Category Archives: Chronic Climbing

Despite Having MS and All This Chronic Pain, I FINISHED THE 14ERS!

Okay, technically I still have my final finisher left to hike up in order to actually finish the list of 58 Colorado mountains over 14,000 feet. However, my finisher Mount Evans, is “easy” enough that, at least this time, I’m counting my chickens before they hatch. And oh my, what a beautiful little chicken that will be.

In my last blog post, I talked about what it’s like to climb with Multiple Sclerosis, and how hard it’s been for me to bag my last 6 peaks this summer. However, I want to take the time now to also reflect not just on my MS, but on some of the other things that have made my journey challenging – and all the more rewarding for it.

A Brief History of Meg

For those of you just tuning in, or for anyone who’s ear I haven’t yet yapped off about why I chose to take on this crazy task of doing the 58 tallest mountains in Colorado, let’s start at the beginning.

Handies Peak – one of my favorite 14ers, due to the beauty.

Flashback to Meg as a middle schooler, which is when I developed exercise-induced asthma. You see, I’m a pretty fast runner, but all of a sudden around the 6th grade I started developing issues with breathing when I ran. I joined the track team in 7th grade as a sprinter, but still couldn’t even do the warm-up runs the whole team needed to do. I wasn’t overly confident at that age: I was already much taller than all the boys and had a body type that elicited phrases like “you’re not fat, you’re just muscular” – something I’ve now learned to take pride in (they better get someone with more muscle than Gal Gadot to play me when my movie deal comes through), but at 13 years old it’s a pretty euphemism for being too big and fat. I became a volleyball player, and put aside thoughts of sports that included any sort of running or endurance.

Volleyball was a great love of mine over the years, though as many great loves are wont to do, it caused me much pain and suffering. Due to unfortunate genetics, I was prone to have a bad low back, which volleyball exacerbated starting in high school and has now progressed to degenerative disc disease and two herniated discs at my L3/L4 and L4/L5 levels. It’s caused me intense agony over the years, and I have been on the cusp of diving into major back surgery a number of times only to edge back again for fear of such a serious procedure.

A view from Capitol – one of the hardest 14ers

In fact, I even started the 14ers list with the promise to myself that I could have the surgery after I was done, so that if something went wrong with it and I couldn’t be active anymore I would at least have had some accomplishment behind me.

My senior year of college was a particularly bad time for my back, and I also recall having a migraine for about 6 months straight. I was so tired, and everything hurt. That’s when I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. While I had been in chronic pain for years, I had never had a disease. It was a tough pill to swallow, though I actually decided not to swallow any literal pills. I’ve never been a big fan of medications, and pain pills make me sick. Over the next few years in my mid-twenties I learned how to cope with my disease and manage my pain with lifestyle and diet changes, eventually getting back to a point where life was mostly livable again.

Mount Antero – my first calendar winter solo

My First Fourteener

By this point, I had made the move from Wisconsin to Colorado, and it was a major life shift for me. In Wisco I had enjoyed biking, but took one look at the hills in Colorado and knew my asthma would keep me from being able to do much on my bike – my asthma isn’t just a little wheezing, it’s more like the screech of a T-Rex trying to tie his shoelaces. Thus, I started training in the foothills around Boulder to get my stamina up. I was in love with the mountains but didn’t really know what “14ers” were, not even when I went up my first 13er in Rocky Mountain National Park. I hadn’t quite made the connection that, for instance, Denver as the mile high city meant it was at an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level, and that these 14ers were much higher than that at 14,000 feet above sea level. Yet, after doing well on my first 13er, and about 4 months after moving to the state, I decided I was ready for one of these big hikes people talked about.

Mount Bierstadt on the day of my first 14er.

I wanted to give myself the best chance for success, so I chose one of the “easier” peaks according to the research online. I wasn’t entirely sure I would make it, given that many people get altitude sickness, and I knew the fibromyalgia and asthma put me at a disadvantage. I chose Mount Bierstadt, which is a peak not too far away from Denver, and drove there on a Tuesday in early October. While slow and had to huff and puff, *spoiler alert*, I did make it. I recall there weren’t that many people (Bierstadt is a circus these days with 200+ people on a weekend day in the summer), and remember being in awe at a couple guys who had done seventeen 14ers. Another couple of guys were discussing the route over to Mount Evans, a neighboring peak which was connected by a ridgeline called the Sawtooth.

Now, Bierstadt is not a particularly dangerous peak and does not have a lot of exposure or large drops off the summit. Even so, I was a little freaked out looking over the edge, being up that high for the first time – I had never climbed anything before. When those guys asked me if I wanted to join them in going across the Sawtooth, I thought they were crazy and decided I didn’t want to die. I felt quite happy in my accomplishment of getting to the top of my first 14er and would call it a day at that, and enjoyed the solo summit for about 45 minutes after the other parties left. I’ll never forget that view, or that time by myself, for the first time realizing that I could really do something like that. The confidence was overwhelming and like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’d never be able to run a marathon (or even a half), but this, this I could do. I could climb these mountains, and I decided right then and there I would do all 58 of them. A monster was born.

Bierstadt and the Sawtooth ridge

Some More Bumps in the Road

Soon the weather and season turned, and I wasn’t able (or knowledgeable enough) to attain any more peaks that year. I set my mind to learning to rock climb over the winter in order to help further my goals on the peaks – even though you don’t need to know any technical climbing or ropes for any of them – I thought it would certainly help and may ease some of my fear of heights.

Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Point – my first solo backpack.

However, only two months after my first 14er, something happened that changed my health for the worse for years to come: a few days away from Thanksgiving, I was playing volleyball and snapped my ACL in half and tore my meniscus. All of my hiking and climbing plans went down the drain, all of my hard-earned fitness progress diminished. I had surgery in February and was back on mountains by August, but unfortunately, my knee has never really recovered. I ended up having two more surgeries over the years, and it is still a major pain for me today, swollen and aching on most things I do. However, through the years I was able to limp my way up most of the 14ers, taking time off, sometimes months at a time, to recoup the knee (or my back, or my fatigue levels, etc.) when I had pushed too hard.

Furthermore, and which was an even more dramatic event, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis two years ago. It took all of the symptoms I had previously and made them significantly worse and then added about as many new symptoms to contend with. I’ve probably had it since college and definitely had it since moving to Colorado even though it was just recently diagnosed. It’s a laundry list of neurological and inflammatory issues that I won’t bother taking space with here, but feel free to ask me about it anytime if you’re curious.  I spent most of a year after the hospitalization not being able to leave my home due to how ill I was, let alone be able to work, socialize, or climb. Luckily, I have been able to find the “new normal”, and have spent much of my time figuring out symptom/pain management and therapies in order to gain back even a semblance of what I used to be able to do. Check out my most recent post to learn how some of the symptoms have affected my climbing this summer.

