Tears flowed throughout this tale which depicts the power of intentions, perspective and pausing in the art of conversation.

Connect completely to this very moment.

A powerful mantra in trying times felt as distant as the mountain peak that I’d just descended from. It was out of reach.  When my mind is calm, my breath is gentle. Equanimity tested. My mind was not calm, my breath not gentle. 

Emotions occur almost instinctively. I cannot control how I feel in any given moment but when I focus on my thoughts I can control how I react to those feelings. I choose how to respond to stimuli. I choose the stories I tell myself. I have the power to choose to feed the positive inner voices, fuel or negate the negative ones. I had a choice. I chose not to run away from the already uncomfortable patio of the mountain hut but to sit with the discomfort; to speak from my heart while passion fuelled tears.  

The stimulus, “How many followers do you have?”

Six inquisitive words carried potential to drag me far deeper than the testing waves of late,  drown me if I allowed. In a roaring wave of disbelief, rather than tuning into my breath, my anchor, I tuned into narrow thoughts of the shallow, petty question. 

My voice wavering like the edelweiss blowing in the summer breeze, speaking my truth, I began.

“I feel such a frivolous vanity metric carries no value. I did not choose to expose myself to the virtual world with goals to build a following nor use numbers as a sign of traction or self-worth.  I am developing a website for connection. Perhaps they have not survived a traumatic brain injury (TBI), sat on death’s doorstep or lost all hope for light as I did but every human can connect to adversity. ”

I spoke like a child depicting the fish she caught on her epic summer vacation; words fast as lightning and with such spark.

“Following months of doubt, facing relentless questions of self-worth, with heartfelt encouragement from a global tribe and a gentle nudge from down-under, I chose to dive into the deep end, to publish raw and real. Naked to the world, I pour my deepest emotions out onto an avenue called vulnerability. I welcome the world to follow along the mountainous profile of my mind following my TBI. The real-life tales of my trail are shared with truthful acknowledgement of the brokenness of life after brain injury but also of the breakthroughs, the summits and celebrations I once thought impossible. I am not an expert in brain injuries, vision loss, eating disorders or PTSD. I am living them.” 

Without lifting my head, wiping tears on my sweaty headband, I continued.

“Readers might connect to one, some, or maybe none of what challenges me but I have no doubt that they will find a connection to the stories I share. I can use personal anecdotes and examples to illustrate the realities and bridge theory and reality.  People may not connect to statistics or medical facts but storytelling has powerful potential for connection.”

“Some days I can hardly wait to annotate an event or articulate an experience like getting back on skis or losing track of time sitting in a freezing Colorado river. Other days I struggle to admit the struggle. It is not a joy to admit I served the alpine eagle population my run fuel, made a mockery of dinner last night or inwardly cursed the couple starring on the bus but I do with honesty and transparency because it is real. Navigating life with a visual impairment could be a book in itself. The hole in my abdomen, the scars on my wrists, the piercing stares, the wavering insecurity and fear of rejection, the horrific body image, its real. Vulnerability may be scary but by sharing the stories my scars tell now just might become pages in another’s survival guide when their light is dim.”

Between sips of espresso and spoonfuls of sorbet, I felt his eyes fixated as tears melded with the sweat on my cheeks. 

“Life following TBI is not all pretty alpine pictures.”

With uncharacteristic animation and a gesture towards the surrounding peaks, I persisted.

“Mountains reflect the profile of each day and collectively life. The broknesses is not something that gets fixed. I will never recover to life as it used to be. My TBI teaches endless lessons including the benefits of acceptance and letting go. Every single day I continue to try to let go of the craving to piece the broken together and work to accept how the pieces have taken a new shape. I know the new shape is full of potential but some days that can be hard to see.” 

Sunglasses could not hide my emotions. Personifying a melodramatic minister, I recognized my diversion and returned to what I thought was the original question.

“What value is there in tracking followers? I have no reason to count or compare. As the human race, why can’t we all be friends? Is someone more valuable to you once they reach their maximum friend following? Does your admiration of someone fluctuate based on the number of rings around their profile picture? Do you choose friends based on the labels they tie themselves to in their bio? Wear a certain size, brand or choose to wear nothing at all? Do you feel differently about your partner based on who she does or does not follow?”

