Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy. – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I vividly remember a conversation I had with a friend soon after I gave birth to my first child 14 years ago. My new bundle of miraculous joy was just hours old, nestled into my breast, when my friend came to visit us in the hospital. I was still floating in that post-birth, shell-shocked, adrenalin-infused high and as we marvelled together at the perfect tiny fingers and toes of my little boy, I looked up from my baby bliss and said to my friend: ‘I feel like I could scale Everest right now’. She looked slightly frightened of/ for me in that moment admittedly and I’m certain she was looking around for a midwife to help her should I suddenly make a dash for the exit!
My pregnancy had been extremely difficult, with severe morning sickness lasting throughout the 9 months and although the delivery had been straightforward enough, it was long and arduous. I was certainly in no fit state to climb the stairs never-mind the tallest mountain in the world! However, my statement showed that I was completely in awe of what my body had achieved not just a few hours prior but in the previous months. I had grown and given birth to an actual human being, and although women have been doing this forever, I still felt so amazed at what MY body had accomplished – it is truly a miracle how life is created and never ceases to blow my mind! I had first seen my son in a scan when he was a mere 11-millimetres long, his little heartbeat fluttering rapidly on the monitor, and that day as I gazed at him hour after hour I couldn’t quite comprehend how he had become this fully formed little person in my arms.
I’ve since had two more children and each time I felt the same way after I gave birth. However, with each pregnancy my morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, grew steadily worse and I was hospitalised repeatedly for fluids and bedrest. And, during my third pregnancy my pelvis also dislocated and I spent 6 months using crutches to get around – not an easy thing to do with a bambino bump and persistent vomiting to deal with I can assure you!
Pregnancy was tough on me and I believe it was the main cause of me suffering with crushing postnatal depression following the births of my children. My body had been through the mill each time that’s for sure and the sleepless nights which ensued were really tough to cope with along with the daily demands of motherhood. I remember lying awake at night, feeding my baby in those lonely hours when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep, wondering if I’d ever feel ‘like me’ again in body or in mind. There’s no doubt that becoming a Mum changes your life in so many wonderful and daunting ways, but I felt like I had lost my ‘essence’ and that was so scary to me.
Naturally, the baby years don’t last forever, and despite how tough going it was at times, I do sometimes find myself pining for those messy days which seemed to run on endlessly but which somehow whizzed by in a flash. When I think back on those days now I remember that one of my coping mechanisms for dealing with the depression was to get out and walk. We used to live in Limavady and after my first son was born I walked in and out of town pushing the buggy, then during the toddler years I spent so many days wandering along the paths of the beautiful Roe Valley Country Park. I don’t think I realized at the time quite how nourishing that time spent outdoors with my child was. We created some precious memories and nurtured bonds, but something else was happening too. During that time spent outside – the river rushing wildly, horses to pet, insects to scrutinise, trees to climb and play games among, my mind stilled and was comforted and slowly my body grew stronger and stronger. When we moved to Belfast and had our other two children, I tapped into the same resources which had been so vital for my recovery first time round. I know all the local parks like the back of my hand, we have our favourite trees to visit and there isn’t a day goes by that we aren’t outdoors at some point no matter what the weather brings! I don’t do well being cooped up indoors and neither do my children!
Now, I have yet to scale Mount Everest – it’s still on my ever-growing ‘TO DO’ list! During my 3rd pregnancy though I couldn’t make it to the end of the street unassisted and getting up and down the stairs was a mammoth operation. Turning in bed at night was sheer agony and I lived with so much fear of depression consuming me once again after the birth. It was a gruelling and dark time for me. As much as I loved having my baby bump, pregnancy was really hard on me, which in turn made me really sad because I wanted so bad to be one of those women who bloomed and looked radiant. Alas, it was not to be, I had terrible skin, vomited constantly for months on end and cried, cried, cried a lot! I was a real bundle of fun to be around…just ask my husband for proof!
