Monthly Archives: April 2012

Grateful

My feet are healing well and I’m going to start a new assignment next week. Being a CNA doesn’t pay much, but I can always find work. The work itself isn’t perceived as valuable; the pay reflects that. But I know I’m needed, and most of the time the people I’m actually helping are glad to see me.

My friends here have been so supportive and kind since I got back that I know I made the right decision. My generous friend Susan, who is giving me a safe, comfortable and stress-free environment to heal, has reminded me of that, urging me to not feel guilty or responsible for the damage to my feet. She suggested that holding on to that kind of guilt and misplaced responsibility actually holds the damage in, arrests the healing process. We know, all of us, that what we tell ourselves is the truth becomes the truth. She pointed out the folly in my continued thinking that I had damaged my body, even if I didn’t mean to. What I need ed to be thinking, and saying, was that I was healing my body. Such a simple thing. And so profound.

So here it is. I am healing myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I am grateful for this opportunity to concentrate on the healing process, on being present in that process. Thank you, Susan, for being kind enough to help me help myself. Oh! And for letting me spend time with Harmony. I miss my animals so much. It’s one of the things that caused me such personal pain on the Trail. Being here, with Harmony, has help me relax and appreciate the present, relieved the stress of trying to figure out what I’m going to do. Harmony has accepted me completely, just as I am, and that warmth does more good than any pill from the doctor.

My landlord has welcomed me back and is looking forward to my return once I have a regular work schedule. He says we’ll worry about rent after he gets back from a trip up North in a couple of weeks. I can pick up Annie and take her back home. Max will come home, he assures me.

It’s hard for me to understand the generosity of the people I have in my life now. My brother and his wife, Susan, my landlord, Richard, Donna at Common Ground, so many people here who are welcoming me home. It’s hard for me to grasp that this is home, but it is true. I haven’t been so sick for a place, for certain people, in my life. When I came back, the familiar streets were unchanged and indifferent. I felt I could look down and find my last footprint and simply step into it. Life would continue with or without me, but the footprint was there for me to step into and begin moving again. Oh, it’s good to be home!

Advertisements

What I owe

I’m healing, though more slowly than I’d like. When I’m active, I’m happy. Even when I’m reading or writing, my head is active. Not being able to do what I want is another kind of trapped for me, but at least I know the reason for it and can measure progress.

Yesterday I watched the sky and heard the birds and thought I would like to do a section hike as soon as I can trust my feet again. Only this time I will stop and be part of what’s going on instead of feeling the pressure to simply keep moving. And knowing I will be home after a few days should keep me from closing up like I did on the Trail. I hope.

I still don’t really understand what was happening to me out there. I know eating became harder and harder. Even when I was in town, I could only eat  a little at a time. My body wanted to reject everything. On the trail, eating became an ordeal, a fight that left me frightened and resigned at the same time.

Was this me letting go? I thought of everyone, everything, every unfinished conversation, project, relationship. I struggled with painful homesickness when I remembered my peaceful little house and Max and Annie. They moved restlessly through my thoughts. I wondered if Max was still checking the house for my return. I missed them horribly. I cried while I walked, thinking of all the things I’d done-or not done-to be where I was. I walked every day in pain, searching for something. The woods were no longer the sanctuary they had always been for me. I felt nothing but the pressure to walk and walk and walk. I struggled to interact with the people I met along the way, even though I did enjoy a few conversations, wantd to be part of the relationships I saw developing sometimes. I watched and listened and marveled at the conversations between strangers. People smiled at me and welcomed me into this trail family. Eventually oerwhelmed, I became less and less capable of socializing.

So many days I walked without seeing a soul until I neared the  shelter. I listened to conversations and realized lots of hikers walked alone, all day. Maybe that’s why they gravitated toward each other with such eagerness at campsites. I didn’t want to camp alone for safety reasons, but felt OK lying in my tent on the fringes, listening to people talking and laughing. It didn’t comfort me exactly, just assured me that there would be help if I needed it. Other hikers felt the same, I’m sure.

Closing off, shutting down, were not what I expected to experience on the trail. Just the opposite, in fact. I’d hoped the walking, the solitude, would help me open up, help me see things in a calmer way, help me understand myself and the people in my life. What I understood between the pain and the nausea, was that I was losing any purpose I might have. I felt no reason to keep walking, or anything else.

I decided that besides losing the joy I had always felt outdoors I was also losing the ability to feel anything. I told myself I owed my brother money and that  he deserved repayment of that money, as well as my gratitude for caring about me when I no longer did. One day I stopped walking, saying out loud “I hate this!” and decided to leave the trail.

