Monday morning, the family said our goodbyes to the dog and the pile of bones I’d bought him as a guilt-laden compensation package and we left for our much anticipated trip to the snow. With about a 7 hour drive ahead, we would be staying in Jindabyne for 6 nights and skiing at Perisher in the so-called “Australian Alps” for 5 days before returning home via a night in Canberra.
Just to put you in the picture, my husband and the kids are “skiers”. This means so much more than simply gliding down the mountain on what looks like a set of planks. Being a skier is something that grips hold of your heart, your soul, your psyche, your very being and there’s that fire. You can’t describe this kind of wild passion but you know it’s there when you look in their eyes. There’s that flame. You also know that as soon as they leave the slopes at the end of the trip, they’re already mentally calculating how they could possibly squeeze another run in this season even if they have to starve. Real skiers don’t care about food. They just want to get back out there again and Ski! Ski! Ski!
Let me introduce you to my husband. Even before the ski season officially opens, he’s back onto Perisher’s webcam checking out conditions and watching the snow reports like an over-zealous hawk. I even caught him checking out the mountain in summer. There was nothing but grass. Call it desperation or determination, either way, he’s hooked.
Our kids have also caught the bug. Last year, after spending a full day at ski school, they’d go for a few runs down the Village 8 with their Dad and they’d also visit me over on the Magic Carpet. I couldn’t believe their energy. After all of that, they even managed night skiing as well. Unstoppable! They were completely unstoppable!!
It is hard not to be drawn to such a mighty flame and thanks to the Disabled Winter Sports’ Association and my magnificent instructors, skiing has become more than a possibility for me. I was actually able to fly out of the nest and spread my wings, even if I still remain a tentative fledgling. Before I started, I thought I might be in a sit chair or have some other form of adaptive equipment but my instructor got me out there on standard skis. We just took things nice and slow and appreciated my smaller engine.
Despite my success last year and my love of the snow and a good holiday, I was still apprehensive. As much as I wanted to be a part of our family holiday and not dampen their enthusiasm or to be “difficult”, my fears were mounting up layer up on layer like a huge, enormous cake with cherries and even sparklers on top. Although I might have been a picture of calm serenity in the front seat of the car with all of my home-baked goodies under foot (including a double dose of Chocolate Caramel Slice), beneath the surface, storms were raging and it was raining cats and dogs. Actually, that’s a bit of a euphemism. I was actually busting for the loo. Indeed, I couldn’t stop busting.
So you could call our drive: “The Journey of A Thousand Toilet Stops”. We had had 4 toilet stops before we’d even driven through Sydney. As if needing to go wasn’t bad enough, trying to find a toilet on a motorway is hellish and we went on an almighty detour through Quakers Hill which probably added an hour to the trip. By this stage, I’m sure my poor husband was starting to feel like a stop-start learner driver slaughtering the clutch. I could hear him thinking: “Why did she have to have that third cup of tea before we left? Did anyone bring a cork?” Frequent toilet stops aren’t anything new but even for me, this was getting ridiculous beyond ridiculous.
That was how I realised just how nervous I was about going skiing again and it wasn’t only a fear of going skiing either. My wretched auto-immune disease has flared up on both of our previous family ski trips and we know Murphy’s Law all too well.
On our first trip back in August 2012, the day before we were due to leave, we had a mad panic dash to Emergency. The pathology lab had called me directly at home saying my blood tests showed I was at high risk of having a heart attack. That news hit us like a bolt of lightning. I mean we all want to be able to say our goodbyes. Get our affairs in order and at the very least ensure we are wearing one of our better pairs of undies not to mention a decent bra and definitely not the holy singlet. I’m sure you, like me, also have a lot of photos to sort out as well. To say it is traumatic to watch your entire life flash passed like that is a huge, enormous understatement…especially when you have young kids!!!
There we were also about to go on the ski holiday of a life time and the children were so excited about seeing snow for the first time and even building a snowman. Having a heart attack wasn’t part of the plan.
Fortunately, that was a false alarm but my auto-immune disease had flared up and the prednisone went up. I was also told to have blood tests while we away and I’m sure you can appreciate how I felt about that.
