Sometimes this journey I’m on feels like I’m bogged down or not getting very far. I love this picture of these climbers hiking through the deep snow. I can only imagine the effort it takes as they trudge through waist high snow, on the way to achieving the ultimate goal of reaching the summit of the mountain that lays ahead. As each climber pushes themselves further, I’m sure that it will get more and more difficult the further along they get. Not being a climber I have no idea what the body goes through mentally or physically while climbing. Although I don’t think you have to be all that smart to figure that out. My point however is that there are some very similar things that a climber goes through, that are almost the same as what a person who lives with a chronic illness has to go through.
On this chronic journey that I’m on, I’ve come up against many physical and mental challenges that I can compare to those of what a climber must go through. From the sheer physical excursion that one experiences, to the mental exhaustion and the utter will that it takes just to keep moving forward. I know there are probably a million and one different examples of the exertion it takes that you could use but let me explain. When I think of a person who’s climbing a mountain like Mount Everest, I associate that climb with extreme peaks and valley’s in ones physical and mental abilities. As a climber gets further and further into their ascent, the fight to summit doesn’t just end when one reaches the top as one would expect. In fact, it would appear that the most difficult part of the climb still lies ahead.
Even though some would expect the hardest part of the climb to be over once one reaches the summit, there are numerous stories that document the decent down as being even more challenging. In my opinion this makes perfect sense. At that altitude a person’s body is pushed to its very limit. Both physical exhaustion and lack of oxygen make the climb down even more difficult and dangerous than the climb up in some ways. A person trying to stay as sharp mentally becomes all the more difficult not to mention the physical exertsion that’s been used on the way up. Listen to me almost sounding like I know what I’m talking about. I’m not someone who climbs but I don’t think you have to be in order to understand the things that a person’s body are going through.
Its those continual peaks and valley’s in a climbers physical and mental well-being, that I or any other person with a chronic illness can relate to so well. In a sport like climbing there’s this mind over matter type of scenario that’s constantly playing out as they push their bodies to various extremes. In living my life with CRPS and chronic pain I also have to push my body to its very limit. I’m just not climbing mountains! What results however, is this same type of idea where my mind has to take over because of the physical exhaustion that my body is dealing with. The only way that I can keep myself moving forward sometimes, is through pure will and the mental attitude to keep myself going. With an illness like CRPS you never know what you might have to face next! So you have to be able to adapt and change when faced with adversity. Much like the consistently changing elements on a mountain that climbers face as they work their way towards a summit.
As I mentioned before there are all kinds of examples that I could give you. However, this particular one gives a great visual of the struggle between mental and physical that people quite often have to take on. Sadly this tug of war between the two doesn’t always end up the way we’d like. The fight often gets to be too great and a person has nothing left to give, unable to find their way to the other side of that adversity. We see this sometimes with those who climb a mountain like Everest. No matter how well prepared or experienced, the expedition they’re on can run into some pretty adverse situations that can be next to impossible to overcome. As a result, some ultimately end up losing their lives. Likewise, we see the same type of things happening with those who suffer from chronic illnesses. The adversity gets to be too much sometimes and an individual loses the ability to fight anymore. Either because of the illness itself or because the mental anguish has become too great and they end up taking their life.
One of the most common questions people ask me is what’s the most difficult part of living with CRPS is. That’s not always an easy answer to give. The same goes for any other type of chronic illness or rare disease that a person might be living with. Is it the pain? Is it the mental anguish that a person goes through? Or is it both? For me its really a combination of the two! Since being diagnosed there’s been this continual cycle of one challenge after the other requiring me to exert a great deal of physical AND mental strength. That is why this particular analogy resonates so strongly with me. I really can’t find any better way of explaining what it feels like having to live through the constant uphill battle. Never knowing what might be lying around the next corner, or the type of energy that it might require of me.
At times like these it can be difficult to maintain your footing. The ground begins to feel as if its slipping away from beneath your feet, and the inability to gain traction often stops or greatly reduces any of your forward momentum. Ask yourself this? If you were a climber would you immediately turn around and head back down the mountain? Or would you look for a different path? In our heads we often start looking for every reason to give up or make the easy decision. That’s why I try to reach out to those around me for support. They help me to see things from a different perspective or bring clarity when things can seem really overwhelming and confusing. Now I realize that some of you reading this may not have anyone to talk to. If that’s the case then take a look into the local resources in your area or even reach out to me! What’s important though if your feeling like this is to reach out!
I always say that I couldn’t do any of this without those around me to help. Their support is always there with the encouragement and inspiration I need to help me keep finding a way forward. Let me illustrate this with one last reference. You may have noticed that climbers often tether themselves to one another to create a human chain. Obviously, they do this for safety in order to minimize the chance of something happening to anyone on their team. If someone falls through a crevasse or looses their footing and starts sliding down a steep slope, then this allows the others to dig in and try and stop that individual from getting hurt. Essentially they become a lifeline for one another. The support that I’ve built up around me acts very much in the same sort of way.
Without that support it would be so much harder to keep myself moving forward. It’s also required lots of prayer! I make no bones about God being the leader of this expedition that I’m on. Of course, I have to keep reminding myself that God is quite clear in saying that we are going to face different trials at various times in our lives. I could write a book on all the trials and discouragement that has happened since my diagnosis. However, I’m choosing to look at it from the perspective that I can learn, grow, and ultimately see positive things come from everything.
I have to keep believing that God will keep leading me along the right path! Even if that means taking the one that’s more difficult, or full of challenges that bring with it so many questions. As I follow the route that He sets out for me, its only going to help me to become more courageous and give me clearer vision. The hard part is staying on the route He sets out for me! Although things can be a struggle at times, I have to remind myself of everything that’s going on inside of me. That with every step I take I’m growing and changing in so many different ways. Even ones that I don’t realize yet.
There are days where this climb just never seems to end, and its tough and exhausting to have to deal with. Then I remind myself about all of the reasons I have just given you in the last two paragraphs! I really hold these reasons to heart and its what keeps me going. When I get to a crossroads or a place where I just want to give up because it all seems to be too much I remember why I’m on this journey and who’s leading it!