Some sweet moments

May turned out to be a very difficult month for me. Physically, I felt awful (suffering from nausea, migraines, and a depletion of energy) and in this time, I gave nine talks (the most ever in a month for me). I felt so nauseous before one of them (for a reason I couldn’t comprehend) that I wondered how I was going to get through it. Another talk took place in my hometown, where I lived from the ages of 3-11, and which turned out to be much more emotional than I expected. Fortunately, there were a lot of sweet moments interwoven through the tough times. I have received a lot of touching responses from my presentations. Some people have tears in their eyes, some ask for hugs (which I love), and some tell me what they most liked about it. Here are a few of my favorite moments from last month.

My last talk in May was hardly advertised. I noticed that it wasn’t listed on their website a few weeks beforehand, and I e-mailed the director to let her know. Since it was a good 2 hour drive each way, I wanted to make sure I would have an audience before heading out. It wasn’t until the day before that they posted it on their website! I arrived at this inner city library and asked the girl at the front desk where I should go. There were no posters or any indication that I would be giving my talk there and she had no idea anything was happening. She went to look in a binder and came back to say that there was only a story hour at 11. Finally, someone appeared that knew I was presenting. No chairs were set up in the room. I wanted to ask if they could put up a sign on the front door, letting people know this was happening, but I refrained. As I was putting some of my cards out on a table in front of a window, a teenager ran in and said, “Can I quickly look at these? I saw them from outside. I love flowers! I’m in the gardening club.” I said of course he could and told him where they were taken. I pointed to the screen that was paused on the map of the US showing the three long trails.
“Oh, I want to buy an RV and travel around the country,” he told me.
“You should come to my presentation!” I told him. He was the perfect audience for it.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s perfect! I’ll be back then.”
I smiled at the librarian. I had just doubled the size of my audience all on my own.
Unfortunately, he did not come back for the presentation. However, I did see him on my way out. “I’m so sorry!” he said to me, one friend on each side of him. “My friend dragged me to another meeting where there were free donuts.”
I asked if he could go to the one in a neighboring town when I came back at the end of summer. “Yeah, that’s just a bus ride away.” He entered the date into his phone.
And then he gave me a hug. It was the best moment of that whole day for me.

In my hometown of Ashburnham, one woman turned back to look at me during the slideshow, put her hand over her heart, and mouthed the words, “thank you”. After the event ended, I was talking with a former faculty member at the private school in town about how it was so hard for me to get people to understand that this is a presentation about universal principles (something everyone can relate to) and that it’s not meant as a presentation for people who like hiking. He agreed, saying, “It’s not about hiking.” I said, “That’s the entry point.” Standing in the parking lot, he suggested that I could be a teacher. I shook my head and said I don’t think I would be good at that. His response was “You just taught a whole room full of people!”.
In Westfield, a young woman had to leave early, but came over to me to shake my hand and said, “You’re an inspiration.” And a very sweet young girl (who was brave enough to ask me two excellent questions from the back of a room full of people), wanted to shake my hand.

In Athol (where I was nearly not able to show my slides due to a malfunction of the projector), I met a couple who asked me to tell the audience what trail magic is. They later told me they asked that because five years ago, they happened to meet two young AT hikers in CT, and invited them back to their house to spend the night, gave them their keys, cooked them dinner, and took them out for breakfast the next morning. They still keep in touch with the young men. How incredible! After a long hug from the nice woman, she asked me to hold out my hand as she placed a little golden charm of a bee in it. She said, “I give these to people who have touched me. It’s for them to remember to ‘Be well and Be happy.” Her husband nodded and repeated, “Be well and Be happy.” I was so honored.
Another man told me that he was “blown away”, I received a standing ovation from another one, and one woman told me that the hike itself was an extremely brave thing to do, but talking about what I do is even braver. “It’s like you were stripped bare up there.” I took that as a huge compliment. But perhaps my most favorite story came at the end. A young woman in the audience came up to me last. She said she could relate to so much about what I said. At that time, she was preparing for her own southbound AT hike. At a flea market, where she was selling all of her possessions, she met someone who told her about my talk. Somehow, she was able to find a ride to the library. As she listened to me talk, she found herself in disbelief. She said she had been thinking a lot about the root chakra recently (something I mention in my talk) and had just gotten a tatoo on her forearm. It said, “I AM”. My eyes widened. A couple of weeks earlier, I had seen a simplified diagram of the chakras with only two words describing what each one stood for. The first was “I AM”. In the days following, I found myself repeating that simple phrase to myself on a couple of my walks to the beach as the first and foremost condition of being alive; of having worth. And here this young woman, about to start her own long hike, was showing me this phrase tatooed on her body after seemingly living through a lot of similar things that I had. She said she felt overwhelmed on her way out.

