As I prepare to climber beyond 8 000m, I reflect upon the healing I have found in the himals of Nepal, and how I strive to personify their characteristics.

“This is your Everest,” he calmly claimed as I lay listless, buried in blankets yet frozen to the core, full of frustration, empty of hope on a cloudless Colorado morning as the sun rose up above the Rockies. 

“Expeditions require teamwork. We are your team,” he spoke slowly. Time stood still. 

“Every doctor, therapist, nurse, assistant, dietician, administrator, maintenance member, every one of us is here to help you summit. Our team’s goal is to have you safely walk away from this expedition and onto your own trail where life is waiting for you. We have experience, fuel, lifelines and confidence in the conditions and in you. Our team, step by step in synchronicity towards the summit, will be patient in the winds, assured they will pass. Some days will get stormy, some the sun will shine yet both change and the team’s support will remain constant.”

The founder and Chief Executive Director of the world’s most renowned medical center for the treatment of eating disorders stood at my bedside speaking with a gentle tone as if I were his precious child. Averse to anyone or anything, I had no interest in more false promises and no capacity to engage in conversation yet his analogy struck like a ball from right field. Invisible yet impactful, his words morphed onto my soul.

In reflection, as I ponder life’s trail in the Himalayas, Dr. M. had clearly done his homework. Before introducing himself to me, Dr. M. had made a thoughtful connection between my passion for nature and adventure and the steps necessary to create distance from death’s doorstep. That connection, an expedition of survival, sat stagnant deep in my soul, buried beneath cravings for years.

Like the unpredictability of weather in mountains, the unexpected storm carrying dark, devastating winds hit out of nowhere. A simple game on a Bavarian field knocked me into the eye of a storm. It’s increasing power, raged against everything I wanted. Embarking on an expedition amidst its relentless wake, I resisted. I manipulated the gear, pulled out the lifelines and refused the fuel. The only hope I had was for the expedition to end.

Stoic. Denial, anger, nor aggression were going to lead me back to that place I craved yet they endured. That place where I was autonomous and free: road bike and mountain bike on the roof of my sporty hatchback,  skis and snow shoes in the back, I fueled myself with what I wanted, when I wanted and followed whatever trail that called my spirit. Negating the possibility that the storm would calm only prolonged it. They wanted to help me grieve the loss of one of life’s most precious gifts while climbing in darkness with the promise of light ahead. I could not see that which they truly wanted for me.

I could not see much at all. From the split second 70 % of my vision vanished, my focus was dialed into loss. The team, nor anyone at all, understood. Expeditions require energy. I had none. My brain was damaged, my vision was impaired, with shame in my flaws, forever tattooed by stigma and dependence, my soul had nothing to give, no reason to go on. 

As long as the storm prevailed, so too did the strength of Team Colorado. The expedition leader, Dr. M. and his entire crew were tenacious, not a chance they would allow me to slip or fall. The lessons began.

The expedition of survival endured 26 months. Hundreds of unwavering hands and tenacious hearts from 7 hospitals across 3 countries, guided me towards discovery. Discovering the power of perspective, like subtle changes that take years to notice on a mountain face, shifting from a focus on what I had lost to what I have gained has been gradual yet constant. Enduring the expedition transpired into first hand evidence of all that is impermanence. Learning to steady in life’s storms, knowing light always follows darkness and welcoming, yet not attaching myself to sunshine, I am becoming a mountain. 

Assaulted by winds carrying snow and storms, the mountain holds unphased, assured by the certainty that is change. Through spring rains, summer heat, and winter whiteouts the mountain  is equanimous;  still,  quiet, steady.  

Centered and present, the mountain grounds through the inevitable change of every season. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a tangible lesson of impermanence, has taught me to steady amidst life’s storms, moments  of  darkness and light,  joy  and  sorrow. With the little eyesight I still have, I stare out the window to the Himalayas. I see not relentless climbs and uphill battles rather the potential and possibility among their jagged peaks. Steady through the monsoon storms, unphased by the wake of a pandemic, I aim to embody their resilience; embrace the constant that is change.  

Mountains remind me to let go of that which I cannot control. Neither stuck nor stagnant, like the mountains flowing glacial rivers, fresh and alive,  I aim to let life flow, reminded of the beauty of change. Though I cannot change what happened in the darkness, I can choose how I respond. With time comes change and with a change of perspective, I let go of the losses and see the possibilities in life’s mountains.

I choose to embrace the strength I have gained from my scars. Life’s climb that nearly broke me prepared for this. Standing out among the highest of the Himalayas her name derives from Sanskrit mansa meaning soul, Manaslu. She has weathered thousands of years of storms and quakes yet her soul does not live in the past. She has changed over time and so have I. The stories my scars tell have strengthened me. All she is is right now: strong and present. As I walk from Kathmandu into her shadows, trek through her foothills and climb to her 8 163 m peak, I strive to become one with her; to embody her strength and resilience.  

A global expedition team guided me inward to discover strength in my soul. With gratitude for the lessons of an expedition of survival,  I begin packing tents and boots, stoves, socks and my summit suit, to become one with the soul of the Himalayas, while knowing the most important equipment is within. 

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