My MS symptoms be like…

 

Six Years But I’ve Finally Done It

Mount Wilson – a nemesis, but one of my favorite routes in the end.

This October 4th it’ll be six years since I first sat atop Mount Bierstadt, as I haven’t returned to it since. It’s been a long journey, and I don’t think I quite knew what I was getting into when I originally set the goal. But, I’m nothing if not persistent. At that time I was afraid of the Sawtooth, a class 3 ridge. Six years later I have climbed these mountains in every month of the year (and found I actually prefer the snow), learned how to lead both rock and ice, and have soloed routes that the Meg of six years ago couldn’t have imagined and probably would have made her pee her pants.

Stuff with me goes wrong so often that I still didn’t really believe I would finish until last weekend when I was sitting atop number 57, South Maroon. South Maroon’s standard route, by the way, was a never-again route due to the loose rock, crappy route-finding, and all around-ugliness. I won’t do that mountain again unless it’s in the snow; it was almost so icky I think I had a hard time enjoying the solo summit like I usually do just because I wanted off the damn thing so badly. However, it strikes me that both of the “Deadly” Maroon Bells were easy for me, as far as the climbing was concerned, and neither those nor any of the other difficult peaks I had left this summer were scary to me, even those that I soloed. My confidence has certainly come a long way since Bierstadt, and since that too-big girl trying to run track.

Longs Peak – the only 14er I did a technical route on.

I have made mention often of the Sawtooth, the ridge that goes between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans, for a reason. I have not gone back to Bierstadt since that first day on it six years ago because I want my finisher to be Mount Evans, after which I will cross the Sawtooth back over to Bierstadt to complete the circle I started. I will do Evans alone because I started this journey alone and will finish it alone – but I am asking the two people who have done the most mountains with me and have been my best adventure partners to come over and join me on Evans. They will then go with me across the Sawtooth and deliver me safely (because I’ll probably be a blubbering emotional mess) to the rest of the people who are there to celebrate with me on Bierstadt – hopefully with a keg or six of gluten free beer. The invite to join me on Bierstadt is open to anyone who has climbed with me, done a mountain with me, blocked me from your news feed because you’re so sick of my climbing posts, have heard me talk about climbing so much my voice haunts your dreams…you get the point – I’d love to see you up there, even if it’s your first one! Message me for details about the date and time; it’s gonna be a fun day!

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But You Don’t Look Sick – Mount Eolus and North Maroon Peak

But you don’t look sick, or another similar epithet is the most common thing heard by someone with Multiple Sclerosis. Having an invisible illness means suffering the pain, drowning in the fatigue, and living the misery without showing the usual signs of an apparent handicap. We know that people who say this generally mean well, even to compliment us, but it’s actually a subtle way of delegitimizing our disease. If you don’t look sick, it must not be that bad, right? It must not even be real.

I don’t often talk in-depth about my symptoms in my posts, a smattering here or there, but I think mostly I don’t like to wallow too much or feel like I’m complaining so I leave it out. When I’ve climbed a mountain or completed a big route, I like to revel in the positivity of the accomplishment, not in the pain along the way. However, as I get ever so nearer my goal of finishing the Colorado 14ers, I’ve realized that this may be adding to the “I don’t look sick” perspective. It may be time to explain what an extremely difficult journey this has been for me and thus what a big deal it is for me to finish the list. Thus, instead of my usual trip reports of a couple of the last (really fun!!) mountains, I’ve done, here is a day in the life, so to speak, of what it’s like to have my health issues.

Putting the Time In

There are 58 mountains in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet, and starting 2017 I had 8 of them left to summit. While I was (miraculously) able to do one during my spring semester, Mount Wilson, which was at the same time one of my favorite and scariest climbs to date, going into this summer I had 7 left. Really, only 6 of them, because my last one, the “finisher”, is an easier one that can be done any time of year. Given that I’m a grad student and aside from volunteering and some of my research to pursue, one would assume I would have had plenty of time to get those done in the summer months.

That’s just not the case when MS is involved. First off, that first month of summer? Wipe it off the drawing board. After a quite stressful end of a semester and some digestive symptoms flaring, mid-May to mid-June was off the table for climbing – even though it was my favorite time for it with spring snow. Each week I would intend to get out into the mountains, would plan a climb, but even a couple hours volunteering (I work with children with disabilities who do equine therapy) would be enough to knock me out for the whole next day. If I could barely do that, there’s no way I could make it up a mountain. Certainly not any of the difficult ones I had left. It’s kind of like having the flu or bronchitis for a month – you may get a couple small things done here or there, but mostly you just bide your time until it passes. I was lucky it only lasted a month.

When I did start feeling better and attempting routes, not all of them were successes. And with long drives and even some amount of hiking, that still meant recovery time for me. Which means waiting another few days or longer before trying again. Normal people exercise and build up strength, muscle, endurance, etc. That might be the case for me over a six month or year period, but in the short term exercise is counterproductive and makes me need to rest exponentially longer than the amount of original time I put in. It’s like walking uphill in sand – one step forward and sliding three back. The time I need to rest after a mountain is quite a bit, and I can’t do too much exercise or climbing in between.

What’s It Like When I am Climbing

When I did start feeling a little better this summer, and began attempting some mountains in July, even then MS was always with me. It’s with me every day, every minute, every second of my life. I need to make sure I bring more food and water than in the past – 4 liters a day on a mountain. I CANNOT forget my cooling scarf because if I get overheated I will literally loose my mind, i.e. cognitive issues of confusion, memory loss, and trouble with decision making. I have to plan routes differently because I am so much slower than the average, or even slower than average (not exaggerating here) person. Route description says slower people may want to start at 2 am? That means I’m starting at 11 pm. Yep. Climbing all night long if I want that route. Tried that a couple times this summer, on two different routes, and it didn’t work. Sleep is one of the biggest triggers of my symptoms, and if I mess with sleep it’s pretty bad news.

The third time it worked. Luckily, I started to get some successes and summits. I’m getting better at carefully planning around my disabilities and knowing when to stop before my symptoms show up in a bad way, putting myself or my partner in danger. However, that also means turning around more often than I used to, or not even going in the first place. I’m someone who is very used to pushing myself, to ignoring the pain; for instance, after 3 knee surgeries shit just hurts, and I get through it anyway. MS doesn’t care and doesn’t allow for that because I’ll simply fall over on the trail and not be able to walk, use my hands, or speak for an hour (yes, that’s happened a couple times, too.)