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I hope she is having the best time out there and I really hope I get the chance to hear her story one day.

I also had a few nice moments in yoga. In two different classes, one of my teachers (probably the most physically gifted one), said, “Beautiful, Wendy!”. I couldn’t believe it. Me? (I remember one was a pointed foot lunge and one was transitioning into half moon with both hands on our waist). Also, my teacher David asked me if I could demo something to the class because I was the only one who knew what he was asking us to do. He came over and knelt down beside me. But before he had me demonstrate, he said to the packed room, “This is Wendy, everyone. She teaches yoga (she’s a yoga teacher), and an artist (at which point I laughed, because I definitely don’t consider myself one), an explorer (:) ), and a TED talker (she gives TED talks all over!), [someone at one of my talks said I should give one of those and he saw that posted on Facebook). She does all of those things! She’s amazing. You should talk to her afterwards. But right now, she’s just going to do a backbend”. A lot of times, my lower back hurts when I backbend (which is common), but he had prepared us well during class, and that day I had no pain at all! He wanted me to hinge at the hips in wheel and then push back up, and as I did so, it felt like I could keep expanding outward forever. I heard someone say, “That’s amazing.” And that is how it felt! Later, I thought about David’s words and was extremely touched that he has been paying attention to what I have been doing, and took the time to acknowledge it in front of everyone. It was a rare and special moment for me.
And lastly, on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, I saw the teacher who I took the yin yoga class with that one time in April. He remembered me a month later and asked how my groin tear was. I told him I couldn’t take his class that night because I had to go grocery shopping, but that I really liked him as a teacher. He said that he really enjoyed having me as a student (which might be the first time someone has said that!). He said he would see me again and I said definitely. That little interaction really lifted me up for awhile! It is amazing what someone’s full attention and kindness for a couple of minutes can do.
These are the memories that I want to hold on to.


“Heaven Sent”: Article about PCT trail angel Donna Saufley

Here is an entertaining article on one of the best trail angels on the PCT, Donna Saufley. I witnessed an unfortunate drama play out in January on Facebook, ending in Donna’s sudden decision to stop hosting hikers at her home. It was not a “vendor” at Kick-Off, but the writer of the PCT guidebook who has blamed Donna many times over the years for creating “bottlenecks” of hikers on the trail (without acknowledging the part of Kick-Off, which marks the time that most of the PCT hikers start the trail in these masses). It was hard to read some of the language being used to blame such kind and helpful people in these threads. Egos remain a problem even in this area of life. I barely spoke with Donna while I was in Agua Dulce, but have since learned a lot about her. She now ranks as one of my top role models and favorite people.  I absolutely love what she stands for. She is a very strong woman with a huge heart. The last line of the article made me cry on my first read of it. This is a tremendous loss to the PCT.

My Life Now: Can’t Catch a Break

I stopped writing because I got really tired of sounding like a broken record. I felt like all I have been saying is “I’m sick” or “I’m hurt” continuously. In mid-April, I re-tore my groin doing yoga (yin yoga of all things!). I taught a class that morning and felt the familiar pain return, but it wasn’t a strong pain. I am most in danger of re-tearing it while teaching rather than practicing because I am not paying attention to my own body then. I am also not properly warmed up. That evening, I took class in Boston. It has been taking about 1 hour and 45 minutes to make my way through traffic to get down there (one way!). A 90 minute class doesn’t justify all that time sitting in a car. My teacher had just picked up the hot yoga class at 7:45 and I asked her if she was teaching the same class again in the hot room. She was. She asked me if I had ever taken yin yoga before and suggested I try it. She told me it “was the bomb” and that the guy teaching it was super sweet, so I decided to try it. In that class, we do a little warm up to create some heat in the body and then hold seated poses for three minutes at a time, allowing the fascia to change shape. In one of them, I could feel my injured groin strongly and asked if this type of yoga was good at repairing scar tissue. I told him I tore my groin years ago and have re-torn it many, many times since. He told me to be careful and said that he had done the same thing. I wasn’t sure if the sensation I was feeling was helpful or hurtful, but as I walked out of class, I knew that I had re-torn it again. It was a very familiar feeling.
When I told another of my teachers later, he said, “Again?! Oooh Wendy… Just as your knee was starting to feel better!”.

