Normally, you’d expect this to be on my travel blog – The Travelling Hamster – after all, Everest is definitely nowhere near Preston, where I’m based. However, I have recently been through a very challenging few weeks and decided to look back through some of my earlier writing. I think it must have been in mid 2011 when I wrote this piece. I’ve come a long way, but sometimes it’s good to take stock of where we are and where we’re going.
I am somewhere on the route to the summit of Everest; I used to live here until a Yeti pushed me all the way down. Now I see Yetis everywhere. I don’t know how much further the summit is, yet I have glimpsed it on fine, clear days. I am not always sure how far I have come, either, though as I look back down to base camp I can see it getting smaller and smaller. Sometimes I still slip back and end up there, but I have learnt how to get this far so I can do it much quicker each time I need to. On bad weather days there are thick clouds of confusion, self-doubt and I cannot see the path, much less believe I can walk it. Strange shadows and noises from the gloom startle and discourage me, but when the cloud lifts a little I can see they are usually only imaginary, or else small enough to overcome with carful planning and strategy. I have learnt this, I just need to remind myself of what I CAN do in the darker times.
It is safe at base camp, snuggled on the sofa, safe from the yeti – people shouting in the street, children bouncing around and startling me, crowds, having to ask and answer questions – all these are scary so I stay safe at home. I have friends to help who understand; take me places I really HAVE to go, accompany me along the once-familiar but now treacherous paths I must walk. It’s good to have people to keep me safe, the world is so big and bewildering. BUT – the view from base camp is limited, the horizons narrow. Some days I think I may want to see a bit more? Maybe tomorrow.
There are so many dangers out in the foothills; bigger towns, crowded buses, so many people I have to be aware of, checking for potential threats. I have tentatively taken a few steps; ridden a bus into Chorley, a small. neighbouring town. It feels good seeing the sights again, it is still a familiar place yet I am cautious, planning my movements armed with my list, my security blanket. The view from here is good; it isn’t as dizzyingly high as I thought it was, I can let go of the helping hands and look round alone – and this gives me a real sense of achievement. I have conquered a small hill; and am half way towards the next peak –
Preston. Larger, noisier, busier, yet there are safe havens such as the Harris museum, a welcome shelter of peace and rest where I can enjoy the sights and feel as though I am in my natural habitat. Outside, though, there are crowds who startle me, traffic and narrow pavements. I feel jostled, hemmed in, I want to escape to a more peaceful place which I can take at my own pace. Here I cling tightly to my guide – she explains and reassures me over and over as I ask interminable questions. “Where are we going next?” “What have we come in here for?” “Where are we going next?””Can we go for a sit down please?””Tell me again what we’re here for” – It would tax the patience of a saint yet I am lucky that people are willing to help me through this steeper path as I cling tight to the imaginary rope which tethers us together.
After a few forays here I start to recognise the paths and feel slightly safer, sometimes I can go down some of them on my own a short way but it is good to know there is somebody supporting me still who understands this place. Maybe one day I will feel much less fear, but for now I am happy it has lessened even a little.
There are things at this height that I know I will enjoy; swimming, socialising, visiting a few other towns. I make attempts to try these. Some of the paths are too steep yet and must be approached from a different level when I am more secure with my footholds, but some I can manage, at first with the guidance of friends and family – it can be terrifying and I cling tight to them, but then realise the path isn’t quite so steep and I can let go cautiously and go further alone. The feelings of reaching these targets are immense pride and renewed confidence for the journey ahead. Sometimes I try too much before I have all the correct equipment and find myself sliding back to base camp, but I am not as content to rest here and know the routes from here much better now; so I know I can attain the level I was at earlier.
There will always be avalanches, unforeseen, sudden, knocking me totally off my feet and forcing me back down, down, lower and lower. They hit fast and hard and leave me reeling and feeling trapped, unable to shout for help. They often come from the DWP, frightening me with threats to my supply-line of benefits; sometimes they are letters from the solicitor I misunderstand, sometimes they are physical such as changing meds. When they happen I make myself safe in my sofa-base, snuggled here in this secure haven where the world cannot startle me further. I sit and cry, think dark thoughts, feel hopeless – but somewhere there is a glimmer of knowing I have survived this far and I am strong [incredible as that seems right now]. After a few hours, days or even a week I will call weakly to a close companion and share my burden. They cannot always help but they can sit with me and listen whilst I talk – this is the first step back on the road. There is no way of avoiding the avalanches; but the higher I go the less they hurt, usually.
I have met many people along the way who have given me advice and equipment to help me in my ascent. I have been given protective equipment, such as breathing exercises and methods to challenge the threats I think I see – belittle them until they are barely hindrances on the climb. Sometimes I use these readily but other times I forget where they are stored in my pack and only later, after calling for help and believing I am falling, do I realise I had the tools to cope all along. It is, and will always be, a learning process in which I am getting more skilled, slowly. I also have a big stick. This should be used to lean on and defend myself against the real wild creatures of self-destructive thoughts and discouragements. Instead, though, I often turn it on myself. I now know I should not do this and am learning to watch out for it – but it is a difficult weapon to wield. One day, though, I hope to attain mastery over it but it will take much practice and I am bound to receive more injuries from it before then.
The view so far
There are still cloudy, hazy days when I cannot see where I am going or where I have been, but the views are widening and giving me a better sight of the summit and the resting places on the way up. There are still some rock faces as well as gentler climbs but on a good day I can look behind me and see how many obstacles I have overcome. If I have faced these before it will be much easier to face them again. I will always need friends and guides as there are many difficult glaciers and ice-bridges ahead, but I am not facing them alone. It is a journey of self-discovery too; finding new talents and strengths I never knew I had. I still have no idea how long it will take, and to rush is to risk slipping on the ice. Time is immaterial, ascent is everything.
If you need someone to help you, the following links may provide a place to start:
Rethink Mental Illness
It took me a while to ask for help – don’t make the mistake I did.