I had a trip to go get Eolus Peak, located in Chicago Basin in the San Juan’s in Southern Colorado. It’s a long journey: 6.5-hour drive one way, then take a train to get to the trailhead, then a 6 mile, 3,000ft hike up just to get to the campsite before another 3,000ft to the peak. I’ve done it before but wasn’t able to nab one of the four peaks down there, so had to go back for Eolus. My original intention while down there was to do them all again, or maybe Eolus and a nearby 13er. However, after the first day backpacking in and the second on Eolus, I decided to sleep in and snuggled up for 13 hours straight. This is what I call conserving spoons. You see, spoons is the most common phrase you’ll hear someone with MS say about ourselves. If you haven’t heard of The Spoon Theory (read about it!), the basic premise is that someone with a chronic illness only has so many spoons, or energy, to go around, and if you start taking spoons away from one day, you won’t have them for the next. Normal people don’t have to worry about that – sure you will be a little tired the next day, but you’ll still function properly. I won’t. After getting my one peak in Chicago Basin, I realized that was enough for me and I was happy to just enjoy the beauty of the area and conserve my spoons to be able to get back to the train without symptoms or placing a burden on my partners.

Are Any Climbs Pain and Symptom-Free?

It’s always something with me. I’ve jokingly said I wish I was a hypochondriac, because at least then it wouldn’t be so painful. I can recall very few mountains of the now 56 and some odd repeats that I’ve only had minor or “normal people” aches and pains. Consider my most recent climb, North Maroon Peak. It and its neighbor South Maroon have eluded me on many attempts, hence why they are my last peaks. Heading into the weekend I took an extra day of rest and sleep on Friday, and chose to hike in on Saturday, climb Sunday, despite Monday being the first day of my semester. It seems as though I still wasn’t quite well-rested enough even then, as I forgot, for the first time ever, my knee brace.

I’ve only done one 14er, my first, without a knee injury, and have been climbing with that $1200 custom brace for 5 years. I still can’t believe I left it at home but determined to still go I bought a $17.95 brace at King Soopers Pharmacy in Aspen and went up the mountain. My knee did surprisingly well on the way up – it was a marvelously fun mountain that I thoroughly enjoyed! However, on the way down my knee felt less like a joint and more like an overheated watermelon ready to burst at any second. And a week later as I write this, it still feels like that.

The Maroon Bells are iconic peaks, but still very dangerous – they even have a sign out in front because so many people have died on them. However, I found North Maroon to be great climbing, and if not for my stupidity regarding my knee brace I may have actually had a pain-free day on it. The MS hit the next day, as I hadn’t conserved enough spoons for starting school. I didn’t have quite enough energy to combat the heat of a 90 degree day and a non-airconditioned room, so sure enough I had to stumble out of my first class with a claw-like spastic hand, confusion, and weird speech – what happens when I get overheated. Thankfully, my classmates know me well enough by now, and are very gracious, and they grabbed up my things and helped me to my car.

My stupidity wasn’t done, though, because after I got my body temperature cooled down I decided I needed to go to the grocery store for some dinner. This is probably what my friends and family yell at me about when they say I push too far. Couldn’t use a basket, the rungs hurt my arms when there is weight in it. Plus, a cart is better to lean on when my legs give out. Had to put my earplugs in (I don’t have to use them too much anymore), because when I’m tired, my body can’t handle sounds and noises and they become painful. Eventually, I made it through the store and back outside with my bounty. Smartly, at least I had parked in the closest handicap spot even though I had been walking fine on the way in. 10 feet away from it a wave of exhaustion hit me – the spoons were gone. I mean gone. I stood there, leaning on my cart, 10 feet away from my car, at least 10 minutes before I could take another step. A few steps more, the car was only about 5 feet away, and another long rest. This is what is meant by MS fatigue – so tired I couldn’t take 3 steps, I literally couldn’t raise my arm to push my cart. Raise your arm right now. Go ahead, do it. Can you imagine being so tired you couldn’t do that?

Grateful to Be As I Am

Climbing these mountains, or climbing anything be it rock or ice routes, is really, really tough for me. But I love it, and I will always do it. I spent almost a year with all of the symptoms I’ve mentioned above plaguing me for the majority of my days, to the point I couldn’t leave my house. I have recovered and learned symptom management in order to return to the things that bring me joy, even if I’ll never be as strong or good at them as I once was. After staring down the barrel of a wheelchair and spending many of my days loosing cognitive capabilities, I’m profoundly happy and grateful to be in grad school and to be climbing again.

I write this not to complain about how shitty it is to live with MS (it is, don’t get me wrong), but to hopefully help you understand a little more about my disease. Perhaps next time you see photos of me on peaks, or someone who seems to be “walking just fine” from a handicap spot, or hear someone with a chronic illness say “I’m tired”, perhaps you’ll see that things aren’t always as they seem.

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3 Ways Being Disabled Has Helped My Climbing

(Article contains explicit language)

March seems to be a month to remember and be aware of a lot of things, and Multiple Sclerosis is no exception. If you know someone with MS, or better yet if you don’t, I urge you to take 3 minutes watch this video, read this short article, or send me a message and ask me any questions you may have (I’d love to hear from you!). I often write on here about my success stories and how well I’m doing, but life with MS isn’t all unicorns pooping rainbows. It’s a crappy disease which for me has progressed to the point where irreversible symptoms affect me every day, hour, and minute. It’s literally a constant struggle. However, I’m not one to dwell on the negative for very long or be the victim of my circumstances, so here’s another post about me trying to find the positive for the hand I’ve been dealt and make my own MS version of unicorn poop.

Don’t Over-grip!

This weekend I put in day 12 on ice for the season and returned to the first route I ever swung tools into – but this time I climbed it on lead. It was incredible to recognize how I’ve come full circle not only in climbing but also in life since that first time on ice. This year, my fourth on ice, has been full of progressing and learning, a lot of which was about these new MS symptoms I’ve had to work through. The biggest problem has been my hands exhibiting spasticity and tremors which both take over after muscle fatigue kicks in, e.g. after I’ve been holding onto ice axes to haul myself up a frozen waterfall. It’s been a process of trial and error both on ice and in the climbing gym figuring out what the warning signs are, how far I can push it, and if I do get these symptoms, how long the spasticity and shaking will last. Sometimes they come for only a few minutes, but sometimes up to 20. When it happens, I affectionately call it my T-Rex pose.

One of the biggest rules in ice climbing is don’t over-grip your ice tools. First off, this helps blood flow continue to course through your fingers and stave off the screaming barfies, because let’s face it, ice climbing is damn cold. Secondly, it helps prevent muscle fatigue in your hands and arms which cause the dreaded “pump”, which is what makes many climbers fall when their arms are just done holding on. I have problems with the cold due to my Raynaud’s Syndrome, but the MS symptoms have given me an even heartier gift with the spasticity and tremors. Everyone has to deal with getting pumped out on a route, but due to my extreme fatigue, I now get an almost immediate reaction in my hands in the form of a little shock being sent down to them, telling me that I’m over-gripping. It saves me a lot of wasted energy having that little trigger of pain in real time; for instance, this weekend I was placing an ice screw with one hand, and my other hand on the ice tool started hurting. I realized I didn’t need to be gripping that hard and really only needed a hand on that tool for balance as my feet were set in a good stance. Over the course of an entire route this saved energy is crucial, especially to me!