Around the same time, something else was going wrong inside of my body. Ever since I finished the Appalachian Trail, I began to experience pre-menstrual bleeding that has increased to 14 days before my actual period starts. This means that I only have one week per month in which I am not bleeding. In my last month of health insurance before starting the PCT, I had this problem checked out. I was sent for an ultrasound on Valentine’s Day. The results came back fine. I assumed it was an age issue.

In mid-April, I had my regular period. Two days later, I started bleeding again, which alarmed me. That has never happened before. Each day, the bleeding became heavier. I tried to make an appointment with my primary care physician and discovered that I didn’t actually have one, despite having to tell the receptionist her name at every knee appointment I had. The woman on the phone said that before I could be seen, I would have to fill out a lengthy packet of paperwork and that I couldn’t make an appointment for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just fill out the paperwork before the appointment. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find another PCP. It was Friday afternoon and the offices were overwhelmed. In addition to the bleeding, I was also suffering from severe headaches on one side of my head that were unresponsive to ibruprofen and which lasted over 24 hours. On Monday, I was finally able to make an appointment to be seen on Wednesday.
I felt proud of myself that I was finally advocating for myself and seeking help. (Later I realized that this was not something I ever learned to do the way I grew up). I told the doctor about my intestinal problems and other recent issues, in addition to what was happening most recently. She said I should schedule an appointment with a gyn to rule out cancer (which it felt like I had and which the internet tells you you have if you are irregularly bleeding). She shined a light into my eyes, asked me if I was lactating (? how is that even possible??), and said she would take some bloodwork. She said I must be anemic from losing so much blood through the years. She said the headaches were probably tension headaches and didn’t think there was a connection to the bleeding. (To me, there is an obvious connection. They are occurring at the same time and both are new issues).
The nurse pricked my vein wrong. “Is this hurting?” she asked as she was filling one vial after the other.
“Oh, then it must be in wrong. I could sense that.” She had to switch to the other arm.
In the car, I called the OB-GYN group and asked for an appointment with the doctor she suggested. I was startled to find out it was a man and had a hard time giving her my address after that, unprepared for that fact. It turned out that guy was booked for the month, so she scheduled me to see a different man. Apparently, all the women doctors are scheduled months in advance!
That evening, I went to my yoga class feeling very sad. The bleeding was increasing to an alarming amount. I felt sure that I was dying of cancer.

The next day, I made my way to the GYN. As I waited, I received the results from my bloodwork. “Everything turned out fine. There is nothing wrong. The doctor suggested that the supplements you are taking might be causing havoc in your body. She said to stop taking them and keep a log.”
I was stunned. Absolutely stunned. I felt like standing in the street and waiting for someone to slap me in the face. My supplements are most certainly not causing these issues in my body! The supplements are intended to help my other ailments and are perfectly safe. Once again, I felt justified with my experience with doctors. This is why I don’t like to go to them!

I had to orally repeat my entire medical history to the nurse assistant after filling out the same information on the forms. Then, I had to wait a long time with the drape over my lower body for the doctor to come in. He was an older man with a large belly who told me he is from New York and therefore speaks very fast and can’t change it at this point. He also had to verbally go over my history before proceeding. He said he couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten checked out for this previously. I told him that I had 2 years ago and that they sent me for an ultrasound.
“That’s the wrong kind of ultrasound” he responded as he got up and left the room. Apparently he was on call and heard his name being called.
I grew more and more tired as I waited. There was nowhere to put my legs as I laid back. Finally, he returned with a different woman. I guess it must be the law to have a woman present in the room during the actual exam. With no warning, he quickly pressed hard on my lymph nodes around my groin (an extremely sensitive area). My eyes almost shot out of my head. Not cool, doctor. Not cool. As he put a brush inside of me, he explained that he was trying to get around all the blood, which didn’t put me at any more ease. After the woman left the room with the sample, he quickly lifted the drape off me and peaked for a moment, for no reason at all. I did not feel comfortable with this man at all. He told me the results would be back by May 18 and that he would schedule me for an ultrasound by June 2. He told me to take ibruprofen for the pain in the meantime and I don’t even want to say what he said next. (Every woman I have told drops their jaws and says, “No!” when I tell them). (And doctors want me to take ibruprofen constantly for the last 6 plus months?! Why is this their only advice?). He quickly spurted out something about fibroids or hormonal problems, with a 1 in 250 chance that it is cancer and told me not to look it up on the internet. Then he flew out of the room.
I was extremely confused. “So, it might be fibroids? And if not, it might be a hormonal imbalance?” He was standing with one hand on the door handle, just like the orthopedic surgeons were during my brief appointments with them, attention already turned to something else.
He left and I sat there for a moment before finally getting up. All of a sudden, he opens the door unannounced and walks back in while I am standing naked from the waist down! I’m pretty sure that is not legal!

