A year ago today I was finishing packing ready to start inpatient treatment… it’s been a long road and i’m still definitely on it and hell I’ve faced a lot of fears on the way!
I’ve recently finished Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed and there’s a brilliant quote in the memoir that just seemed too perfect for this blog post. I was thinking about fear and came across this quote from the book:
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
In 2009, I experienced my own trip of a lifetime. I spent about a year fundraising the £3000 (in aid of the Blue Cross) for a trip that I found out about whilst doing the shredding at work (I was Saturday girl for a local vets at the time), the leaflet was in the recycling and it was a really spur of the moment decision to email Heather and find out more about being involved. I embarked on a trip that was full of firsts for me, an eighteen and a half year old who was fairly green to travel. I’d never been on a plane (my first flight was the 13.5 hr trip to Singapore), never been outside of Europe, never been properly abroad without my family… and I’d not properly met the team of people I’d be trekking with. It was all massively outside of my comfort zone but it was so exciting that I just went with it and tried to lap up as much of the experience as I could!
After 12 hours of acclimatisation, it was definitely a surprise to be suddenly trekking in the jungle with a pack weighing over 20kg after being in drizzly October-y England the day before. It was a magical and somewhat surreal experience from the outset… on our first evening we swam in the river (about 30 metres downstream from water buffalo) in the middle of huge thunder storm, before having a pub quiz and of course participating in drinking games with our guides before resting up for day two of proper trekking.
We trekked through secondary jungle, small villages and farms; crossing rivers and equipped with rather attractive leech socks and trekking poles carved along the route by our wonderful guides. I soon acquired a nickname, to the delight of the rest of the gang, from my favourite guide ‘Binker’ who thought I must be a ‘princess’ to be able to trek through the jungle and remain so pristine!
The views were amazing along the route, it was such an amazing experience but the trek was a real challenge. I’m not that brave and Borneo really pushed me to my limits… and I think this is where the relevance to my recovery comes in. I’ve always been the one least likely to want to go off climbing or getting myself into potentially dangerous situations, I was the child who wouldn’t go over a bridge if the gaps were too wide and most certainly wouldn’t be caught dead on anything tall! Being part of a fast paced trek over rickety bridges and seemingly vertical climbs really made me reassess my comfort zone. The first bridge was scary, but as we got deeper into the jungle, the first bridge seemed a distant and wonderful memory. I had to keep challenging myself and facing my fears and just keep going. There were definitely points where I questioned why I had ever signed up for the trip and points where I just couldn’t really comprehend how I was going to 1) get over the next scary obstacle and 2) do so without certain death. The team I was with and the brilliant guides really helped, there was always a word of encouragement or a firmly gripped hand to help you along the way.
When I began to settle into the routine of trekking and jungle life, we reached day 5 which was by far the biggest challenge. Trekking similar terrain to the previous two days was suddenly made even more difficult by pouring rain throughout the day. We were sodden, exhausted and freezing cold and sliding down the vertical inclines that had seemed less terrifying had left us all feeling a little fed up. I’d noticed my first leech bite (thankfully it had already fallen off) and I’d dropped my camera on route. We arrived the other side of our camp, discussing the warm beverages and snacks we were going to have and inpatient to get off our wet gear; when we were told that the bridge across the river had been washed away by swollen river… of course!
It wasn’t the news we were expecting and after mid-jungle problem solving our guides had cut down three trees and pushed them across the river, the first two breaking, but the third landing in such a way that we would be able to cross the river using it as a makeshift bridge. I was terrified, standing telling myself that there was absolutely no way I would be able to do it. I repeated to myself that I couldn’t do it but psyched myself up to sidestep across what was moments before a very much upright tree! I managed it and the warmth of the fire on the other side was well worth it.
Going to Borneo was a huge challenge that really tested me and blew my fears up into a million pieces. The funny thing about fear is that most of the time it’s an evolutionary hangover that we don’t really need… we fear things that we know we have to do or irrational things that theoretically we realise can’t harm us. The good thing about fear is you can conquer it, with practice and perseverance you can find a way to get through a fear.
I’m so proud of the fears I have challenged this year. It’s funny but they are so different from the fears I faced in the jungle but have been a lot more dangerous than those I faced in Borneo. I’ve had to find ways to challenge fear foods, OCD behaviours, meals out… you name it… recovery has been a huge fear-fight. But I’m proud that I’m getting there. I’m facing those fears day in day out because I don’t want to be ruled by them anymore.
What fear are you doing to face today?
I wrote about going to Borneo in some other places too… @gapyear.com, The Yorker (archive). You can find out more about Blue Cross challenge events or about work the organisation does here. Thank you to the Blue Cross and John Chin-JC for the videos used in my post.