Last year, not to be outdone by the previous year, I caught a chest infection at the snow which ultimately brewed into a life-threatening case of pneumonia. Lung CTs for that showed that my auto-immune disease was now attacking my lungs as well. I could tell just by looking at my doctors’ faces that I was as good as doomed. Yet again, my life was whooshing past like a bullet train but yet again, I had a reprieve. I was off for 7 sessions of chemo and around 3 months shut in the dark. When you’re having chemo, you can’t go out in the sun without covering up every millimetre of skin. You can just imagine how I loved that living near the beach in the middle of a gorgeous Australian summer. At the same time, it wasn’t forever and chemo was giving me my second wind.
Thankfully, chemo worked and the auto-immune disease is in remission again but it was a close call.
So you can understand why I was more than just a little apprehensive about going skiing again.
But going skiing wasn’t just something the rest of the family wanted to do. It was also my dream. A dream I had worked hard on last year. You see I’d had this big light bulb moment when the rest of the family had been skiing without me the year before. As I watched the Paralympic ski team training on the slopes, I decided that instead of climbing up a mountain like so many who are overcoming a health challenge, I was going to ski down the mountain instead. This became a personal goal to “turn my mountain around”. Moreover, skiing down the mountain was going to be the grand finale to a motivational book I was working on which was based on the serenity prayer…working out what I could change and what I couldn’t change in my life and I guess also reaching some kind of acceptance of how this panned out.
Unfortunately, the auto-immune disease turned out to be the turn in my side and it really did rattle the serenity prayer. Of course, I wasn’t about to “accept” that the dermatomyositis was going to get me. Serenity or no serenity, I was fighting back! Grr!
At the same time, this significant setback put the book on hold. It’s not that the book had to have a happy ending but that wasn’t the story I was planning to tell. I was getting better and certainly wasn’t getting worse or even dying. That could be someone else’s story. It definitely wasn’t going to be mine!
So instead of skiing down the mountain and living happily ever after, I had skied smack into a metaphorical brick wall. For almost a year now, so many aspects of my life have been on hold. I am still in the process of picking up the scattered pieces. Don’t get me wrong. I am very thankful…exuberantly thankful to be where I am but there has been so much angst and frustration not to mention the grief and anguish our whole family has been living with given my precarious health. Yet, you would walk past me in the street and not even blink an eyelid. I look so normal and I’m usually smiling, laughing and squeezing the zest out of life. You’d never know!!
Understandably, this meant that while the rest of the family was uber-excited about going skiing, I was still struggling to get my mojo back and I very much felt like I was chasing someone else’s dream and not catching up.
That’s one of the difficulties with pursuing someone else’s dream. As much as you might be willing to extend yourself, try something new or simply support someone you love who is pursuing their passion, at best you are struggling to keep up. At worst, you are completely and utterly lost and accused of “being difficult”, “dragging the chain” or even sabotaging absolutely everything just because you can’t find the gear stick and are perpetually stuck in park.
I was having trouble packing and Geoff was accusing me of getting side-tracked baking before we were ready to go but I knew how to bake. It was safe, comforting, routine. Moreover, baking some special treats for our holiday was my special contribution straight from the heart. I was baking Chocolate Caramel Slice and Choc-Chip Cookies. I could do that. The whole ski thing was so far beyond me. I simply couldn’t move myself into gear.
But as they say, time heals and that’s the benefit of a very long drive. Eventually, even this non-stop bladder had to run dry. By the time we finally reached Cooma and I was trying on my ski boots, I was actually starting to get excited. My ski boots were red…just like Dorothy’s slippers in the Wizard of Oz.Yet, despite this new found excitement and a sense that perhaps I was finally starting to get with the program after all, a big part of me still felt like tapping my boots together and chanting: “There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…” Oh to be magically transported back home to the warmth of my electric blanket, the comfort of my feathered dooner and a pile of fabulous books. Surely, it couldn’t get any better?!!
Yet, just like Michelangelo saw David inside that historic marble slab, some special kind of x-ray vision perceived just enough of a skier buried deep inside myself to resurrect some faith. I just needed to chip away the fear and I would find those skis, the poles and even a helmet and goggles. What’s more I wouldn’t have to do it alone. I had my instructor and he’d already gone backwards down the mountain for me.
You can’t ask for better than that!
By the time the car finally pulls into Jindabyne and as I inhale all that fresh mountain air, my fears have gone away.
Hey, those mountains had better watch out. I’m back and I’m about to turn them around.