Try Climbing With One Leg

After my second knee surgery I was still pretty determined to keep training and climbing, but knew I’d better listen to the advice of my physical therapist and give the joint a break. Solution? Climb without it. I spent a whole winter in the gym climbing easier routes with big handholds that I did pull-ups on the entire way up because I didn’t allow myself to put my left leg on even one foothold. My arms got pretty buff that year.

Not exactly how crampons are supposed to go on your boots.

However, it taught me something I didn’t realize I was learning at the time and has been beneficial to me even still. Climbing without one leg forces you to learn to balance your body in new ways and reorient yourself to the wall in order to find your center of gravity. I did allow myself to put my bad leg’s foot on the wall, just not a foothold (so that I wouldn’t be tempted to put weight on it), and this allowed me to learn techniques like flagging. Balance is such a crucial skill for any type of climbing, and injury of no, I suggest everyone try climbing up a few routes with one leg. It also forces you to really think out your moves and consider each of your three available limbs because you are much more limited. These advantages came in really handy a couple weeks ago when my crampon fell off mid-route on some ice!

The Fuck You Stop

For many reasons I like to do mountains on my own, but when I choose to hike or climb with other people I commonly experience what us slow people call the Fuck You Stop. The slow people know what I’m talking about: you’re the last one in the pack, huffing and puffing, wishing you could keep up while the others skip ahead with smiles on their faces. You plod and push to catch up to them feeling bad that you’re holding everyone up. Finally, you notice they’ve stopped in the distance! Hooray! When you finally catch up to them, out of breath and so, so, ready for a break, they see that you’ve caught up and start walking again. The expletives explode out of your mouth between belabored breaths, but luckily your friends are already so far ahead again they don’t hear you.

At least we get a nice view of our partner’s butt.

Fast and light is a big thing in the mountaineering and alpinism community. I think it’s great! Except that no matter what I do, I’m going to be slow and light. I’ve been slow since I was a kid, getting asthma in middle school. The last ten years of fibromyalgia and now MS have only made it worse. It’s hard to look at how slow I am and see it as a good thing because it does certainly hold me back from things. However, it has taught me a few things. First, because of the inability of some partners to pace and recognize the need for slower people’s need for breaks, too, it’s taught me to speak up for my needs regarding my limitations. I’ve realized that if I don’t take short breaks for breathing often enough because I’m worried about keeping up with a partner or a group, I’ll actually end up going slower overall. Also, I’ve learned how to pace and read my body, which is so crucial to any sport but even more so at altitude. Lastly, it’s taught me patience. Sure, I could get frustrated with my slowness or my friends for leaving me in the dust, but neither of those things is going help me go faster, so I don’t. And surprisingly, a time or two I’ve actually been out with people who are even slower than me and been able to afford them a partner who will always give them the time they need.

It’s MS Awareness Month! Check out some of the links below to find out more about the disease:

https://multiplesclerosis.net/

http://www.nationalmssociety.org/

https://www.mslifelines.com/index

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My First Trad Lead

Hello and welcome back! I’ve been on hiatus from my blog for quite some time. Many reasons for that, we can probably sum it up with “life happens”. I’m back, though, and ready to regale you with more tales of my (sometimes ridiculous) adventures.

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Alex on lead with Jason offering guidance; Dan on a route to the right.

Last week was the year anniversary of my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year, and I look back and wonder what happened to all of that time. It’s been a very tough year for me, a lot of my perspectives and outlooks on things have shifted. I have made good choices and bad, but still keep swingin, determined to learn from my mistakes in order to continue to grow and evolve. I’ve made some tough, though ultimately really positive, decisions which have caused my health to rebound spectacularly within the last few months, and have even started grad school in Boulder.

One perspective that has had to change is my expectation for what I can accomplish in my outdoor athletics. I’ve realized that I have unfortunately spent the last couple years letting myself be told that I’m not good enough, that I’m too disabled (name one of my many ailments here) to do X, and simply that I am not capable. While yes it’s true that I have a lot wrong with me, I’m also very good at judging my own body and ability. There is always a delicate balance of what my disabilities hold me back from and what my mind wants me to accomplish, and I must walk the thin line in between in order to stay safe. I’ve realized it’s time to start trusting my own good judgment again and stop listening to the influence of what anyone else thinks I can or can’t do. I have enough experience at this point to know what I’m getting myself into, I know my body better than anyone else, and most importantly I’m not afraid to back off when I think it’s too dangerous or too much to continue. Injuries remove all pride and dignity from climbing!

Me on the route with "Coach Jason" above
Me on the route with “Coach Jason” above

Keeping that in mind, I still usually keep my expectations pretty low for a day out climbing, and have definitely had to adjust to perhaps having more ‘bad days’ than before because MS simply doesn’t allow me to push through the pain like I used to – it just shuts my body off completely and I fall over shaking. I consider myself lucky to even be able to hike up to the crag, as there are still many days and times that it isn’t a possibility. I started the day out yesterday thinking I would try a route, and most likely get halfway up it before I had to stop (that had been the case for a couple of other times I’d been out this summer). I was happy just to be outside and with friends, even ‘trying’ to climb. In a conversation in the morning I mentioned to my friend Jason that not this upcoming summer, but the summer after, I would like to start lead climbing and working on my rock skills wholeheartedly. “I still have a few mountains to do this summer, and then I’ll concentrate on rock,” I said. It was nowhere in my mind that today would be the day I’d do a trad lead.

For anyone unversed the in lingo of climbing, traditional or “trad” climbing is a form of rock climbing that requires one to put pieces of protection, often times shortened to “pro”, into little nooks or cracks found within the rock in order to anchor you from falling if you should come off the rock. The common question from non-climbers is always “how do you get the rope up there?”, and that’s what we mean here by lead climbing. A lead climber drags the ropeimg_7291 below them as they place pieces of pro into the wall and clips the rope into the pro, until the end of the route where they make an anchor from which other climbers can follow,usually called top-roping. Top-roping isn’t as dangerous because your anchor from above is already set and stable, you can flail about and fall as much as you wish – not so on lead which takes significantly more energy, concentration, knowledge, and risk. While I have spent years watching, learning, and helping others lead climb and have known I know how to do it, I have never felt my body was in good enough condition to take the risk of it.

