The door closes with a heavy thud and a deep, metal click before drowning me in darkness. My heartbeat instantly spikes up to twice its normal rate, and I am left naked, alone, and swimming in a salty, nebulous pool of infinite pitch-black. There are no sounds, no light, and no one to tell me what to do. I feel sick to my stomach and start fumbling for the door handle when, all of a sudden, a voice inside my head screams, “WAIT!”
I’m going to level with you guys this week. There’s a dark numbness that has taken over my chest cavity, pressing firmly against my organs with the insidiousness of cold iron. Simple tasks like tying my shoelaces or making a cup of tea feel like an extraordinary effort. I feel as though a giant has seized my ribcage between his fingers and is slowly watching the life drain out of me for his own amusement. I feel claustrophobic and confused, enraged and heartbroken all at once. I have been fighting a lingering depression.
Day 8 – Yak Karta to Thorong Phedi
I shot out of bed at 3:30 in the morning, restless and claustrophobic in my sleeping bag sarcophagus. It must have been about 20 degrees inside our room, and I tossed and turned like a petulant child as I desperately tried and failed to go back to sleep. I was sick of the cold, sick of the nausea, and sick of scanning my eyes back and forth for hours across the dim, blue glow of my Kindle screen. The electric buzz of my skin longed to touch the air without cringing again.
Day 4 – Chame to Upper Pisang
At 6am on the dot, I crawled naked out of bed to split the hotel curtains with my fingers and marvel at the lavender haze of sunrise as it stretched its illuminated arms around the upper Himalayan peaks. “It’s happening! It’s happening!!” I called to my lover, Brian, who lay groggy and confused beneath a pile of wool blankets, eager to hit the snooze button on the alarm of my voice. Conscious that the magical, rose glow outside would not last for more than a few minutes, I tripped over my boots as I struggled to quickly pull my socks, thermals, and hiking pants over my feet to run outside and greet the morning.
It’s sunset, and you are watching the last of our star’s orange glow fluoresce against the horizon before it dips out of view. You’re sitting on the stoop of a 400-year-old stucco building in Cinque Terre, Italy, swigging Chianti straight out of the bottle like a college sophomore. A light breeze blows past. Giggling couples begin returning from the rocky shore towards restaurants lit with dancing flickers of candlelight, ready to gorge themselves on fresh seafood. You take a deep breath and exhale proudly, “Now this is living!”
Last Sunday, I plopped onto the couch, curled up into the lap of a man I love, and did absolutely nothing but watch documentaries from morning to night while eating ice cream, laughing hysterically, and pausing for extremely necessary sex breaks. It was glorious. I felt happy and dizzy and blissed out. My joy bubbled up from brain stem to crown and left me smiling and slightly lobotomized in its wake. But somewhere, in the pit of my stomach, a familiar twinge of worry began to blossom. A faint notion of guilt for spending a day doing nothing other than resting and being happy crept across my toes and made me shiver.
I’m limping again. I can barely walk downstairs. Bruised knee and bloodshot eyes. My life in boxes. My heart in a tourniquet. Used up. Washed out. Pale moon shadow of the girl I wanted to be.
This is a love song to sing to ourselves at the bottom of the blackest pits (the ones we too often choose to leap into willingly).
It’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue each time I conjure the courage to spit out the idea for my latest sufferfest. Why climb over 10,000 vertical feet in a day? Why push for a summit in 70mph winds? Why waste a perfectly good Saturday waking up at five in the morning to bloody my fingers on sharp granite crystals?
My first backpacking trip was a burly 12 miler that left me gasping for air as I crested the last few boulders on the summit block of Alta Peak. I was 28, hopelessly in love, and had a gorgeous assortment of all the wrong gear. Among the sundries inside my pack were: a bohemian leather jacket, a full-sized towel, and a child’s size sleeping bag from the sale bin at a suburban H&M. I was a mess.
“I wish I remembered more of it.”
The feeling stuck in my brain like old gum to a shoe as I tried to conjure up details from the day’s climb that broke all my records, bruised my heart, and took me to 16,818 vertical feet above sea level.