First off I will tell you that I was last both times. And both times I survived.
A few Novembers ago, I went trailblazing with an 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 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.) 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 Thanksgiving Eve, 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!
(But hills, lots of hills!)
Piece of cake.
When I was finally in sight of the finish line, a fellow racer – 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 with me the last half-mile. “You may be last” she said, “but you finished the hardest damn half marathon in in the state of Virginia. That’s a first!”
I recovered from the five-mile hike. I recovered from the 13.1-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 and soul.
(And since I have completed two more half marathons and planning on the fourth!)
Looking back, I see that I took thousands of steps long before I ever strapped on that first pair of 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.
The (Almost) Billion Step Program.
So far I have been in the program for fifteen years. I will be in it the rest of my life. It’s about lifelong recovery. Not recovery from bipolar disorder. I will never not be bipolar – nor would I ever want to be. The program I am in is about embracing the gift of my bipolar self.
To help quantify what it takes to get with the program and keep up with the program, I compiled a few statistics from just this last year. Holistically speaking, I’ve done pretty well.
- 48 weekly visits to get my head examined (Thank you, Sondra!)
- 4, once a quarter trips, to my psychiatrist (aka Mr. Rogers!)
- 3 x 365 nightly vitamins for my brain
- 24 hikes round Huntley Meadows
- 52 walks on the river front
- 104 tours (2 miles each) at the Library of Congress
- 389 tunes “Folk Rocking Down the Highway” (Thank you, Spotify!)
- 29 blog posts (so far)
- a baker’s dozen of sermons
- 6 score (120) services planned
- 2 times, twice over, on the Story District stage
- 1,095 cups of coffee
- 400 pieces of toast
- 4 dozen books devoured
- 1st book written
- “2” much time on my couch
- 5 new dresses and just as many shoes
- 1/2 dozen new pairs of pajamas
- a few sleepless nights
- and maybe more than just a little mania
I lost track of the calories. I lost track of the miles. I lost track of the steps.
But I am stepping up my game and getting it back: a new Fitbit, an actual scale, a stair stepper to step on, and resistance bands. Walking clothes and shoes always at the ready. Back in the pool for a little aerobics. Even a bike ride, now and then.
It took me a dozen of 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 or miracle program or magic bipolar wand.
But — bipolar or whatever – you can recover yourself one step at time. Walking this way may seem ENDLESS. Yet every step may take you places you never thought you would go. And on this road, miraculous people you are likely to meet. Neighbors turn into 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.
The last can be first.
Just take it one step at a time.