I’ll pay Johnny back as soon as I can spend days on my feet again (I am meeting my next assignment tomorrow) and plan my next section hike as soon as I get my life on a schedule of sorts. Even though living in Mars Hill is a terrible struggle in the winter and gas is so expensive, I may go back to my little house because that’s where Max is. Being there with Max and Annie again is what I want right now, more than anything. Beyond that, I still don’t feel connected, just obliged. I need to pay Johnny back because he is generous and tender and feels more than I ever did. This makes me regard him with a kind of awe. And I want to deserve his caring.

It’s odd, this whole “why do it?” thing that goes through my head all the time. I watch and listen and wonder why do they bother? My romantic relationships are like old movies now. I can play them in my head and remember that I was in love, that I felt joy and excitement and anticipation and disappointment and pain. I laughed and cried and touched his face, smelled the scent of his skin after we made love and felt my heart jump when I heard his car in the drive. But they are memories washed clean now. Nothing moves inside me when I remember. It is not so hard to keep my life uncomplicated now.

Healing

Since I’ve been back from the Trail, I’ve had to concentrate on getting back on my feet. Literally. Plantar Fasciitis: inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot. This tissue is called the plantar fascia. It connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. The inflammation occurs when it’s overstretched or overused. Like walking for 10 hours a day over rough terrain. This condition is more likely to develop if you have high arches (or flat feet!), obesity or sudden weight gain, long distance running or extreme hiking on uneven surfaces, tight Achilles tendon, shoes with poor arch support. It is one of the most common orthopedic complaints relating to the foot.

Usually the pain is most intense in the heel and happens with the first steps in the morning, standing or sitting for a while, intense activity.

My research also indicates that the pain can persist for a very long time. Already I am getting relief with the boots. Some people apparently deal with this pain for years.

My high arch (which I’ve always been told was cute) made my feet prone to the terrible condition I developed on the Trail. I had no idea my arches were going to be a problem. I’ve always worn support inserts and never had a problem. My life has been spent on my feet. Waitressing, retail jobs, nursing home work, hiking, walking, outdoor activities-my life has been spent in physical activity and I loved it. Of course, many nights I came home with tired feet-what server hasn’t? But I put my feet up and gave myself a good foot massage and the next day I was ready for more.

Since I’ve been here at my friend’s, with my feet up, I’ve had ample time to research remedies for this awful condition. I have to get back to normal because I have to work. If I can’t walk, I can’t work. I’m trying to use my time productively and finish some writing projects, but the panic is steadily rising. I have to work. I’d love to find a work-at-home situation, and I’m working on that-but I’m running out of time to get better. I can’t ask my friend to let me live here indefinitely and living on my own means paying rent. So, I gotta work.

I used some of my dwindling finances to buy a pair of boots designed to treat Plantar Fasciitis. Ideally, you wear them to bed so your tendons and tissue stay flexible during the night.

When I came off the Trail I stayed in bed as much as possible, thinking if I could stay there long enough, sleeping and eating tissue-building food, I would return to normal. After 2 weeks, I was despairing of ever walking normally again. Then a friend who suffers from this condition gave me straight talk.

“If you ever plan to hike again, you’re going to have to spend the money on these boots. You’ll eventually be walking more or less OK in a few months but you probably don’t have that kind of time. Get these boots. They keep your feet stretched during the night and help your feet rebuild. I only use them occasionally now, but I couldn’t do the things I wanted without them.”

I got the boots a couple of days ago and I’m shocked at the difference. I have been wearing them during the day during these long hours when I’m reading, writing, and watching movies. I’m also taking s supplements for bone and tissue repair, extra protein, vegan style, and it’s all working. I still can’t be up more than a few hours before my feet start hurting-and once they start, I have to get off them. The boots are a huge help here, too. When I sit down, I put them on. Now, if I rest for a while in the boots, I can get back up relatively pain-free.

I feel so grateful that I have friends who are generous enough to help me. I also feel grateful that I am healthy enough to start with that this isn’t going to debilitate me for the rest of my life. I’m irritated with myself that I was ignorant about this condition, but nowhere in my reading about preparing for the hike did I see anything about this. Of course, I read articles about wearing good supports and good shoes. I’d been working all my life on my feet and thought I’d been doing that already. I worked to get my pack to no more than 25% of my body weight. I know now there are areas I should have researched more, and this is a valuable lesson that I hope will help others as well.

My Feet!

I’m at my brother’s house, letting my feet heal before I head back to Asheville. My brother and his wife are long-suffering, understanding and generous. I know he would probably love to see me head back out when I heal up, because he’s such an avid backpacker and outdoorsman himself. He also has respect for my decisions and is probably breathing a quiet sigh of relief. Yeah, he’d love to see me stand on top of Katahdin in September, but he’d also like to see me putting more of my art out, submit my writing and be safe in a place where I’m at peace with myself.