I genuinely didn’t know how my body would recover 3rd time round but it did, very slowly and steadily, day by day, getting stronger and stronger. Until, one day I decided to jog around the block with my eldest son. Our walks in the parks grew longer. Then my big boy and I ran a fun run at Lisburn Half Marathon – I think we jogged about a mile and I felt like I had completed a full marathon! I was elated beyond belief and even received a medal (WINNER!) and suddenly began to wonder if my body could ever ‘bounce back’, not to the size and shape it was before (if only!), but to the energy and ability levels of my pre-Mama-bear self…the challenge was on…
My youngest son recently turned 9-years old and in the past 7 years I have:
*Summited all of the highest peaks in the Mourne Mountains numerous times
*Completed Larne Half Marathon
*Back-packed and wild camped along the Causeway Coast
*Completed several 5 & 10K runs
*Climbed lots of trees!
*Learned to swim (aged 35!) and have since swam in the sea (a dream come true!)
*Bouldered up mountain rivers
*Trekked in the Pyrenees
*Started a family outdoor adventure blog
*Written for various magazines and websites in the UK and Ireland about outdoor adventure and the many benefits of time spent in nature
*Taken a BMX class (seriously rubbish at it but what a laugh!)
*Solo-hiked Slieve Donard, the tallest peak in the Mourne Mountains, BAREFOOT!
I don’t share these personal accomplishments with you to boast. Only to say, that once upon a time I didn’t think I would ever be capable of anything on this list. Alongside really challenging pregnancies I have also lived with the debilitating illness, Endometriosis, which I have written about here, for over 20 years. There have been times in my life where I’ve thought I would never walk properly again, but then with rest, physiotherapy and pilates strength grew to a point where I could jog a little. With each small win, I pushed myself onto the next personal challenge, with nothing to prove to anyone only myself that I could still reach for my goals if I dared to dream a little and put in some effort.
The past 5 years since starting this blog have been some of the most incredible years of my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would climb a mountain barefoot or learn to swim – but I did! I’ve been learning a HUGE amount during those 5 years on the topics of recovery, mindset, capacity, resilience, the human spirit, challenge, joy, perseverance and overcoming fears and setbacks. Have I fully bounced back? No, not totally yet. My mental health is an ongoing work and something that I feel will be a lifelong journey with the aim of fulfilment and joy; because isn’t that what everyone wants? My body has had further knockbacks with a slipped disc and severe nerve damage in my upper back causing a whole myriad of issues 2 years ago, but, with each day, each month and each year I press on towards my goal of becoming stronger. Why? Because I have my sights set on some BIG personal challenges in the coming years. Challenges that right now are way, way, way out of reach in terms of my physical abilities, but ones which I am so keen to try that I am working hard on increasing my endurance, mental focus and physical strength. Daily I am inspired by women adventurers that I admire and follow on social media – I love reading their stories of overcoming personal barriers and limitations that can come in so many formats. Their determination, humility and incredible capacity spurs me on to work towards my own ambitions so that one day I can proudly say: ‘I gave my all. I had this one chance at living the life that I played out in my wildest fantasies and I gave it everything I had!’
If you’ve reached this far in my first instalment of ‘Tales from the Trail’…thank-you for sticking with it! But also, perhaps today you’re experiencing limitations that have developed in your life as a result of physical, mental or emotional experiences. I say to you firstly, that you do not stand alone. I may not know exactly what you’re enduring or suffering or bravely pushing through in your day and daily; but, I do know what it is to live with serious pain, discomfort, chronic illness, crippling depression, self-doubt, anxiety, injury and feeling like I’ll never know wellness and fullness again. It’s tough. But, I was fortunate enough to find hope by getting outside regularly for some fresh air, oftentimes that was all it took to settle my anxious mind and give me the courage to keep going. Then, over time, I was able to find joy once more as I faced fears and rebuilt my strength, a mental and physical work which continues daily. I would encourage you if you are able, to go outside and take a deep breath, let fresh air fill your lungs and draw you into the present moment. Maybe tomorrow you can kick off your socks and shoes and walk on the grass, feel the earth beneath your feet and know that you are alive and have a purpose in this world. Perhaps the day after that you can venture to the local park for a wander, listen to the birds chirp and watch dogs chase each other like mad things! After that who knows…the possibilities are endless if you allow yourself to dream…for you deserve to live a life that brings you great joy. I ask you, are you prepared to be the weirdo that dares to enjoy…?