Back at the desk, I ask for an appointment before June 2. I knew that was too long to wait in the condition I was in. She said there was nothing available and would ask the doctor if he could move things around. A week or so later, I got a confirmation for an appointment on June 2 with a note that said it was fine with the doctor. I did not receive the results from the pap smear until May 26th! Really just unbelievable. In the meantime, college kids were taking their exams and getting their final grades back! And I was still waiting for these basic, quick test results that should have been ready in a day or two!

Over the next few weeks, I continued to bleed heavily (for eight consecutive weeks), continued to have severe headaches, my energy was completely depleted (I couldn’t even do my basic yoga anymore) and I began to feel nauseous. I also felt very depressed. In addition, I had 9 talks to give during the month of May. Before the one on the 14th, I tried to go for a little walk and then hoped to do a very short yoga practice before getting ready. However, I felt so nauseous during the second part of the walk, that I thought I was going to vomit on the beach. I have never felt like that on a walk before before. Any amount of yoga was out of the question. I lied down in my bed wondering how I was possibly going to give a talk. I felt so nauseous and so tired that I nearly didn’t even get up. But I managed to do it despite how I was feeling.

A week later, I called the nurse and told her I couldn’t wait 2 more weeks to have the ultrasound- that I was not functional. She said too bad, there is nothing sooner. I asked her what if it was a hormonal issue. She said the doctor would look at that possibility after the ultrasound. I complained some more and finally she said she would ask him about it.
The next day, I received a request to have my blood drawn again. When I saw the paperwork, I realized they were testing me for the same things they tested me for a month ago! I asked if they could test 2 other hormones that I high school acquaintance suggested). I was told I needed permission by a doctor first. It was the Friday before Memorial Day. After a lot of waiting, I was denied by the GYN nurse. She said I could call my PCP. I went outside and made the call. The nurse said I shouldn’t have to wait so long for the ultrasound and then also denied me the tests I requested! She said I could get an appointment to see my PCP in 2 weeks!

I went back to the blood drawing place more upset than ever. I told them to go ahead and take it and that I would have to come back for the other tests later.

Several days later, I got a voicemail from the GYN telling me I’m fine! The tests were normal!

For several weeks, I kept saying “For the love of God” to myself again and again. Please. Somebody help me. Why can’t I find anyone to hear me and to advocate for me? Why?

My energy level continued to drop. I wasn’t even able to respond to e-mails people were sending me. Because I was nauseous so much (and still am), doing yoga became impossible. You can’t do something in which you are upside down for at least a third of the time when you feel nauseous. Some weeks, I did only one practice! For the last two months (as soon as I started to return after my knee surgery), I have only been averaging 2-3 classes per week! This is the least amount of yoga I have done since 2011. I also started putting on weight. Over the month of May, I put on 5 pounds. On my body, every additional pound feels like 20. I felt like I was 100 pounds overweight and there was nothing I could do about it.

I realized that even if my knee hadn’t prevented me from doing the CDT this year, I couldn’t have done it with the issues I am now having, which began just at the time I would have started. There is no way I could thru-hike in this condition. And yet, it’s the only thing I look forward to. I HAVE to get out there again. It’s the only time I feel alive.

(The sonohysterogram confirmed that I have a polyp in my uterus which must be surgically removed. The doctor denied my bottom-ed out energy levels, severe headaches, weight gain, or nausea have any connection to this problem! He told me that I must not be watching what I am eating and since I don’t “drink, do drugs, or have wild promiscuous sex”, I therefore must cope by overeating! Really! [Actually, you don’t suddenly gain two pounds overnight from overeating!). Later, he suggested I switch to Tylenol because the ibruprofen is probably destroying my stomach lining and that I am probably tired and getting headaches because my uterus is constantly contracting to try to get rid of the polyp. I have since learned that my headaches are actually migraines (something I have never had before and never thought I would have)! I also know that the nausea is not connected to ibruprofen. I am still awaiting a possible surgery date and having a very difficult time dealing with this man. I should have had the hystosonogram and surgery all finished and done with by the end of May!).