I just came back from a trip to the mountains where I facilitated two week long intuitive painting retreats.
Now, this in and of itself is not particularly newsworthy, since I facilitate intuitve painting retreats between 12 and 15 times in any given year.
But this particular trip had a tinge of the miraculous to it because I was in the mountains at close to 7,000 feet in elevation and I felt remarkably good and healthy and happy for most of my trip.
And this has not been the case for a very long time.
I am at heart a mountain mama.
I get my most inspirational creative juice from ANY kind of contact with the natural world, but the mountains are my spiritual home. They are the place where my soul feels the most vital and joyful and blissfully alive.
But 10 years ago, when I was in the throes of menopausal craziness and my body was changing in all KINDS of weird and disturbing ways, I began experiencing altitude sickness. And for any of you that have never had a bout of this particular ailment it is SO not fun.
It’s like having the worst flu, combined with asthma, severe insomnia and panic disorder. And it CAN be life threatening at extremely high elevations.
So when this happened I was heartbroken. And felt like I was in exile from the high places that brought me so much solace and inspiration.
But given that I am who I am I didn’t want this to be the final word on my life.
So I searched for options. I learned everything I could about altitude sickness and found out that they basically don’t know why some folks get it and others don’t. The mechanics of it are understood but not the etiology.
I drank gallons of water ( since that is always the first line of defense when dealing with altitude issues) and took my time getting to altitude, acclimating slowly.
I tried every alternative treatment I could get my hands on, including putting chlorophyll in my gallons of water, taking all kinds of herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies and whatever else was recommended by friends, Google and health care practitioners.
When those things didn’t work quite as advertised I went the western medical route and had lung function tests, sleep apnea tests and got a prescription for a drug called Diamox.
What I discovered is that my lungs work great, I DON’T have sleep apnea and Diamox makes me feel worse than the altitude. As well as finding out that Western medicine doesn’t know very much about treating altitude sickness.
I sought out a doctor who SPECIALIZES in altitude sickness who recommended that I get a breathing machine like the kind used by folks who have lung diseases such as emphysema or COPD.
This was the first thing that brought me some measure of relief but it didn’t cure me entirely.
So I continued to soldier on.
A lot of folks were sincerely puzzled as to why I would keep GOING to the mountains given that being there caused me so much distress. And I did try one year to take a vacation traveling up the Oregon coast and basically staying at sea level.
I even went to Death Valley because it is BELOW sea level.
Both places were quite beautiful and I had many wonderful adventures. But underlying it all was a feeling of sadness because I wasn’t where I truly wanted to be.
The only thing I knew for sure was that being in the mountains was something I just couldn’t let go of. Something I could never stop fighting for because it was simply too precious to me. I was in love. And true love lasts a lifetime.
So now, here I am. Somewhat bedraggled and bruised from the altitude battles but feeling a sense of hope that a corner seems to have been turned.
This is one of those things that is still mysterious to me because I still don’t know which of the things I did ( and the list of remedies that I have outlined here is far from exhaustive) made the difference. Or if any of them made any difference at all.
I can’t point to any of them and say YES! That’s what healed me.
Maybe it’s a combination of all of it. Maybe my hormones readjusted themselves. Maybe my karmic clock just ran out and I paid my karmic altitude dues. Maybe my body just got tired of my refusal to give up and simply threw in the towel.
So part of this journey was being in the mystery of not knowing. Not knowing what exactly what was happening. Not knowing what I needed to do to make things better. Not knowing if any of my efforts even really paid off.
And part of it was surrendering to the reality that I am not, nor ever have been, in control of how this process was going to unfold.
What I do know is that my passion and desire to keep going for what had so much heart and meaning for me was a worthy pursuit, no matter what the outcome.
And I’m grateful for the spirit that lives inside of me that refuses to give up on what she knows she wants and needs no matter how long it might take to get there.
Or even if I never get there at all.