Peace

Peace: freedom from disturbance, tranquility

“There must be a quiet place where all is in order, a place from which comes the energy that overcomes turbulence and is not intimidated by it” Gordon MacDonald, 2003

A change in my life, which felt almost catastrophic to me at times, led to a purposeful and intentional search for peace. The search mostly felt like a struggle and during the worst of it, I felt overwhelmed by an internal restlessness that I could not quiet. Much healing took place, but I found myself in a place where I was unable to move forward in the process.

Whilst having dinner with a friend, she told me of her plans to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. She would be climbing to raise money for a charity that supports children affected by war through which healing is facilitated by encouraging healthy relationships. I knew that I had to join her. I hoped that as I climbed for War Child, I would also be walking for my own healing.

Arriving at our lodge in Arusha and meeting the other members of Mountain Network and War Child’s group two, made what I was about to attempt a reality which was both thrilling and terrifying. In an exercise we completed the evening before we started our climb, it became clear that each of us was not only climbing to raise funds for War Child, but to remind ourselves how to engage in the present, slow our pace in life, free ourselves from internal and external limitations, be more mindful, lead our children better, find happiness and regain perspective.

To me, the group was unique in the way the varied personalities worked together without losing our individuality. We had a unified purpose which helped us to leave our egos at the entrance gate of Kilimanjaro National Park and climb that mountain with an attitude of curiosity and openness, not controlling the journey in any way but rather willing to be led.

Every expectation was exceeded and we walked down the highest mountain in Africa having experienced, learned, reflected on, freed ourselves from and absorbed far more than we could ever have hoped.

It has been seven weeks since we summited and I have realized how much I learned:
• Being authentic allows for a real connection as it encourages others to be their true selves too
• Accepting both the beauty and ugliness of our character and making peace with who we really are, brings great freedom and contentment
• If you look for good you will see it
• Encouraging words give unbelievable strength whereas discouraging words lead to hopelessness and feelings of failure
• Kindness without conditions or expectations is a beautiful gift to give and receive
• We place so much value on being like-minded, when we should place higher value on being like-hearted
• Being truly unified in purpose facilitates cooperation rather than competition
• We are limited by rules but freed by boundaries
• Fear narrows our world and tells us we can’t
• Yes, we can
• It is easy to become overwhelmed when we think about the entire climb rather than just taking one step at a time- we can apply this principle to our lives
• Being able to accept help rather than only being able to give it, shows strength
• Helping should never make someone else feel powerless even if our intentions are good
• Belonging shouldn’t mean losing our identity
• Although society tries to rank us, we are all equally human in our value, vulnerability and fallibility.
• We need to make time to recharge and regain perspective. This is a necessity rather than a luxury
• People believe what you tell them- we shouldn’t undermine ourselves with negative words
• Being thankful for the little things brings contentment and fulfillment
• We have to grieve our losses whatever they are. We cannot avoid or repress pain and anger forever. Trying to compensate for what we have lost with someone or something else rather than going through the grieving process will ultimately hurt us and others.
• Being fully present and engaged in our lives will gives us little time to dwell on the past or worry unnecessarily about the future
• The actual experience is as good as or better than the picture in our heads if we allow ourselves the freedom of allowing it to be rather than being disappointed that it isn’t the same as what we imagined or expected.

The experience of climbing Kilimanjaro gave me a new perspective. I came down that mountain having left the past in the past, feeling hopeful for the future, fully engaged in the present and at peace.

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Recovery

Recovery: a return to good health after an illness or to a normal state after a difficult period of time

Thinking about what has been particularly challenging in dealing with a chronic illness and the associated difficulties, I realize that the recovery after being hospitalized is frequently downplayed. Not fully acknowledging the experienced trauma; not taking the time needed to recover physically or process the feelings experienced by the person who is ill, or the experiences of those people who have suffered because of my illness, has most certainly led to emotional harm.

There are many milestones on the recovery route. The removal of the oxygen mask or nasal cannula is usually the first step on the road to being discharged. In ICU, I always encounter the problem of shallow breathing because of the pain. More pain relief cannot be administered when my breathing is too shallow. So I need to be given oxygen. The oxygen mask is uncomfortable because, for some reason, it makes me feel as if I am suffocating rather breathing easier. If the oxygen is delivered via a nasal cannula then my nostrils become so sore that I have to concentrate on mouth-breathing which is exhausting. When the oxygen is removed it means that I am getting better. The next milestone is the removal of the nasogastric tube. I know I’m recovering when swallowing becomes painful and the tape securing the tube to my face becomes uncomfortable. The tube is usually removed within two days. As soon as the drip is removed, I know I will be home in a matter of hours.

And it is such a relief. There is usually great excitement and gratitude that I am being discharged. It feels as if the worst of the experience has passed. But that is not necessarily true. Getting to the car is usually so exhausting that I am tempted to ask to go back to my hospital bed. The car journey home is often frightening because the unevenness of the road and the pressure on my body when the car slows and accelerates is painful. Sometimes, I can only make it as far as the couch if my bedroom is upstairs and I have to rest and prepare myself to walk up the stairs to my bed. Eating takes so much energy and makes me feel such discomfort, that the anticipation itself is exhausting. But it is always wonderful to be back home with my family, my husband, my dogs and my children. There are fewer feelings greater than lying in my own bed next to someone I love and this is amplified by having been in hospital.

After a few days, I look less gaunt and frail and start to look and feel healthier and stronger. This, I realize, is where the denial starts. The suppressing of emotions that should be processed at this stage. Those close to me are dealing with their own trauma and it is painfully lonely because it is so difficult to be needy and needed at exactly the same time. Because the way I look does not always reflect how sick or weak I feel, there is some expectation that life can start to assume some type of normality. I cannot fully articulate the extent of the damage caused by this assumption. There are unexpressed feelings and emotions both from me and from those who love me. To tell you how much grief, loss, anger, fear and helplessness I am feeling seems as selfish as you telling me how much you feel those emotions. However, suppressed and unexpressed emotions don’t disappear, but rather become something bigger and less manageable, surfacing unexpectedly. To be physically sick and emotionally vulnerable feels impossible particularly since the seriousness of the illness makes those close to me emotionally vulnerable too. At the time, it feels unbearable, so detachment or the magnified expression of emotions in unrelated contexts occurs.

This is a difficult journey. The answers are not yet clear, though I know that my search is part of my recovery.