  I was spreading Andrews ashes on the summit, while he and his partner Chad were enjoying the journey and summit views.  Chad fucking got hit in the head as they descended a different side of the mountain, we never saw him again.  So, it was healing to connect with Jens on this trip and get to share my little bit of grief process. 

"if we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. one's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things." Henry Miller.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Last of the Sidetracked

3/3 CONTINUED : I wrote this piece for a lovely little journal called Sidetracked.  It contains  incredible stories and beautiful photos of adventures, culture and experiences around the world.  Get the June 2019 issue and you'll see the full story.


My healing process mirrors this Earthly cycle. Grief floats through the raging rapids, sinking in, jolting into boulders, dragging across shallow bottoms, all while trying to maintain an airway as it jostles across the unforeseen landscape in one piece. 

I am still whole. 

I vaguely remember waking behind Texas Flake. Josie, my climbing partner, rappelled down to me. I was face down. I’d been unconscious, strewn amongst boulders. My head was bleeding. Josie rolled me over and I came to. Excruciating pain was vivid then, even though now it is a vague memory. I can’t feel my legs, I told Josie. She worked in Yosemite on their Search and Rescue team, and initiated the rescue by cell phone. Swiftly, a YOSAR helicopter flew two rescuers out to just below Josie and I. It was a delicate procedure given the sheer granite face, unpredictable winds, tiny ledges, and  virtually no room for error. 

That notion, ‘no room for error’ – I could marinate in that for hours. I already have. I worked as a climbing ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park, similar duties and job function as those then tasked with rescuing me. I hiked around every day on the job communicating preventative safety measures with recreational visitors to the backcountry. Our crew was intended to be always available and in high-functioning physical and mental shape. Ready to bust up trail at any hour, after any exercise we might have already done, to help those with a medical emergency, wherever they may be in the Park. I coveted the daily interactions with people and the wilderness. How lucky I was to marry them both as my job. 

While I evolve into acceptance, I strive to find joy and purpose. My life was brimming with it before. Before I was paralysed. Now, my brain is also paralysed at times, stuck on the spinning narratives of the past. Wishing I could run across crisp mountain summits and red desert trails. I long for a time when I can feel if my bladder is full or enjoy a slap on my backside. Golly, how about feeling an orgasm! I make bargains: for my injury to be one vertebrae lower, so I might have the use of my quadriceps and the ability to just stand up without clunky archaic full-leg braces that make me think of Forrest Gump. I have yelled at myself in private moments: 'What the fuck were you doing? Why didn’t you pay attention? Why were you even there?

The irony. The girl who couldn’t sit still.

As the seasons change the river changes her voice. Summer grows and she becomes loud and obnoxious.  Maybe she is scared as her waters spill over the bank. Fall evolves into winter and the chatter of the river quiets, its danger simmers. Fall brings romance and delicateness. Yellow leaves float down her curves. In winter, she freezes, perhaps flowing quietly under the ice. Unknowable hazards lurk there. Spring returns and she begins to swell, bellowing her growth. Year after year,  this process continues, like the process of grief. It may seem to have calmed down; I may seem to be ‘crushing life’ because I have this archaic device that allows me ‘freedom' of movement. I sit. My legs burn. While I am constantly in physical pain, my mental pain is more like the river. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes loudly exclaiming my sorrow; sometimes believing I am safe to walk across the ice in the winter only to find my foot slips in and I am back in the river’s darkness.  
Maybe I am crying with sadness.  Maybe I am yelling with anger.  Maybe I am bargaining, trying to get my damn foot out of the river, for one more muscle to work.  Maybe I am watching the yellow aspen leaves charily floating along as I soak in beautiful fall sunlight and warmth. This will continue for the rest of my life. As the river continues to flow for eternity. As the burble in my head calms, I have more time to ponder Me. Who was I? Who am I now? Who do I want to be? When we have experienced our own death, or something like it, how do we move forward in our unexpected rebirth?  

I am still a mover. I want to move my body, move my legs. My lower half will most likely never move again, without the help of science, research, awareness, the compassion of strangers.  I still can't sit still, taking part in a new movement, a new way to move my body but also new way to advocate for something sitting in my own lap.   Maybe, it was never the need to quell the body through physical endeavours, as I thought, I was perpetually seeking the straightest line, thinking that was the most efficient path in the mountains, in my work environment, in my relationships.  I was focusing on the wrong system, the wrong shape.  I was confused in my previous life, perceiving most circumstances in a linear way.  Perhaps true access to that quiet mental space and focus, is to also spend some time in the chaos of the mind.  After all the insecurities of my body stem from the insecurities in my mind. In this new life, a balance better serves the goal of full body appreciation.  

The shape of life.

The Earth continues to orbit the sun. The river flows downstream, ebbing and rushing, twisting and turning, but water fills its banks through the subtle process of freezing and melting. The river cycles from land to sky, feeding new life, helping the natural process of decay and renewal; carving new paths, fuelling the evolution of rebirth and death for eternity.  This circle is full, all encompassing of emotion and experience.  I am still on this earth and participating in the continuous cycle.  I continue to breathe. I am changed, carving a new path but my head and my heart like this Earth, are still full, colourful, and rounded.