Pain

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The time I walked to Breckenridge

Friday, July 4th, 2014

The night before I left, my mom said to me, “I just never want you to be scared, or anything to be hard.”

I laughed, because didn’t she know what I’d signed up for?

Like it or not, I was right: the first week on the Colorado Trail has been scary and hard – mostly hard. And despite the temptation to sugarcoat the details for my lovingly protective mother, I’m just going to give it to you straight.

I was prepared for a challenge. I was prepared for physical discomfort. But I was not prepared for the pain. On the first day, my pack weighed 45 lbs – the equivalent of a 5-year old child. My friend Sarah hiked the first two days with me, and when we would stop for breaks, we would unbuckle our packs to have them drop to the ground like boulders, like that ride at amusement parks that pulls you up, up, up, just to release and send you plummeting to the ground. Granted, Sarah’s pack was mostly a Bota Box of wine (of which we barely had any – sorry, Sarah).

Mine was just heavy.

I quickly developed sores on each of my shoulders, spots where my straps rubbed me raw. I hope you’re not offended by a bare collarbone, because here it is.

photo (12)

Then came the blisters. First my left heel, then my right pinky toe and the one next to it, then the ball of my left foot, then the left pinky. I doctored them as best as I could, but there was no way around the first few days of excruciating pain. Every step was like walking on knives.

The heat wasn’t helpful, either. Saturday and Sunday, Sarah I went whole hog, hiking 21 miles the first day and 20 the second. The days were so hot, we’d arrive at our campsite ready to vomit (hence the minimal wine consumption).

Before Sarah left on Sunday night, she looked at me and said, “You’re really brave.” But is it really bravery if I didn’t feel afraid? I was too shell-shocked to feel fear.

“But what if I’m not tough?” I said, blinking back the tears.

“You can do this,” she said. “You can do this.” And then she drove back to Denver with her husband Tom, and I spent my first night alone in the woods.

I thought that the decision was made when I put in for my leave of absence last fall, or maybe when I gathered each piece of gear, or definitely when I stepped out on the trail on June 28. But I’m learning that the decision to hike this trail is made every single time I pull my pack back on, groaning under the weight, and then straightening my shoulders and moving forward. It’s a constant re-deciding to keep going.

I could tell you a lot of stories from this week – about how in a moment of desperation I lay on my back in the middle of the trail in Happy Baby pose (feeling anything but happy), or how I leapt an uncomfortably wide irrigation ditch with my full pack on (like a heavy-laden, off-balance superhero), or how I came across a felled tree blocking the path and it was too high to climb over so I opted to crawl under (and wound up stuck, belly to the ground), or how I feel a new kinship with Lance Armstrong (because if someone were to offer me performance enhancing drugs, I would take them), or how I came across car campers who said the 5 magic words (“Do you want a beer?”), or how I awoke on the fifth day with a fire in my bones and tore over the Continental Divide (like She-Ra, Princess of Power). I could tell you how amazing my shower in Breckenridge felt (a holy experience), how delicious my burger tasted (try the curry ketchup at Empire Burger), or how I cried this morning when my dad brought me a resupply of food (and a visit from Foxy).

But it’s time for me to close the computer and head back to the trail – I’m about to be dropped off at the trailhead to hike into tonight’s campsite, tears still in my eyes. I’m going to keep going. And that’s what the past week has really been about – deciding and re-deciding and walking even when I didn’t think I could walk any further, through the tears and discouragement and the most beautiful terrain.

I’m 104 miles in. Here’s to 104 more.

ContinentalDivide

When you can’t go back

Monday, September 9th, 2013

On Friday, I witnessed a tragedy. It’s not my story to tell, but everyone who experienced it was deeply affected, and I spent the afternoon close to the surface, eyes brimming with tears. That night when I called my mom, I erupted into sobs, undone because what happened could not be undone.

I spent Saturday morning quiet, sad, in my backyard pulling weeds. The yard had been sprayed a few weeks ago and everything was brittle and dead, but I needed to clear the ground. As I worked the roots out of the dry dirt, I realized just how many foxtails I was dealing with.

