Friday morning began on a sandy, river-side beach after spending the night under the stars. I had slept out on the porch the night before and decided I would venture down to the river. Two other girls braved the wilderness with me. It was the most incredible thing I may have ever seen. I’ve tried to star gaze before, but have always been a victim of light pollution. Looking up at the star-filled sky, I felt a certain serenity that I hadn’t expected. The thought of the bear we’d seen crossing the river earlier in the day didn’t scare me. The risks associated with kayaking whitewater didn’t scare me. Climbing on giant boulders high above the river didn’t scare me. Being connected with nature allowed me to trust that everything would be ok. Taking risks didn’t feel risky. I felt brave and inspired. I felt devastated at the thought of having to leave.
I’ve been struggling with what to write about our final day together on the river. There were so many First Descents traditions shared with us that I’m afraid would lose their magic if I tried to write about them. Some things just need to remain in our memories.
Paddling down that river one last time, I tried to stay in the present but couldn’t help but think about where I’ve been and where I’m going.
Just one year ago, my personal goal was to simply feel strong again. I meant just physically at the time but I know it was more than that. I had taken a beating by what life had offered me and was worn down. In our times of fatigue and despair, the world spins on around us. The options seem simple – stay still and fall behind or pull up your boot straps and get on with it. I chose to power forward.
I was diagnosed with MS on a Friday while my second-grade class was on a field trip. I took the weekend to cope and went back to work on Monday. When I started disease modifying injections I went home from work and breastfed my babies one last time, crying the entire time, and spent the next several weeks uncomfortably waiting for my body to get the message that it didn’t need to make milk anymore. When I was diagnosed with bipolar 2, borderline personality, and PTSD I took no time off of work and quietly figured it out on my own. When I had to put my dog down I took just a half day off of work to say goodbye. When I had a miscarriage several months later, I left work on that Monday to have a D&C and went back to work the next day.
I thought I was doing the right thing. I was powering through the waves coming my way and not letting them take me down. Sadly, I was so concerned with keeping up that I didn’t allow myself time to heal. I resented my mind and my body for so many things. I resented the people around me because they wanted to help but they just didn’t understand.
I realize now that I was going through every wave train without ever pulling off into an eddy to rest and recharge.
It can be hard to get into and out of the eddies. You have to come in at just the right angle, paddling hard to prevent losing that angle, and lean into the turn at just the right time. But it’s absolutely worth it once you’re in. Not only can you take a break just to relax, you can scout the river ahead and make a plan for how to attack it. Even more importantly, you can look back at what you just went through and be proud of yourself.
I am so very proud of myself for what I accomplished in one week. I sat in a whitewater kayak for the first time on Monday and left Friday with passion for a new hobby. I came in on a Sunday not knowing anything about where I’d be staying or who I’d be with and left on Saturday with a pit in my stomach at the thought of not seeing these people or this place again. I felt connected to nature and to other people. It was a feeling of love I had lost touch with for quite some time.
By taking the time to step away from my little piece of the world, my daily grind, I had given myself time to heal. And now, with my heart feeling whole again, I feel strong. I feel brave. I’m scouting what lies ahead and I’m ready to paddle back into the current to take on what’s coming next.
#firstdescents #tarkiomontana #msawareness