BY: Kourtney Meldrum
Early in the Summer of 2016, in the middle of the night, my best friend and I stood at the base of a mountain. It was pitch black, and the only light came from our headlamps. We started the ascent up to the peak; feeling lost in the dark, following a path that often diverged, bears and cougars looming in the back of our minds, we hiked through the dark, and halfway through falling snow. It was an uphill battle (literally). When we wanted to quit, we pushed through. After scrambling up the loose rock the mountain dropped off into a sheer cliff, and the world opened up.
In the very early hours of the morning, I stared at the sun rise and explode into water-colour pastels over the rocky mountains. I wanted to cry. We had made it. We’d pushed through, refused to quit- we made it.
This moment changed my life in so many ways.
At this point in time I was just shy of 19 years old and finishing my first year of university. I had just begun to love fitness as it helped me work through depression and was quickly becoming obsessed with the outdoors. The cumulation of those things is what brought me to the peak of a mountain at 6am, taking in the world in a way I’d never experienced it before.
This experience became a mantra for my life- When you want to quit you keep going. You take one step at a time, then one more, then one more, until you reach the top. This was proof that I could make it to the top of grandiose mountains; any mental mountain I faced in my life would pale in comparison.
I. Could. Conquer. Mountains.
This became my mindset going forward and is responsible for so many of the great things in my life. I felt empowered to take on more, to accomplish more, to prove myself wrong when I didn’t believe I could do things. I could conquer mountains, I could do anything.
On a trip to Africa with my father, we hiked up a mountain in Mauritius. As I dragged my father up a mountain in the sweltering heat of the early morning, I thought many times that this might actually kill him. I told him we could stop, go back, we didn’t have to finish the hike. As my father took a final step to the top, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more proud. My father turned to me and said, “I am a finisher, not a quitter.” This became another mantra for my life.
I’ve created a mentality that has pushed me forward in life to chase after my goals and dreams with an intense ferocity. I crave to feel challenged and uncomfortable as I searched for growth and accomplishments. I have pushed myself hard because I could, and I knew I could handle it. I never quit, I never rested, because I knew that I could do more.
In the past few months, all of that changed.
Some health issues surrounding the migraines I’ve experienced for over a decade forced me to slow down my life. I’ve been exhausted, in pain, and sick. I’ve been so mad at myself. I’ve felt like a quitter. I’ve felt like a failure.
Most days I don’t feel my best and consequently, am not performing at my best. I’ve said no to opportunities, lessened my responsibilities, and done the bare minimum to get by. I’ve done this because I physically have not been able to live my life the way I was before.
I didn’t even have the option to make a choice to take care of myself; I’ve had to. I’ve been so exhausted for months and in daily pain that I’ve had to learn to rest more and put taking care of myself a priority so that I can perform the tasks I do have to the best of my ability.
It’s hard for me to even put into words how tough this has been for me. Resting is the antithesis to how I’ve lived my life for years. It’s been mentally draining to not push for my best. In many ways, I feel like significant parts of who I am as a person have been stripped from me in this period. If I’m not someone who can conquer mountains, who is a finisher, who doesn’t quit, then who am I?
I’ve had to learn to rest, and I’m still accepting that that is okay.
I’ve been learning that putting myself and my health first is not only okay but essential. I’ve found solace in the community of people who love me and support me. I’ve found a degree of acceptance in sharing where I am, and how I’m feeling.
I am not a failure. I am not a quitter. I am a finisher, and I can conquer mountains. My new mantra has shifted, but it has the same sentiments. As I ground myself by placing my hands on my knees, I say “These legs have carried me up mountains, and they can make it through this day.”