After a couple friends did the first route of the day we moved over to another section at the crag, and Jason looked at Alex and said she should lead the route – it would be her first lead. I had done the route years before, and the words just spilled out of my mouth that I wanted to, too. For some reason, it just felt right. I decided I wanted to follow and clean Alex’s route to make sure my body was in okay shape for the day, and to learn the moves so as not to waste my precious energy on the actual lead by trying to figure out sequences. Alex did a great job on her lead – she’s been climbing a shorter time than me and is already so much stronger! I had almost done a trad lead 3 years ago with Jason, but had gotten 10 feet up on the wall and backed off due to my knee – it turns out I made a good choice because it was so bad he basically had to carry me back to the car and I ended up having my third surgery about a month after. I felt none of that apprehension with this; in typical Meg fashion, I thought nothing of falling or fear about what “could happen”, but simply concentrated on the task at hand. I’ve been unroped on mountains and felt real fear because I knew I was in danger of falling, but that didn’t happen here. I was comfortable, stable, and knew when to rest in order to give my body the break it needed to continue. It was a great exercise in trusting myself again. And luckily I had my coach Jason right by my side to check all my gear placements and guide me along!

Not to say that climbing is all unicorns and sunshine for me. This spring I did some functionality testing specific to MS which, while not the intention, gave me some really interesting insight into my climbing ability. One test was a grip strength test designed to show objective and quantifiable data about MS fatigue: it showed that img_7302even after 3 seconds of gripping someone with MS has a very sharp decline (sometimes 75%) in strength, and after the computer told me to “start” the test there was at least a .5 second delay before my hands gripped, meaning that the signal from my brain to my hand was delayed. Furthermore, after 10 minutes of this testing both my hands experienced severe tremors and spasticity – basically, I looked like a T-Rex who’d drank 4 Red Bulls. While the fatigue test was only done with my hands, the idea extends to all the muscles in my body: I have delayed signals to some of my motor functions, muscle fatigue is much greater than that of a normal person, and when that fatigue occurs my body starts to tremor and lock up. Apply that to someone trying to climb and you can understand at least a few of the challenges I deal with.

When I get off a route and the fatigue kicks in I start shaking and my hands lock up (totally embarassing at a crowded area), but luckily it seems that these symptoms are starting to get a little better. Perhaps I’m just learning to work around them a bit better (I rested quite a bit on route so as not to aggravate my breathing and asthma, which always spurs the fatigue in short order). In fact most of my symptoms have started to get better, and it’s hard to imagine that last year at this time I could barely walk, had double vision so bad I couldn’t see much of anything and was in so much pain and misery that life was a daily trauma so much so that even brushing my teeth became a nightmare. I remember posting online then as I was going through a particularly painful spinal

Last year at this time, going through a particularly painful procedure
Last year at this time, during the painful spinal procedure

procedure that “I hope a year from today I would be doing something fantastic to celebrate how far I’d come since this awful time.” It took me quite some time to get here, but I have. The last 8 weeks have in particular been fantastic, and I am thankful for the new people in my life and my renewed sense of positivity.

Rock has never been my favorite avenue for climbing, I’ve always preferred mountains, snow, and ice over it, but yesterday it gave me a great gift in the form of confidence in myself. It’s given me my trust back and inspiration to keep pushing forward so that perhaps next year I’ll be writing here about something else great that I’ve been able to accomplish. I also can’t thank my friends enough for their support, as taking me out for a day of climbing always means someone else has to carry more weight, do something extra because I can’t, or take care of me somehow, yet all of my friends always do it without question. And yesterday not only did they do all of that, but they helped and inspired me to push further and harder than I thought was possible. Here’s to more adventures to come!

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Let’s Go Rock Climbing In February They Said. It’ll Be Fun They Said.

Okay, to be fair, it was fun. But it was also very cold. Frozen, numb digits, cold. Which is why I still maintain that it is still ice season, and if you’re going to be that cold you may as well be ice climbing. Ice is, after all, my favorite medium to grunt and painfully pull my way to the top of. However, when my friends said it was supposed to be a balmy 67 degrees in Boulder, the lack of driving distance and desire to get out for whatever I could got the better of me, and off to Eldorado Canyon State Park we went.

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Drew on the left, leading Gonzo


Eldo is a great place to climb, a mecca for some of the best rock climbs in the country. The canyon has a rich climbing history and boasts many multi-pitch trad routes on towering and exposed cliff faces. The grades in Eldo tend to be harder than elsewhere in the area, dating back to the days of when the routes were put up by some of the first generations of rock climbers. I haven’t climbed there nearly enough, considering it’s right in my own backyard. Yet I would say I just haven’t rock climbed enough, as it tends to be my least favorite if given the choice of ice, snow and mountains (rock is usually the hardest on my knee, so I’ve stayed away from it as not to aggravate the injury). But right now, I’d do anything just to get out, even if it just meant a short hike with good friends.

Sitting On the Sidelines

Any athlete who has been injured, or even anyone who has been laid up due to an illness or impairment in some way, can understand what it’s like to be benched for a while. To sit by as life wiles away, powerless to do anything to change the slow passage of time ticking away while you watch others enjoy the activities you know you’re supposed to be taking part in. When I first got sick with MS at the beginning of October, I thought: ‘Ok, I’ll be through this and back to normal in a couple weeks.” That was five months ago, and I look back almost unbelievingly that so much time has passed without me doing anything concrete or eventful.

Birthday ice in Vail

I had my 30th birthday in January, and not that most people are super thrilled about that particular day, but mine was a special reminder of just how sidelined I was at this point in my life. My original goal for finishing the 14ers was to be done by my 30th birthday. I knew this summer that wasn’t going to happen, and instead made other plans. I booked a trip to go climbing in Scotland for two weeks, but had to cancel due to my illness. I ended up going to Vail to ice climb, but even that was a pretty miserable attempt on my part. I only got halfway up the route – granted it was a long route, but still. I’ve only been out on ice two times this whole season, and compared to the number of times in the past two winters I’ve been out on ice and mountains, combined with the fact that I was also working full time, I can’t help but look back over the last five months and wonder what happened to it.

Whether it was a sprained ankle playing volleyball when I was younger, or the multiple sclerosis now, this is something I will get through and get back to my life. I have decided to take a very aggressive medication called Rituxan, right now used off-label for MS, but it’s used to treat people with Lupus and RA. The hope is that is that it will help someone like me who has a number of autoimmune conditions. I also stumbled across this article on Multiplesclerosis.net that describes exactly what my biggest and worst symptom is, and one that neither of my neurologists have had an answer for. It’s called Stimulus Sensitive Myoclonus, and for me it means that I am continually overstimulated by my environment – noise being the worst offender, but touch and smell playing small roles at times. To leave my house I need to wear ear plugs, and even in my house there are noises that flare my symptoms to the point of rendering me incapacitated within the span of 30 seconds. Needless to say I am overjoyed to have found this, and will be exploring it with my doctors in the coming weeks in order to get off the sidelines and take back my life.

