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Don’t pack your fears

Yup…another tale from the trail!  LOL

I don’t know if this happens with you, but when I’m deep in nature, away from all the busyness of life, my mind wanders to wonderful places. I Just wish I could figure out how to “re-create” these escapes. You know…in the middle of the city…on a Tuesday afternoon…from 2-4…between laundry and dishes LOL. But seriously…I could really use more of them in my life!

OK…here we go…

I’ve never thought of myself as much of a worrier. You see, when my boys were young, I quickly realized I had to leave worry behind if I was EVER going to get ANY sleep…or avoid developing an ulcer! I mean, when my youngest was only two years old, I would have to put his tyke-sized bike helmet on his tiny little head and TAPE the clasp shut (so he couldn’t remove it) before letting him out of his highchair in the morning. Seems a little over-kill, does it? Well…in the days and weeks before instilling this after-breakfast-ritual, I would literally turn my back for one minute, to wipe the yogurt off his tray and chase after a few rogue blueberries…and find him half a block down the street on his bike…alone…having the best time of his 2-year-old life! You see? Oh! And also…when he was learning to ski…straight down the hill…or right over a jump…full tilt…no fear! Are you feeling any of this? OR when he built a ski jump in the ravine behind our house and learned how to do a backflip…and land in a clump of trees…and ski out unharmed… If I hadn’t learned to embrace the energetic, crazy, determined, thrill-seeking nature of my son…I’d probably be curled up in some corner right now, full of wrinkles and grey hair…oh wait…the last two are true…hmmmm….well, maybe I didn’t do as good a job at leaving my worry behind as I thought! LOL…or maybe it’s just age??? Nah!! #embracedenial

You would think that raising a thrill-seeking child would make me really good at, at least “organizing” my worry. You know, compartmentalizing it and bringing it out in bits and pieces when necessary (remember the back flips into the bush?!?!). But I wonder if my “worry” has disguised itself…and just looks different…specifically when I backpack.

You see, I’m the kind of person who can foresee every eventuality of a situation. So, you can imagine, that when I must fit ALL my gear, clothing, food and water into a 45L backpack…we might have a problem. There are some things I just won’t leave behind – matches, knife, water filter, band aids, headlamp, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, extra pair of socks and a stove. FYI, in the backpacking world, EVERYTHING else is considered “extras.” Wait…no extra clothes (or underwear)? Nope. Some backpackers don’t even bring a sleeping mat, proper tent, or even a stove #ultralightbackpacking. Let’s be clear, I am not THAT committed to lowering my base weight. However! I certainly do tend to pack WAY more than I probably need to. What if we want to play cards? What if I smell? What if I get dry skin? What if I’m hungrier than I thought I would be? What if I want to swim? What if I want to journal? What if I want to read a book? What if I want to do yoga? What if I want a hot drink with my meal? What if I want milk in my tea? What if, what if… what if?…I really could go on and on…

There’s a great “line” my husband always says to me when I’m preparing for a backpacking trip. He tells me, “Don’t pack your fears.” Is that what I do? Are all the extra things I like to bring in my pack, the things that add weight, complicate my unpacking and repacking, and make it much more difficult to stay organized…all because I am afraid? Maybe. So how do I overcome this desire to bring something for every eventuality? Or how do I dispel my belief that if I prepare for the unknown…it won’t happen…??

Here’s what I’m learning…

Knowledge. Get to know the trail you’re planning to hike – weather, terrain, water sources, resupply spots etc. Get to know your gear. I mean really get to know all the capabilities of what you’re bringing with you and all the different uses even just one piece of equipment has.

Skill. Take stock of what you’ve learned from previous experiences and build on that. Do a few, shorter practice hikes before setting out on a longer one. Even better, learn a new skill like orienteering or knot-tying, so you are even more prepared for an unexpected bend in the trail.

Judgement. Be wise. Take only calculated risks. Know the limits of your knowledge and your skill. Trust the experts. Someone who has spent thousands of miles on the trail just might have a few tidbits of wisdom to share. Don’t be too proud to ask for help.

Let’s be honest. All of this applies to the rest of our lives too, doesn’t it? I mean…none of us with a chronic illness really knows what’s around the bend, do we? We’d all like to believe we’ll get into and stay in remission for an undetermined amount of time, blissfully unaware of the fact that our lives could drastically change at a moment’s notice. But it’s really quite impossible to know, isn’t it? And THAT can be terrifying and debilitating…if we let it. Imagine the size and weight of the purse I’d have to carry around with me every day if I let the fear of my illness come with me everywhere I went.

Here’s what else I’m learning…

Knowledge. Get to know your illness and all its ups and downs and manifestations. Know your own body, its signs and symptoms of small changes before they become big ones. Know your meds and how to take them correctly and effectively. Understand and explore other things that can help you cope or manage- ice, rest, limiting stress etc.

Skill. Take stock of the experiences you’ve already had and build on them. Try something new to manage your pain, your sleep, or your stress helping you stay prepared for an unexpected turn of events.

Judgement. Be wise. Take calculated risks. Know the limits of your knowledge and your skill. Trust the experts. Make use of all the medical professionals who are a part of your care team and who have seen many others, like yourself, who have similar struggles and who have found answers to really hard questions. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. We need each other to make it through each and every day. Reach out and find supports that encourage you to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other, even when the mountain seems too high or the path too steep.

From one trail-loving, adventure-seeking, life-loving human to another…let’s leave our fears behind and just enjoy the bit of trail mapped out for us today. Tomorrow’s trail will be a challenge in and of its own.


person with rheumatoid arthritis