The foxtail weed looks like a wheat head, small and bristly. When Toad would come in from the backyard, her legs would be covered in them, and I would pull them off one by one. But then Becca told me that foxtails can burrow themselves in a dog’s skin, working their way deeper and deeper – and like a porcupine quill, they can only move in a forward direction. Once in, their awn-shape makes it impossible to pull them back – you can only hope that they’ll work their way out someday.

I never let Toad in the backyard again.

When horrible things happen, we want to reverse them. Most of the time, they’re irreversible.

The only thing to do is to keep moving forward, looking for the light.

My first trip to the ER

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

I woke up this morning with a hospital bracelet on my left hand and a patch of gauze taped to my right. Last night, for the very first time in my life, I had reason to visit the emergency room – and judging by the Vicodin now pumping through my veins, it was nothing short of a necessity.

Perhaps you recall the time long ago that I worked out with Gunnar the Viking. Although I never paid for another personal training session, I’ve incorporated some of the moves he taught me into my regular workouts – and last night, while lifting an embarrassingly small amount of weight, I threw out my back.

And just like that, I am one of the Debilitated.

The pain… I wish I could communicate the pain. My lower back is a war zone, a constant buzzing electricity that shoots hot daggers of fire throughout my body whenever I move, making me cry out loud and literally want to vomit. I somehow made it out of the gym and into the driver’s seat of my car, and then, with tears streaming down my face, drove home where Hannah encountered me gasping for air and crying.

She took off my shoes, laid me back on a heating pad, elevated my legs, gave me some Aleve, and we both went to bed. Except I never fell asleep – the pain kept getting worse, I kept crying uncontrollably, and after 4 hours of increasing agony, I did what any logical person would do: I called my mom.

Now, I’m not saying I’m super tough or anything, but I definitely don’t lose it like this. Physical things don’t make me come unglued – emotional things, yes (we all know this), but physical things, never. My mom was freaked to hear me so hysterical, and convinced me to go to the hospital.

And because everyone loves an oversharer:

I got my first-ever oxygen mask (when the nurse said that the nasal prongs looked a little bit long and he would look for his scissors to trim them, I assured him that it would be okay because “I’ve got nostrils for days.” Really? Who says that?), an IV for pain meds, and prescriptions for various narcotics. I’ve been ordered to “take it easy” for several weeks, which is disappointing and scary for someone as active as I am.

Then again, when do we ever have a doctor’s order NOT to work out? If it weren’t for the pain, I’d be almost intrigued by this invitation to a slower pace.

My pain level was a 9-10 last night, but down to a 4-5 with the drugs today. I’m in bed with a heating pad, surrounded by pill bottles and books and projects that I would work on if I weren’t feeling so mentally dulled. Toad is the best little companion, letting me sleep until 10am without begging for her breakfast or needing to go out. And Hannah is the champion of roommates, getting up at 2am to drive me to the hospital, sitting with me until 4, taking me to the pharmacy this morning, and not making fun of me for whimpering.

I figured I’d write all of this down so that someday when I’m about to give birth and afraid of the pain, I can look back on this and say, “Remember that? You’ll be fine.”

Girl, interrupted

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

… and we’re back.

I thought about making a video to give a glimpse into my life in November, but if I had, it would have been full of long, drawn out silences and artsy frames of my face staring off into nowhere.  Trust me, I respect you more than to put you through that. The month was fairly quiet, nothing exploded, and I crossed off each day in my calendar as it passed.

It’s an odd thing we do, this virtual sharing of our lives. The internet is still a new frontier, and WE are the ones determining the etiquette – how much to tell, how vulnerable to be, what is meaningful, what isn’t. In real time, we are succeeding and failing and flying and flailing – and we’re often giving hundreds (if not thousands) of people a front row seat.

When it’s great, it’s really great. But when it’s not, it’s magnified.

As far as this blog is concerned, I’ve been playing it safe. Having once written from a very authentic place, I’ve been sharing less and less – and what I do share is surface-level, at best. I’ve wanted to maintain an image of having it all together – of being fine, even when I’m not. I’ve wanted to be cool and smart and witty; I’ve wanted you to like me. There, I said it.

I have spent years chasing excitement, adventure, and change – looking to validate my existence with various and sundry admirable feats. I’ve sought interruptions to the mundane, and solicited drama to avoid being bored with my life (or, more exactly, disappointed with my life).