Finding the Joy Again

The morning of my rock climb dawned, and I wasn’t feeling in top shape, though it is probably a 1 in 10 chance I wake up without any symptoms at all these days. I told my friends I probably wouldn’t be able to climb anything, but I would bring my harness just in case and be glad to just get out and get some sunshine. With over 500 routes in Eldo canyon, I admittedly IMG_6225had no idea where we were going, even though I recognized the place-names. While there are climbs right next to the car, we ironically went to a place that included a 1000ft+ hike in – the guy who picked the route didn’t know me, thus didn’t know how incredibly slow I am! But I made it, and enjoyed it and the sun. It was invigorating to be out, and I started to yearn for the mountains as I hopped across the talus fields. The canyon was gorgeous: we were high enough to see the mesa in Golden in the distance, and the train that winded along the mountainside was picturesque.

As I finally reached the crag, Jason and Alex dutifully staying with me the whole of the hike, some of our friends were already gearing up for their first route. We decided their route was probably a little stout for us and our particular injuries and skill (the route had a roof that didn’t look appealing to a shoulder injury of Alex’s). We jumped over to another route, called Let It Vee, where Jason made short and easy work out of the lead. We were cruelly remind it was still February as the weather had turned cold and windy, and we were pretty high up and exposed so it cut to the bone. Alex was up next and cleaned the route, and did really, really well considering she is new to crack climbing.

The route was tailor-made for me. Though I was freezing, I really wanted a shot at it. It was a dihedral (explained well on this site) with finger and hand cracks the whole way up – if I couldn’t climb this I couldn’t climb anything. Crack climbing has always come naturally to me for some reason; IMG_6230it always means you have hand holds. Since my left leg doesn’t work so well, I really, really need hand holds – same reason I like ice so much. And dihedrals, well, you can rest and use your whole body to shimmy your way up, giving the weaker limb a break. It was great! I actually made it to the top of the route, and through the insane breathing problems and over-exertion there were a couple moments that I remembered why this was fun and why I liked this so much. It was incredibly satisfying.

Once again I’m reminded how lucky I am to have such great people in my life to take me out on days like this and take special considerations for my disabilities and difficulties. And not only that, but also everyone who has held me up and supported me through all this: the flowers my friends at work got me on my birthday, to the many emails and letters clients at work have sent, to the friends who have offered and made food or just come over to see me because I can’t come to them. Little things like that are surprisingly meaningful and help to keep me going, so that I can continue pressing on to do the things that I love.

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Can You Ice Climb With MS?

Looking down at that ice tool in my hand, a flood of excitement and fear washed over me. I had been waiting for this for some time. But this was not the normal fear one might have before ice climbing, I was on top-rope after all, but fear that my left hand may not grip the axe. I might lift my left arm and my hand could spasm, unable to hold the weight of the heavy Nomic. I might take a couple swings and the weakness of neuropathy could kick in, not being able to continue to swing or hold myself up. I might loose another limb in the battle of my health vs climbing – I’m already down my left leg with all my knee surgeries, I can’t afford to loose the left arm, too. To put it simply: I might not ever be able to ice climb again.

IMG_5748gimpLast month’s hike up the 14er Grey’s Peak was a momentous day for me both physically and emotionally after getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the beginning of October. It proved to me that I could still summit mountains even though I’m dealing with even more serious health issues than ever before.  But walking up a snow-covered mountain is much different than ice climbing, and the limb most effected by my MS has been my left hand. This Sunday was another such day as that day on Grey’s, and I’ve been waiting for it for a while. Ice season has come late to Colorado this year, with not much precipitation and freeze/thaw cycles there has been little ice to form in the month of November in the area. Most early season ice is alpine ice in Rocky Mountain National Park, and woefully out of reach in my current condition because the approach to get there would be too much for me to contend with. Thus Matt, Greg, and I set out on I70 toward Breckinridge with thoughts of Lincoln Falls.

When I say I’m an ice climber, one of the most common questions I get is: “Really? Where do you climb ice around here?” What happened Sunday makes me laugh a little at that, because the answer could be right next to the highway. There is a flow in a gully near the small town of Silver Plume, which you can see from I70 if you look for it. So we did a drive-by, to see if the ice had formed, and decided it had enough to climb there instead of driving an hour longer each way (aIMG_5847nd deal with ski traffic on opening day). It also had a much shorter approach, so it had my vote just on that merit alone. Not to mention with Lincoln Falls being the only main flow of ice in at this time, it’s crowded on a weekend day; we were the only people at Silver Plume. Ironically, this U-turn method of ice finding at Silver Plume is tIMG_5845he second year in a row I’ve ended up there for my first day of the season instead of Lincoln. I’m starting to really like the place.

Silver Plume is an old mining town that now houses only a couple hundred people, with a few pieces of the old Georgetown Railway train IMG_5844stationed there to greet you as you get off the highway. There’s an interesting history, as the little town boomed between 1885 and 1905 when silver was discovered there but is now more of a ghost town. To get to the Silver Plume Falls, we parked near the old building that I’m sure you’ve driven by many times and would recognize, but you’ve just never payed attention to. As we walked up the gully there was little snow this year, and pieces of rebar, rusted cables, and old wooden structures peaked out of the landscape. Very Coloradoesque.

IMG_5728gimpThe boys went ahead of me to set up the ropes so that I could take my time, and the bright sun and blue sky put me in a great mood on the short hike up to the ice. It wasn’t until I was almost there that I realized my leg felt totally fine and I wasn’t limping at all. It’s awesome to be pain and symptom-free. There wasn’t quite as much ice as other times I’ve been there, and today had some running water yelling loudly at us, but it was enough for the three of us on a casual day out. It was enough for me to find out if I could still climb.

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Greg on his first route

Greg was up first, then Matt, and then I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. It had been a long time since I’d swung ice tools; while I was lucky to get around 20 days in last season, most of them were early season. My leg injuries got exacerbated by the end of the season last year so much that I had to bitterly give up on ice for the last month and a half to rest up, and wait for spring snow climbing. January was probably the last time I had been on ice, and a lot has happened to my body since then. If I can’t climb today because of my hand, it might mean I’m done ice climbing for good.

