North America triggered reminders of TBI losses. I struggled to find what I needed in my toolbox.

Some days I feel like I’m flying through recovery; today has not been one of those. Struggling along today’s trail, I would never speak to another human being as cruelly as I uttered to myself. Following yesterday’s postcard perfect trail run high in the Colorado outback, I allowed the exhilaration to carry the rest of my day. Too late for lunch, too early for dinner,  rather than physically refuelling, I skipped both meals and chose popcorn. I allowed Rocky to drown my voice of reason and logic. My resilient voice was silenced as Rocky shouted with demeaning tones of societal influence.

I find it especially trying to problem solve when swept away by an anxious mind. Travel, varying elevation and personal climbs have challenged any sleep rhythm in recent weeks, depriving my body of the rest it needs, the rest it deserves. In the wake of my traumatic brain injury (TBI), in addition to this wave of exhaustion, decisions come with unfathomable difficulty. Choosing a run over rest, choosing popcorn over energy-rich fuel are clearly illogical, emotion based decisions.

Content without a physical structure to call home, the mountains have become my quarters; landscapes of peaks and valleys, the physical reality where I challenge the mountains of my mind. Arrival in North America has triggered reminders of TBI losses; autonomy, trust, efficacy, body image, coping in over stimulating environments off the mountains. When losses weigh heavy, I need to lean into the support I have and the toolbox I developed throughout months of rehabilitation and therapy. Tools and strategies, I have a plethora yet when I feel depleted, that bank, unreachable. Any combination of feeling run down, deprived of proper rest, or overwhelm, Rocky jumps at the chance to take control; jumps at the chance to survive on popcorn believing that perhaps that a magical kernel will land me back in pre-accident bliss.

Traveling alone, when obstacles arise and patterns of popcorn start to emerge, I take the obstacles to the mountains and feel hope the relationship that is budding. When in the company of others, feeling safe, feeling enough, trusting that I will not be shamed, judged or misunderstood continues to be a steep gradient. In addition to my movement meditation that is trail running, integrating daily meditation has become a welcome stillness inevitably enhancing perspective and the state of calm essential to recovery and acceptance of my trail.

From the time I lay listless following my traumatic brain injury, I have had a tough relationship with myself and a horrific relationship with food. Though my medical team and cheerleaders spanning the globe have helped foster self-compassion, my relationship with food remains rocky. Physically, mentally and emotionally, my TBI diverted my trail, my perspective, my strength. With my appetite still lost, choosing more than popcorn can be a battle with Rocky. He holds tight to that before picture. Physical appearance is held with such judgment in America more than anywhere else my trails have taken me; where there appears to be a constant race towards a size or shape that will ignite happiness. Western culture feels to have forgotten that which is true beauty. I remain perplexed as to why so much self-worth seems dependent on what one ate on a given day. I feel happiness, like beauty, comes from within yet the triggering conversations, media and fad diet preaching continue to engage Rocky. Beauty is not physical appearance, clothes size or make-up; it is about being your authentic self. What I feel makes someone beautiful is sharing their vulnerabilities, sharing their mistakes and appreciating one’s body as a place to live—a vehicle for embracing life.

Mountains soften my reaction to adversity, help me find the best version of myself and embrace the beautiful trail my life has taken. Mountains generate perspective, help me be authentic and true to myself; help me write my story that one day I will look back and read with pride and a bowl of popcorn. 

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  1. Tom Stevens says:

    I am continualy impressed with Jill’s writing style. As a writer that spends 8 to 12 hours a day at the craft I am envious. Just heading out the door this morning for a two hour mountain bike ride in high Colorado. Jill will be on my mind.