But it turns out that what I’ve needed has not been an interruption of circumstances, but an interruption at the core of who I am.

These days, my sense of self is being torn apart in the best possible way. Oh, sure, it can feel like being put through a cheese grater, painful and terrifying, like the pieces could never possibly be put back together (unless they were melted in a microwave) (which doesn’t sound much better).

But it’s been SO GOOD, you guys. Humbling. Necessary. And it’s leading to good things.

In fact, Greta, who knows me better than just about anyone in the world, recently wrote to me, “I just feel like you’re leaving this very safe, very small, very familiar square of space and heading out into the biting air – and now you’re WALKING and FEELING and seeing things. I see you MOVING right now, more than you have in years.” What an encouragement to have someone who can recognize the things that we’re too close to see.

And how ironic that the acceptance of what I’ve historically thought of as an “ordinary” life could actually lead to much greater truths: freedom, clarity, peace.

I am still very much in process. I have jack-nothing figured out. But I am tired of holding my breath, hiding beneath the surface-level words posted in this space. I am ready to come up for air, no matter what it might look like, no matter who might see the inevitable thrashing (and you know there will be thrashing).

So thank you for being here, whoever you are. Your presence, even virtual, makes a difference to me. Our stories are meant to be shared – and I’m grateful to have a chance to share mine with you.

Reminded

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

First things first, thanks to everyone who has called/texted/written to make sure I’m okay.  I am not dedicated enough to go to a midnight showing of any movie, let alone a Batman one – and in fact, I wasn’t even in Colorado on the night of the shooting.  I am very much okay, aside from being horrified along with the rest of the country.

I am reminded once again that this world is not a safe place.

Other things have been going on in my life – big events, changes of plans, last minute flights.  I spent the week in in Richland, WA, feeding ice chips to my grandmother, smoothing her hair back with a wet washcloth, sleeping on a too-small hospital loveseat.  I hate cancer with a passion, and in spite of missing a week of work, there was no doubt that I was exactly where I needed to be.

I am reminded once again that family always wins.

Life continues to feel fractured and imperfect, and “happiness” isn’t something that I feel much of these days.  But even when walking in the cold shadows, we are bound to come across patches of warm light – the trick is to just keep moving.  I am moving.  And I’m encouraged by the moments of warmth, and trusting in a hope that is bigger than circumstances.

I am reminded once again that “happiness” and “joy” are different things.

Pearl

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I’ve never been much for gems and jewels. I don’t own any precious stones, wear no diamonds, and really don’t have a desire for fancy baubles.

I do have a pearl necklace, though. It was given to me as the gift for singing in a friend’s wedding years ago, and while I don’t wear it often (come on, this is Denver), it’s pretty to look at – and last night, I remembered how pearls are formed.

Oysters, soft and tender, rely on their hard shells to keep them safe. But occasionally, a grain of sand will sneak in, and this coarse foreign object can cause pain, rock against flesh. One might think that the oyster would react protectively, forming a leathery callous to protect itself from the sand – but it doesn’t. The oyster remains soft, yielding to the suffering, and slowly, over time, begins to wrap the grain of sand in translucent layers.

The pearl is the oyster’s response to the pain.

I’ll be honest: some days are really tough right now. Sometimes, my parent’s divorce still hits me like a diesel truck, plowing me over. Sometimes, I wrestle with the “what ifs,” which spiral only into a black hole of uncertainty. Sometimes, the future stretches out like a never-ending one-way street, and the thought of walking that blacktop every single day (not to mention showering – don’t you ever get overwhelmed at the fact that you will always, always have to shower, forever and ever?) can be paralyzing. Sometimes, even this introvert feels so alone I can hardly stand it.

I wish for a quick fix, a microwave to melt away my icy problems – an insta-pearl, if you will.

But even if I’m not patient, I’m feeling pretty stubborn – and once again, I’m determined to see this rough patch through to something of value, something of worth, something with a silver lining. I just need to give myself over to the ocean.

And for the record, the ocean has always terrified me. It’s a beauty to behold, but to be in it? It’s too big, too unknown. It isn’t safe. The depths are terrifying, and if it wanted to, it could swallow me whole.