Testing out those first few moves
Testing out those first few moves

As I picked up the axes my grip felt good, strong. The first couple swings got blessedly easy sticks in the ice, so I kept going. The boys had taken the mixed start, up the rocks to the right of the waterfall, but I generally like ice better than rock. It was a nice little warm up, then a slushy walk-on-belay (don’t fall into the running water) to the choose-your-own-adventure. I chose a line that had easy footwork, so that I could utilize my legs and not pump out my arms trying to hold onto the tools. It was fun, and techy, and made me remember why I love this so much. My breathing was the only issue, and I hadn’t brought my inhaler, so I took it easy on the first route. But I expected the breathing to be an issue, because I’m pretty weak right now, and I’m not worried about that. I can hold the axes, and grip long enough to pull myself up! Win!IMG_5778gimp

The next route I did went even better, and we all enjoyed our casual day out. I achieved my goal, which was to find out what my new limitations will be. I needed to know how much the neuropathy would effect this sport. My entire left side is a little weaker, sure, and I will definitely have to be careful to push even less limits than I used to. My breathing and worsened asthma will be an issue, and that may or may not get better with time. Sunday was incredibly warm for an ice climbing day, so I haven’t been tested yet in extreme cold. I’m sure my Raynaud’s will add another layer onto the neuropathy, but at least I know I cant get out there and try.

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Matt doing some snow bouldering

And trying is all I can hope for. A lot of times I climb with guys who are very, very good at these particular sports. I’m very lucky to be able to watch and learn from them, but it’s hard not to hold myself to a certain standard. I will always be not as good as probably anyone I’m climbing with, and have a difficult time doing whatever it is I’m doing. Yet in the recent couple of months, with the prospect of not being able to climb at all, I’m happy to just be trying, to just be out there. I’m happy that I have people in my life willing to go with me, to put up with my issues and take special considerations just to enable me to be there and be outside. In fact my symptoms  are lesser and I seem to do very well when outdoors. Only when I got to the restaurant in town did my left side start malfunctioning, as it always seems to in crowded areas. I know it’s because my right brain is dealing with sensory overload (thus left-side body issues), but I’ll still take that as a sign the universe is telling me to go climbing more. Now that I know I can.

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25 Days Ago I Was Diagnosed With MS, But Today I Stood Atop A 14,000ft Mountain

If You’re Breathing, There’s Still More Right With You Than Wrong

I heard that saying somewhere in the overabundance of time spent binge watching in the past few weeks. Unfortunately staring at my tv screen is all I’ve really been able to do because my central nervous
IMG_5670gimpsystem is fried. Stressors from busy environments cause my symptoms to flare up almost immediately, to the point where I had my first ever “anxiety” attack from standing in a P.F. Chang’s waiting to get my take-out food. Too many moving objects, too crowded, too noisy – my brain can’t handle the sensory input right now and simply shuts down, making all my symptoms appear. 

Last week was a tough one for me, as I had wanted to get back to work finally. My body said otherwise, and it wasn’t easy to handle physically or emotionally. The odds seem to be stacking up more and more against me, with each medical problem being piled on the list getting worse and worse. I clung to that saying about still breathing, thinking that at least I’m still alive so I should keep fighting.

I put on a front for people, but many days have been really tough.  IMG_5661Some days the only thing I could accomplish was to make one meal for myself, or one day I just really wanted my hair dried and styled but it was all I could do to keep my head up while I tried to accomplish the task (it didn’t get done). One day the only thing I got done was brushing my teeth. Have you ever been brushing your teeth and thought: “Wow, this is really difficult.”? I hope you never do.

The Fight For Control

I think of The Spoon Theory often; if you haven’t heard of it I encourage you to take the time to give it a quick read, especially if you know someone with chronic pain or illness. These days I may not have many ‘spoons’ to go on, but I am learning. I’m learning what causes my symptoms to flare up, and how much rest I need at this point in my life to store up more energy for the next day to be okay, too. But there’s a mental game at play, as well, and I needed to address that this week. Because when you’re a 29 year old climber but feel like a 79 year old invalid, incapable of doing menial things IMG_5651gimplike preparing meals, a part of yourself is lost.

I know some people will think me reckless for doing a 14er so soon after getting sick, pushing too hard while still clearly in a flare-up. I could give many reasons why hiking could be positive for me right now, such as Vitamin D intake (there’s a correlation between MS and Vitamin D deficiency), time out of the house, or just exercise in general, etc., all of which are valid, but the truth is that I needed it for my state of mind. I know why I climb: to overcome my physical shortcomings. MS has left a big question mark in the area of what I’ll be capable of climbing-wise in the future.

Call it meditating through wilderness, call it soul-searching, call it whatever you want. I needed to Eat, Pray, Love myself into a better state of mind by getting on top of a mountain. I could say the words in my head, but I needed to prove to myself that my life wasn’t over just because I have MS. The mountain (or rock route, or ice route, etc.) becomes a metaphor for the freedom and control you have IMG_5658over your ailments, once you master them and gain the top. Sure I could have done an easy Boulder trail, or a 12er or 13er, but I knew that wouldn’t satisfy that question mark flashing at me. Only one of the highest peaks in Colorado would do.

Taking the Gamble

One of the highest peaks, yes, but I’m not an idiot. I chose one of the easiest and closest 14ers, Gray’s Peak, one I have been to many times and know well. It snowed 1-2 feet last week, with a clear forecast for Saturday and Sunday, so I also waited to go on Sunday knowing that with the popularity of the mountain there would be many before me that would lay down a trench in the snow (thus negating the need for things like snowshoes). I wasn’t trying to blaze a new route, make a new record, or even check a new summit off my IMG_5675 (1)gimplist; I went into the day with the mindset that I just wanted some sunshine and snow, and that I would turn around the second an MS symptom popped up.

Yet this was still a gamble. I really didn’t know if this would help or hinder my physical state, and I didn’t know if I was making the right choice. I went alone because, 1) I love being on mountains by myself, but 2) I didn’t want to ruin a friend’s whole day if I got there and was only able to make it 1/2 mile. Hell, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to make the hour and fifteen minute drive to the trailhead. I was determined to at least try, though, and get as far as I could.

As I went up the snow-packed trail, taking literal baby-steps to ensure I wasn’t going too fast as to over-exert myself, I continually checked myself for signs of my MS issues. None appeared. So I kept going, stopping even more often and eating and drinking more than I normally would, just in case. The farther I went, the stronger I felt. It was such a beautiful day, and my recent sheltered life gave me much IMG_5669gimpmore of an appreciation than I would normally have for those peaks (I have never actually had a pleasant experience on Gray’s and Torrey’s, either due to weather or overcrowding). My mind was at ease, my heart at peace, truly one of those transcendent experiences you have only so often yet crave so desperately.

