Conquering Mountains: A Story About Exposure

Hiking: it is not fun, but it is amazing.

Conquering Mountains: A Story About ExposureIn this fast-paced, social media culture we forget that achieving goals is a struggle. We see what others achieve and we think it’s easy, and when it’s not.

I was coerced into hiking up a mountain on New Years Eve, and when I say coerced, I mean my friends made me commit when I was just a little too tipsy and FOMO kicked in...

 

EXPOSURE. An important step in managing anxiety involves facing feared situations, places or objects. It is normal to want to avoid the things you fear. However, avoidance prevents you from learning that the things you fear are not as dangerous as you think. The process of facing fears is called EXPOSURE.

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I was coerced into hiking up a mountain on New Years Eve. When I say coerced, I mean my friends made me commit when I was just a little too tipsy, and FOMO kicked in. This was decided in November, but I was ( and am) extremely unfit. The idea of hiking up a mountain (okay, honestly it’s actually called a hill) freaked me out, but I committed and decided to prepare. I was going to do this and it was going to be great!

I started training. I went to the gym and spent some time with my trusty friend, the treadmill, playing with the incline and speed buttons. That would prepare me, right? I was really proud of myself for going. But I only went once. I still went, though…

I was going to Pretoria and had to train over Christmas, so my plan was to find a hill and climb it. Turned out the street my mom lives on has quite a steep incline and seemed long enough, so that was going to be my training ground. I walked up the street, with my 12-year-old brother in tow complaining about how his legs were breaking. I was doing something. I was preparing so the hike was going to be a good one.

Cue New Year’s Eve back in Cape Town. We arrive at the wine farm, I look at the “mountain” and anxiety kicks in. It was a lot further that my mom’s street, and to be honest I only walked up that street 3 times, so I didn’t really train that hard. But I was there, and it was going to be great.

It was not great. It was horrible. While we were walking the “easy” part of the route (about 1.5 kilometre into the 10-kilometre circle route) I could feel my heart in my throat, and I was shaking. It was frightening, but I am a strong young woman, so I wasn’t going to show that I was struggling! I mean, I trained! With the sun beating down on me and the top of the “mountain” seeming further and further away, I spiralled down the rabbit hole of self-hatred and defeat. I forced my friends to walk on without me and I decided to turn back.

Ashamed and suffering, I hid in a vineyard to cool down and catch my breath. As I sat there looking at the amazing view, I started reflecting on my year. I figured that if I couldn’t see the sunset from the top, I could see it from my little hidey-hole in the vines.

While reflecting, I saw how far I had come in one year. I was diagnosed with depression in February and with medication and support I can say it is under control. I had to face the impossible task of trying to tell people that I had absolutely no control over how I felt and that it was not the fault of the guy I was seeing, but a lifetime of ignored issues. I had to face said ignored issues in therapy and it was horrific, hard, horrible, but also beautiful and freeing. My heart was broken and started healing again. I started painting and made new friends. I did so much in 2019 and I was proud of myself. Instead of looking back and seeing one of the worst years to date (Cue cliché and dramatic comparison, sorry.) I saw each little hill I got over. Each incline I survived. I was proud and incredibly grateful.

I was proud of attempting the hike and satisfied with how far I had made it. Bullying turned to praise, and I caught my second breath. I continued up the hill. I suffered. Had to stop many times to allow people to pass me and tell them I was “okay”. My water ran out and I had to beg sips from people passing by. I almost gave up three times, but I continued. The glass of champagne waiting for me at the top was a big motivator, but what got me up there was how proud I was of myself. It took me two hours to do a hike that took my friends about an hour, but I made it. I was on top. I was shaking and unrecognisably red, but I made it.

The walk down was glorious, and I don’t think I will soon forget the way I felt, but it was a massive struggle to get up there. I hated it most of the time. I hated how I struggled, I hated being embarrassed at my lack of fitness. I hated my friends for making me do it (that was the first thing I said when I reached them), but I loved myself. And I loved how proud I was of myself. I loved them for believing in me when I couldn’t.

In this fast-paced, social media culture we forget that achieving goals is a struggle. We see what others achieve and we think it’s easy, and when it’s not, we take it out on ourselves, become demotivated and sometimes give up. We forget what we have achieved, we forget to love ourselves. To climb a “mountain” takes effort (more effort than training four times in two months) and a whole lot of motivation.  It also takes endurance, like anything else we commit to. I hope I learn more about endurance in 2020 because that is a tricky one. I am scared of putting this out there, but I am also going to train a lot more so that I can climb that hill again, but with a little less suffering.

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