But for an oyster, the ocean is the only place to live. It’s what it’s meant for. And without it, there would be no such thing as a pearl.

Running uphill

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Well, well. It seems that yesterday’s post was the blog heard ’round the world – that was the most visits I’ve gotten since December 1, 2010.

In the event that you’re new here, welcome. I’m Annie, the curator of this here little web log, and I live in Denver, where the weather is currently 27 degrees and snowing. I’ve been told that for having a desk job, I lead a pretty exciting life – and a lot of the time, I have to agree, although it’s probably worth arguing that I just like to make a big deal out of the dull. I’m hungry all the time. I order the clothes in my closet according to ROY G. BIV. I’m working really hard toward becoming debt free. I don’t own a single pair of leggings.

Here’s a little glimpse into my present reality.

I’m less than a month away from the Seattle Half-Marathon, and my training has been going super well. I’m excited to run this course through my favorite city (if you’re familiar with Seattle, check it out – such a fun and scenic route). I know that there are a lot of hills, and I’ve been figuring out how to run hills more efficiently. My über-runner friend Mark Miller always says that when running uphill, one should keep the same effort level, but not necessarily the same pace – which is relevant to my life right now.

I’m heading uphill, and trying just as hard – but just going a little bit slower.

Several months back, I found myself at rock bottom in the ditch of all ditches – down with the muskrats and the snakes and the creepy crawlers – with no clear and easy way out. I’m slowly but surely working my way upward, but realizing that a lot of damage has been done. Movement doesn’t come as easily as it once did. I’m finding that it’s helpful to slow down, to not push myself too hard, to strip away distractions, and to focus on one step at a time.

It’s not flashy, and it’s not exciting, and it’s quiet and tough and sometimes painful work that can only be done on my own, under the strength of my own two legs. But it’s leading me higher.

Thanks for being here, friends.

“You might change your mind”

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

I’ve been thinking.

And I think… I think that Lori McKenna’s “The Luxury of Knowing” is the best song I’ve ever heard.

I mean it.

Keith Urban’s version isn’t bad, either.  Holy smokes.

[Please forgive YouTube videos – just listen.  And let your heart break.  And then get on with your day.]

“The Undoing”

Monday, May 9th, 2011

It feels strange to not be writing here.

When I don’t write, I’m reminded that this blog was born out of a need in me, for myself, and not really for anyone else.  I can’t not write.  I think I have to, as a part of being the truest version of myself.

But I haven’t been writing here. And I’ll admit, I’m not feeling much like myself these days.

But here’s a new song, recorded yesterday with a stuffy nose, super lo-fi style in the living room.  It gives a glimpse into these days, the days when it’s difficult to write anything else.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

[Song has been taken down – maybe you’ll hear it some other time.]

Waves

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.
-Frederick Buechner

I know people who have active, vivid dialogue with God – they speak to him, and they hear his voice respond.  I am not one of those people.

When I talk to God, I am usually answered with silence.

Most of the time, it’s not that I think that God is not there – but, like Buechner says, perhaps his silence is meant to create a longing that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

And for me, these days, does that longing ever exist.

On Friday, I sat at the edge of the Caribbean, listening to the water hit the sand.  It made me think of a line in Alli Rogers‘ song “Closer to the Moon,” when she sings of listening for God’s voice:

“It’s in the aching that you know there’s something more.
I have never heard even a single spoken word,
Except the rhythm of a wave upon the shore.”

The steady pulse of ocean waves reminds me of the voice of God – it’s one of the biggest reasons I miss living in Seattle.  There is a comfort to the sound and the pattern, wordless as it is.  When I feel frustrated and anxious and doubtful that he even exists, the ocean somehow, inexplicably, brings me back around to truth, calming my heart and soothing my fears.

I’m back in a very landlocked Denver now, after 7 days in Haiti.  A mere week was not enough time to even scratch the surface of the culture, the language, the people – but sitting by the ocean on my last day was the best way to wrap up the first of what I hope will be more trips.  Listening to the waves reminded me that God is still there in Haiti, in the midst of the poverty, the devastation, and the crumbling homes – and he is still here in Colorado, in the midst of my sadness, my uncertainty, and my crumbling home.