Without taking a breath to allow him to respond, on I went.

“I do not count, add nor bank my self-worth on social media, who reads my blog, follows my trails or the number in my virtual tribe. I simply write about my trails, the ups and downs, peaks and valleys; if someone connects with that piece of my story, I hope they do so at a place that sheds light on their trail. Vulnerability is not a door I pushed through to measure follower counts, the volume of thumbs, hearts, likes, shares, or retweets. It is a door I opened to connect and share light.”

“Physical appearance, materialism, fortune and fame, permeate society and social media. I struggle with its misuse so was reluctant to embark on the social media scene to inform the world about my website. Commonly used to encourage people to buy products, wear certain clothes, relay messages of what we should look like, what we should eat, how fast or far we should run, I cannot connect to such materialism. However, I choose a perspective to see its potential for creating awareness and connection. Be it social media or the personal stories I scribe, I share the tales of the mountains of my mind to offer connection. Connection has potential to ignite a spark and stoke a fire of hope.”

My words flowed like glacial run-off in the summer sun because I spoke my truth. In today’s hyper-distracted world active listening is precious and rare. He listened. He did not say a word until I raised my head, took a deep breath and smirked in reflection of my animated spiel. 

He paused, returned a smirk and, with his lips bearing the semblance of a smile, he replied.

“I only asked how many followers you have because I think you are an incredible human who all beings could aspire to. Reading your blog as you resiliently embrace everything life throws at you, I am continually amazed by you every single day. I agree with your feelings about followers and the shortcomings of social media. You are right that metrics might not hold worth but I feel that infinite numbers could be inspired by your strength. Just being you and making the choices you do are writing the most inspiring story that needs to be spread.”

Connect completely to this very moment.  

An emotional consequence of guilt or wrongdoing, when I reflect on the perspective I took on well-intended question, I feel shame. I could have paused longer before I responded. I could have asked clarifying questions. I could have put on an alternative lense in an attempt to see his angle. Empathetic people practice perspective taking; certainly something I strive for.  By pausing and shifting perspective, I have learned when someone tells me I am lucky to see only 30% or that I am living the dream their intent is not from a place intended to hurt nor was a question of followers. A shift in mindset can create a wondrous connection. On this day, I didn’t shift. I reactively spoke from my heart. 

My heart spoke authentically. Authenticity connects.

I reflect on my response with wonder. Was it rooted in fear of judgement? Fear of not being enough? I choose to return to the present. I choose to let go. I choose to forgive myself. I grow and mindfully stride ahead with gratitude. Learn from the experience. Remember the lesson.

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  1. Tom Stevens says:

    I am always moved and inspired by Jill’s words. As a writer, I aspire to be as succinct and powerful, as a person I aspire to be kinder, more thoughtful, and thankful. A base for all that started with a chance of meeting and our friendship.

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      In turn, I am moved and inspired by your encouragement and being alongside me every step and every paragraph regardless of mountains between Tom! Serendipity was gracious in the Hunter Creek Valley; something will reflect on with gratitude and a smile from a bird’s eye view forever and always.

  2. Melinda MacKenzie says:

    Every. Single. Time. That I read your blog, my mind is blown.
    Don’t beat yourself up – I think we all do it – it’s human nature – especially if we’ve had to defend or stick up for ourselves (or others/a cause) so many times before.
    Perspective is a powerful thing, and I’m so grateful that I’m able to live my life a little bit better, because of the perspective you give me. #inspiringasfuck <3

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank you Melinda ~ and everytime you connect my smile brightens and I feel more inspired to keep embracing whatever comes along my trail. You set a brilliant example of living life with passion and advocating for your beliefs and following your heart ~ exemplary and admirable. Thank you for always taking time to pause, connect and check-in, share your perspective and light ~ it brightens my trail. x

  3. Shannon says:

    😂 I can just picture you and your passionate flow of words and conviction on the topic (so true) I literally laughed out loud with his response after all of that – must have felt good to verbalize. His response was priceless and no truer words. Xoxo