Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Limitations: How I Climbed a Mountain

If you have a mental illness, one of the hardest things to accept is limitations. Old adages like "you can do anything you put your mind to" frequently doesn't apply to us. We have limitations.

I've struggled my entire life with this concept. There have been so many times when I know I can't do something but the society norm (or my mom) has made me feel inadequate if I can't. Work is probably the most prominent example. I'm not opposed to working hard, in fact, I tend to work harder than my immediate peers in an effort to convince myself that I am normal, even above average. Up until nine years ago, I held jobs that required many hours, a lot of responsibility, and loads of stress. Well in actuality, I sought out the responsibility and worked more hours than required. And looking back, I am sure much of my stress was self induced. My point is that for about seventeen years, my work life was peppered with everything from minor breakdowns to complete nuclear mental collapses. All because I hadn't accepted my limitations.

I have numerous limitations that I have tried to overcome throughout my life by simply forcing my way through the situation. Sometimes this works, but frequently it doesn't. I've accepted I can't work a full time stressful job. Part time with flexible hours is best for me. I can't run. I broke both my feet as a teen, that coupled with a less than stellar cardiovascular system and minimal coordination, limit me from most athletics. So now I enjoy walking/hiking in the woods a few times a week.

A major phobia that has grown over the years is that of heights. I don't ever remember being scared of heights until about six years ago. I went to an amusement park with a friend and we went up in one of those giant swings (300 feet up). As soon as we started getting above the tree tops, I felt my chest constrict and I couldn't breathe. The anxiety was paralysing. I closed my eyes tight, white knuckled the  handlebars, and tried to go to my "happy place" in my head. I do my best to keep my feet on the ground now.

However, as someone with mental illness, it's all too easy to let our fears and anxieties keep us from experiencing life. I think sometimes the trick is to find a way to outsmart our fears. If you would've told me I would climb a mountain someday, I would've laughed in your face. Mountain climbing brings to mind steep cliff faces high above the ground with muscular people rigged up in special harnesses, with ropes and pulleys and such. Hell no! I have neither the strength, endurance, or mental stamina for such an endeavor. But a little over a week ago, I outwitted my fears in the mountainous North Wales.

My husband and I were on holiday staying in a quaint cottage across from a pair of mountains. We planned going on some nature walks and the visitors guide in our cottage recommended numerous ones including one leading up between the two mountains to a hidden lake. So our first morning, we got dressed, slipped on our hiking shoes, packed lunch in a rucksack, and started our way up the rolling pastures leading to the lake. I tried not to pay too much attention to how far and long we had gone, because I knew I would start thinking we needed to turn back. We took short breaks when I got a little tired and took in the beautiful scenery. My husband would scamper up rocky outcroppings while I rested. Before I knew it, we had come to the lake. There was a sheep path gently meandering up the side of the larger mountain and my husband suggested we walk up a bit and find a nice place to eat our lunch. So up we went. 

As we ate our sandwiches, I looked around at my surroundings and realised we were actually quite high up, but it didn't scare me since I wasn't staring over a cliff edge. When I looked up the side of the mountain, I noticed we really weren't that far from the top. I could tell the climb the rest of the way would be a lot more challenging for me, but I knew I could do it. I started making my way up slow but steady. My legs were trembling and heart pounding as I reached the top. I did it! I climbed a mountain!

I'll never run a marathon or go sky diving, but this chick found a way to outwit my limitations. I didn't eliminate them, but I learned that sometimes you have to find back doors so that you don't miss out on the things that make life worth living.