Like I said, he and his wife are rare, wonderful people who I am grateful to have in my life.

My feet still hurt. I have to take some pretty serious painkiller to move around, so I spend a lot of time in bed, letting the tissue rebuild. When I hobble to the bathroom I think of the people I’ve cared for and how they haven’t been able to navigate freely for years. I never want this for an extended period of time. This just reminds me that my life offers me more freedom than I realize, sometime. The prison of bills, of trying to make a tiny bit of money cover necessities and hope there’s enough left over for the inevitable surprise (car trouble, bad weather, etc.) keeps a cell for most of us. I’ll remind myself of that the next time I get angry when the money doesn’t stretch far enough. At least, I’ll say, I’m ambulatory, healthy, and I can depend on myself.

It’s good to be back.

After the Trail

3 weeks of pain, misery, and trudging long after I wanted to stop because I couldn’t find a place to stop has left me with tendon damage and relief that I finally made myself stop.

I listened to more than a few hikers talk about the incredible amounts of ibuprofen they took every day to keep getting their miles in. Hikers who talked of “open wounds on their heels that shot pain up their legs with every step,” who kept walking because they had to get so many miles in. Is it worth liver damage, blood that may or may not clot properly if they sustain an injury, just to get to Katahdin?

I felt shame, the inevitable sense of failure, until the day I actually stopped walking, standing on feet that could barely hold me up and said “I hate this!” Then, relief. I have lived for years with the sense of panic that I might not make the rent, that my car won’t get me to work and back, that I won’t sell the art I’ve put in shops, that something I do won’t work out as I hope. That same sense of constraint, of being in a type of prison, was with me every step of the trail. I couldn’t stop when I saw something beautiful (oh, I did, sometimes, but not with the usual feeling of awe and satisfaction) or even when I was tired and my feet hurt. I couldn’t tell how far I’d walked and even though I knew how far the next shelter was, I couldn’t tell how far I’d come, how far I had to go. I knew I needed to find a campsite before full dark, with a water source, and I went through long stretches where I couldn’t stop because of terrain. I was carrying about a quarter of my body weight so uphill was slow going. I met every step with a growing sense of panic. Where could I stop if I didn’t make it to the shelter? At the shelter were campsites, water, and the safety of people, even though I wasn’t interested in lots of interaction. The point is that I found every day meant nothing more than walking, constantly, for 10 hours to get to the next shelter.

I had trouble eating. Trail food was so far removed from what I normally ate that I really had trouble getting it down and keeping it there. When I’m really tired, and anxious, I can’t eat. If you walk with a pack on rough terrain, uphill and down for hours and hours, you use a lot of energy. I needed to eat and I couldn’t. That added to my panic, and of course, made eating even harder.

Many days I encountered no one until I got close to the shelter. That didn’t bother me, and it gave me hours and hours to think. I realized that my life on the trail was not so different from the life I’ve been leading for years. Getting from one rent day to the next was a lot like making it from one shelter to the next. Wishing I could stop and just look at the sky was a lot like wishing I could spend a day making art instead of going to a job that would leave me exhausted, physically and creatively. I had no more freedom on the trail than I did in real life. Less, in fact. In real life, I did find time to write, to make art, just not nearly enough. On the trail, I couldn’t draw, or write. The longer I went without doing those things that have always sustained me, the harder the days became. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how exhausted, because of the pain in my feet and my heart. I wanted to draw. I wanted to write. I wanted to read.

The trail taught me, in far less than 6 months, that I wanted to return to my life and refine it, enjoy it. I learned that freedom is a concept more than an actual environment, and we often make our own. When I go into the woods to get away from noise and work, I feel refreshed and grateful. I left the trail because I don’t want to spoil my relationship with the woods, with Nature. She doesn’t care, of course, but I do. I will still go hiking, backpacking, and spend the night out when I want to get my fill of stargazing and peace. But I’m not going to do more damage to my feet and ruin my love of the outdoors so I can say I hiked the AT.

I hiked the AT long enough to realize that I can find what I need here. I can’t speak for what other people find, or don’t find, on the AT. What I found is that I need to write, to make art, to eat fresh food and stop walking when I want to stop walking. I found that I want to get back to making my own life again, constraints and all.

I have art bouncing around in my head, stories weaving themselves in and out of random thoughts, and I can’t wait to get busy. My feet still can’t hold me up, but I can write. I can draw. As soon as I can walk, I’ll be back to work. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my life. I have a lot more appreciation for my humble building blocks.