First off I will tell you that I was last both times. And both times I survived.
Last November 16th, I went trailblazing with the Alexandria Meetup Group. We embarked from Fort Ethan Allen Park. The hike was described as of moderate difficulty, with a few water crossings, and rock scrambles, and elevation changes. It promised a scenic overlook of the Potomac River. Only five and a half miles in just under two hours.
Piece of cake.
I almost died.
At an early water crossing I slipped on a rock and fell flat on my face into the stream. I hit my head and bruised my left shin. I was soaked head to toe. My shoes and socks were sopping wet. It was 35 degrees. My lips turned blue. To avoid hypothermia, I stripped down to my skivvies in front of fifty of my new best friends. A handsome stranger lent me his dry coat and warm gloves.
I should have turned back. But…
It seemed there was just one dangerously steep hill to descend and then I would be in the clear and back on solid ground. A transgendered park ranger held my hand all the way down. I would love to thank her but I forgot to get her name. And I thought the worst was over.
I was wrong.
It turns out “rocks” meant “boulders” and “scrambling” meant “scaling” and a “few” meant “way the hell too many”. The hills turned into cliffs, breathtaking, death dealing cliffs.
I prayed for a helicopter.
God in three persons answered my prayer, namely three handsome (and sadly married!) guys: Gordon, Joe, and Luke. One in front and two behind, they took turns literally holding my hand and guiding me each and every step of the way – “Put your foot here, grab a hold there”. If I looked down, I was a goner. Instead I looked to them. I listened to them.
Thanks be to Gordon, Joe, and Luke, I came in last. Exhilarated, shaking like a leaf and kissing the ground, I came in last.
But not for the last time.
Just one week later on November 23rd I finished the Real Girls RUN Half Marathon in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The race started in Crozet, a picturesque village in the horse country outside of Charlottesville. The field of 100 plus runners quickly outpaced me. I was blissfully left alone with my thoughts to walk the course: 13.1 miles of serious hills but no cliffs and no boulders!
Piece of cake.
When I was finally in sight of the finish line, a fellow contestant – who had long ago finished herself – cheered me on from her car window. “It’s my very first one”, I told her, “and I am coming in last!” She pulled over and walked the last half-mile with me. “You may be last” she said, “but you finished the hardest damn half marathon in in the state of Virginia. And that’s a first!”
I recovered from the five-mile hike. I recovered from the 13-mile walk. But more importantly, in the process, I recovered myself. Not an overnight process for sure. But with every little step I took, I got a little bit of myself back – body, mind, spirit, and soul.
And looking back, I took thousands of steps long before I ever stepped out in my hot pink size 7 ASICS. Steps that did not seem to matter. Steps that were daunting. Steps that were awkward. Steps that were clumsy. Steps that were steep. Steps that were halting. Steps that were scary. Steps forward. Steps backward.
The Million Step Program.
So far I have been in the program for a dozen years. I will be in it the rest of my life. It’s about lifelong recovery. Not recovery from bipolar disorder. I will never be rid of bipolar disorder nor do I ever want to be. The program I am in is about the lifelong recovery and embrace of my bipolar self.
To help quantify what it takes to get with the program and keep up with the program, I pulled out my calculator and compiled a few statistics from just this last year:
- 24 biweekly trips to Marvelous Mary’s, my therapist’s office
- 6 trips, every other month, to the psychiatrist
- 1,095 little pills swallowed
- 12 group therapy meetings along the Artist’s Way
- 48 times in the pool
- 1,460 walks with Bailey the dog
- 10,220 Hail Mary’s
- 208 trips to the Bishop Payne Library
- A dozen times in the pulpit
- 200 Christmas carols on my Ipod
- 36 dozen eggs
- 36 blog posts
- 1,095 cups of coffee
- too many books to count
- too much money spent
- countless meals with friends
- too little time with family
- more time listening to music
- more than my share of sleepless nights
- 718,522 calories
- 1,116 miles
- 2,634,125 steps
A dozen years of coming in last — to finally count myself as first. And what is true for me is surely true for us all.
There is no magic pill. There is no miracle program. There is no bipolar magic wand.
But — bipolar or whatever – you can recover yourself one step at time. Walking this way may seem endless and discouragement a given. Yet every step along this way may take you places you need to go – a hospital, a doctor’s office, a friend’s couch. And on this road the slower you go, the more miraculous people you are likely to meet : Neighbors become friends, coworkers become companions, and strangers – wilderness guides along your way.
Like the park ranger, like Gordon, Joe, and Luke, like the woman who walked with me that last half mile. God in all these persons witness to the truth – that the last shall be first.
Just take it one step at a time.