The last 300ft was a little difficult for me, but by that point I knew I wasn’t turning back. It took me a long time, yet I was still safe and without signs of either MS or AMS. At the top I had the peak to myself. I put on my music and surprised myself by bursting out with tears. I was awash with a full spectrum of emotions: saddened at what I’ve gone through, anxious about the future, but so incredibly happy to have made the summit and be sitting there in the snow and sun with absolutely gorgeous views extending in front of me. I knew in that moment that everything would be ok, that I would get through this no matter what it takes. My symptoms will go away, I will return to work, I will return to climbing, it will be ok. I guess I just needed to sit on top of a mountain to remember that.IMG_5664gimp

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Turns Out I Have Multiple Sclerosis

When It Hits

‘I don’t think we should do the Cables route tomorrow…’ I looked over and said to Matt on the bright Saturday morning as we were discussing the details of the climb we had planned for the morrow. At long last I had thought I may be able to summit Longs Peak: I had attempted and failed due to poor avalanche conditions at the beginning of this past March, and planned but didn’t go for some reason or another on many other occasions. Surely this time it would finally work and be majestic, as it would be the 50th 14er summit on my list. Alas, my words were the beginning of the end. Later that night my vision would deteriorate to that of a cross-eye hillbilly and motor functionality on the left side of my body would have me wavering and falling about like a freshman frat boy at his first college party.

The North Face 'Cables' route of Longs Peak where we bailed from last March.
The North Face ‘Cables’ route of Longs Peak the day we bailed last March.

A few days later I was in the hospital, and had a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, certainly not climbing mountains anytime soon. While the symptoms seemed to strike quickly, in truth I was experiencing a strange dizziness for a couple weeks beforehand and the eyesight issues had been building for some days. Eventually my eyesight turned to full double vision coupled with severe vertigo, and my left leg and hand became quite weak and spastic. You know that feeling at 1am on a Saturday night when you’ve had way, way too much to drink? When you’re so dizzy you bounce from wall to wall, and the room starts spinning even when you lay down and you feel so nauseated by it you’d actually rather throw up than continue to feel like this? That’s what I’ve been dealing with. For weeks.

The docs at the hospital pumped me full of steroids to lower my immune system – MS is an immune-related disease in which your immune system attacks your central nervous system – and sent me on my way to recover from this particular flare up, which can take quite some time I’ve been told. At this point I’m doing better than I was at the worst, but I’m not sure if I’m still in a flare up, or just sick from the roids still coursing through me. It’s hard to sit or stand for too long without getting sick, and reading is quite difficult. It’s taken me quite some time to write this.

One Step At a Time

October 4th was the 4 year anniversary of my first 14er, my solo on Mt Bierstadt. At the beginning of this year I had hoped to have all of the 14ers finished by that weekend, and celebrate with my last one

A photo of Mt Bierstadt Oct. 4, 2011, my first 14er. Another shot is the feature photo of this article.
A photo of Mt Bierstadt Oct. 4, 2011, my first 14er. Another shot is the feature photo of this article.

then. With a tragic death in the family this summer, and the recent decision to sell my condo and buy a new house, I realized months ago finishing this year wasn’t going to happen because sometimes other things in life are more important. I’m a very goal-oriented person, and so even while sitting in my hospital bed waiting to get a spinal tap 3 days before the anniversary, I asked about being able to get out to altitude on that date. They said as long as it healed okay I should be good to go, so I stayed in good spirits, dreaming of the fall colors I’d soon be seeing.

The anniversary came and went, with no 14er for me. Unfortunately the lumbar puncture did not heal okay, and I had to return to the hospital on my anniversary for a painful procedure to ‘patch’ it up. I didn’t think to take many photos over this whole process, but I did on that day. iPhoto categorizes by date, and next year when I’m on a 14er on October 4th I want to look back on this year’s day and be glad of how far I’ve come. I actually feel worse now, after the hospital, than before, but I do truly feel that is my sensitivity to the medication. I have yet to make it out for even a short hike, but I am taking it day by day, assessing how I feel and making small goals in order to get myself back to the job and mountains I miss.

Letting a Diagnosis Define You

I have been chronically ill for years. Hell, now I even write a blog about how I deal with it in the climbing world. I was 22 when I got slapped with the fibromyalgia diagnosis, and it was tough to handle. It’s never easy to be told that you have something that’s never going to get better. I had been living in a private world of pain, just out of a bad relationship, had cut myself off from much of the supportive people in my life because they just didn’t understand or because it’s just my introverted way of coping. But eventually I pulled myself up and figured out how to deal with all the things wrong with me, find my triggers, and still live a (somewhat) normal life. The alternative was much worse. Life is much different now; I am a stronger person, have a loving and caring partner at my side, and so many, many people to count on should I need them.

I have spent years altering my diet, figuring out how much sleep I need, and what stress levels I can push to in order to keep my health under control. I am quite good at managing my health, and it took some pretty insane circumstances like a death in the family and buying/selling a house to send me into a flare up like this. I have read the reports of the MRIs, and I have multiple lesions on my brain and spinal cord indicating this has been going on for quite some time, maybe even a decade. The one regret I have is that I never pushed

The not so pleasant 14er anniversary day procedure of simultaneous blood draw and lumbar puncture to help it heal.
The not so pleasant 14er anniversary day procedure of simultaneous blood draw and second lumbar puncture to help it heal.

any doctors to test further so that it may have been picked up sooner. I’ve always known there was some underlying cause that would connect all the little weird things wrong with me and joked I needed Dr. House to figure me out. Yet unfortunately I feel that unless you walk into a medical office looking like you just had a stroke doctors don’t always take you seriously as a young female. I mean, even my primary care doctor told me ‘this might just be stress’.

I wasn’t shocked about the MS diagnosis. At first sign of my symptoms I Google-doctored myself and it fit exactly. I did a little preliminary research, and thus had it in my mind the whole time. While everyone else seemed quite worried about a brain tumor and stroke, I wasn’t worried I was going to die. The doctor who broke the news to me said some people would rather have a tumor than MS, as it’s just a surgery and it’s gone. Not me. I know and can handle chronic pain. This I can do. The first thing my sister said to me was ‘this disease will not define you’. I hadn’t really thought about that before, but I’ve decided to not let it. Already I feel the diagnosis trying to, as people have started treating me a bit differently, little things here or there. But I’m the same person I was a few weeks ago, with, realistically speaking, the same disease I’ve probably had for years, I just have a name for it now.

In fact I feel lucky. I am now armed with more knowledge and can finally start treating and addressing the problems. I will tackle this problem the same way I have all the others, with extensive research and self-knowledge about my condition, and a more natural and holistic approach (i.e. diet, sleep, stress management) before resorting to medications with unwanted side effects. Many people have this disease and have been reaching out with offers of help – and please continue to do so, I want all the knowledge I can get – and I am feeling positive that I can figure out what works best for my body now that I finally have an answer. I will be back on mountains soon, and ice climbing season is coming up so I’m looking forward to that. Each day brings me a little closer.

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End Note

I haven’t started any of my own research or reading into the disease yet as reading is still difficult for me. I have watched this TedTalk.  It gives me great hope, and is exactly the direction I plan on going. I welcome any and all information, personal stories, and experiences people would wish to share with me to help get me started down my path toward better health.

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