I am really bummed and down. I wish I were writing from a magical WiFi-enabled spot en route to Annapurna base camp but unfortunately I am writing from my guest house. I got extremely sick and had to come back down the mountain.
The trek got off to a great start. Luk and I were making a great team. We set ground rules for our shared bedroom each night (closing the bathroom door was important to him; closing any door through which an insect or animal could enter was important to me) and we stocked up on snacks together. We were crushing it. But on our first night on the mountain, once again I got some sort of either altitude sickness or food poisoning. It was unclear which one, but I was vomiting and dry heaving all night. The next morning was no better. We continued on, because I wanted to push through it, but after a few hours of climbing I was feeling so sick I had to stop. Dry heaving and all the other fun stuff that altitude sickness and food poisoning bring.
Because of the nature of the trekking route, I had to make a go/no-go decision in that moment. If we waited in that spot for the sickness to potentially pass, we would lose a day of the trek and not make it to base camp. If I continued on, there would be no future option to come down. Not only was I feeling horrible in that moment, but also I have some pre-existing stomach issues which I was really concerned the vomiting would exacerbate. In the moment I could think only of my health and I decided to go back down the mountain. Five hours of trekking downhill, a two hour jeep, a 90 minute car ride, and a six hour bus ride to get back to where I am now.
Upon returning to base, I could feel nothing except relief. Relief that the sickness seemed to be getting better and a hospital visit was not necessary. Relief that I was at a point on the mountain from which getting back down was an option. But after a few hours of resting, suddenly feelings of disappointment and regret hit me like a fucking ton of bricks. I became so upset with myself that I could think about nothing except the fact that I didn’t complete the trek. The weight of this feeling was so heavy that I could not be around other people. I locked myself up in my room and didn’t even know what to do. It felt like the shame would never, ever go away.
I’m disappointed for so many reasons. There are the obvious reasons, like losing all of the money I paid, not accomplishing my goal of completing an extended trek, and of course not getting to see Annapurna base camp and everything on the way. But the most excruciating feelings of disappointment are rooted in something else: how my decision affected others. Leaving Luk to continue on his own. Dragging our guide Yadav down the mountain with me (company’s choice, not mine, but the reality of the situation regardless) to ensure my safety. From this unbearably deep canyon of regret it is impossible for me to remember what I was feeling up on the mountain that made me choose ‘down.’ I know that my mind was not clear and that I was feeling awful and panicking about my health. But how could I not push myself harder? How could I give up so easily? How could I let Luk go on alone? What the f*ck is wrong with me? What kind of person am I?
It may seem to some that I’m being too hard on myself. Blaming myself for a situation I couldn’t control. I have spoken to my family and a couple of close friends. Of course they are telling me I did the right thing. “Your health is the most important thing.” “It’s not your fault that you got sick.” “You made the right decision.” But I can’t help but feel like I didn’t. And in order to understand why I’m being so hard on myself, I guess we have to back up for a minute. See the thing is, of course I couldn’t help that I got sick. Which is why that’s not the point. The point is, everybody gets sick. There is not a human being who goes on a 9 day trek and doesn’t get sick at some point. And I knew that full well going in. I knew I was going to get sick. And in my head I was going to get sick and power through it! That’s what happens on a 9 day trek. And so in signing up, I made an unspoken commitment to myself and to Luk that I would get sick and power through it. So my guilt and disappointment are coming from my inability to keep that commitment to myself and to Luk. And from having made a poor decision to sign up for something in the first place — to commit to something — that maybe I wasn't totally prepared to commit to. Because in the moment, when presented with the obstacle, I wimped out and I tarnished the trek for everyone. So it’s not that I’m mad at myself for putting my health first in that moment. Coming down was the right decision — the experience is not worth my life. It’s that maybe I should have made a different decision about the trek in the first place. Like chosen something shorter that I was positive I could stick to. And one more thing: when I left my job, the amazing leadership of co: bought me a Go Pro for my trip. Such a meaningful gift. And co peeps, this is going to seem silly, but you can’t imagine how much pressure I have been putting on myself to make a video that is worthy of sharing with you guys. Like, can’t just be a video of anything, you know? I’ve been feeling like it has to be the most epic, bold and badass video. And so even though I have been using the Go Pro a ton, I had been saving up for a moment on the trek when I could make a video that I deemed co-worthy. And of course, I now didn’t do the bold thing, the badass thing, the one thing that I was totally set on doing here. For the rest of my life I will look back on my trek in the Himalayas and my story will be that I didn’t make it. I got sick. This is one of the most terrible feelings I’ve ever had and I really, really hope it passes soon.
This journey was bound to teach me something about myself. I wish I hadn’t let myself and the others down like this but now that all is said and done, the most important thing is that I learn something from this experience. What I have learned is that the decisions I make are not reversible. To be a person with integrity, you must always — not sometimes, always — keep your word. To keep your word is to fully think through and understand the subsequent and implied commitments you will need to keep as a result of making any given decision. And then making the decision accordingly. Kinda like the ol’ saying, ‘don’t make promises you can’t keep.’ I’ve always taken pride in my integrity when it comes to my word, so this experience rocked me because it kinda made me go, whoa, maybe I don’t always keep my word. Have I done this before? Thankfully I cannot think of any other glaring examples and all I can say is that I will take my decisions and my commitments more seriously from this moment forward. My word is my bond.
I have been trying with all my might to find the silver lining and I am grateful to have found one thing, which is that I will now be on flat land (or more likely on a bus or train) for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and will have the opportunity to observe the holy days properly, somewhere in Nepal or India, which will be an experience in itself.
So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Although I was initially a major hater, this blogging thing has actually felt kinda good and normal. …Until I found myself having to share something that I really wished I could just skip over.
And sure, I could have just shared, “I got sick on the mountain and had to come down” and let that be it. But if I didn’t keep it real, if I didn’t share the epiphany, then WTF is this blog for?
Anyway… moving forward now more than ever as a woman of my word.