Saturday, February 18, 2017

Too much is not enough

A crushing heat wave settled in this week, melting the last of the ice from the small ponds in our back yard. For the first time in three months, I knelt beside the pond and sprinkled fish food into the water. Two-dozen goldfish swam to the surface and sluggishly nibbled at the flakes. I watched with fascination. They spent three months hidden beneath a thick sheet of ice, in a pond so small that I wondered if it could freeze solid, and I hadn't fed them since November. Yet there they were, as healthy as ever. I felt strong appreciation for these hardy little fish, matched in an instant by disgust in my own fragile body.

Shortly afterward, I slathered my arms and legs in sunscreen and went for a walk. That's what I've been doing since I found out about my wonky thyroid levels: going to the gym, and hiking — short distances and nothing strenuous. Strangely, or maybe not strangely, I've been feeling symptoms to a deeper degree. Knowledge has made my head even more foggy, my body even more jittery. I think this escalation of symptoms is psychosomatic, so I stare at my hands, willing them to hold still. They never do.

Seventy degrees felt unconscionably hot, and I'd lost my will to even bother. Still, as it always has, hiking does improve my mood. I hiked my way through a difficult breakup in Juneau, back in 2009. At the time I was fairly certain I would be alone for the rest of my life, and embraced mountains as a solid if indifferent companion. Maybe I'll hike my way through this most recent breakup with my health. (I know, poor health is likely temporary, but it never really seems like it in the midst. Just like solitude at the end of a relationship.)

I have been sad about dropping out of Iditarod. I know, of course I know, that it's such a small loss in the scheme of world events and even my own life. I want to believe this emotion is not my own, but the dastardly work of wonky hormones. Right now, though, it feels like a threshold crossed. The end of something.

Sweat beaded on my skin as I picked my way through tangles of fallen trees to South Boulder Peak. Implausibly, given that it's been virtually summer for at least two weeks, the ridge was still coated in ice. I continued anyway, even after a man coming down the mountain warned me that the trail was too treacherous. I didn't feel like being careful, so of course I fell. A few yards later, I fell again. Blood glistened on my shin. I was angry, with myself of course, and plopped down on a boulder just fifty feet shy of the actual top.

The afternoon was so warm that I could stop as long as I wanted. So I sprawled out and turned up the iPod. Earlier in the week, I realized my playlists were hurting my feelings, so I refilled one with music I mostly listened to before I started endurance racing. Near the top of South Boulder mountain — just far enough from the actual peak to concede I hadn't fully climbed it — I nearly dozed off listening to early-90s Catherine Wheel songs:

"Always, Always.
Bye bye long day.
I need to sleep so much.
Nineteen hours straight.
Too much is not enough."

Again I thought about those tough little goldfish, who I think I've grown to love, and how they survived the winter without any help from me.

"It's going to be fine," I said out loud, sitting up. "Shake it off, shake it off." My hands were still quivering. I felt a little bit dizzy and hand't brought any food with me. It crossed my mind that I could take an unlucky slip at just the wrong place on the upcoming, treacherously icy downhill, and that could be the end. It was just as plausible, maybe even more plausible, than my heart stopping in the Alaska wilderness. Life is fragile. Maybe I have an autoimmune disease and maybe my lifestyle is to blame, but I don't regret a thing.

The downhill hike passed without incident. Still, I remained little out of it. As if in an instant, the sun began to set. Beautiful pink light filtered through the trees. 

"Needle stings and blisters breaking.
 Swinging moods and conscious fading. 
All the things you dream while spinning 'round. 
Always it seems to bring you, bring you down."


  1. Truly beautifully written. I've hiked my way through recoveries from a bunch of surgeries. I always felt the same way as you - almost a "why bother?" feeling because hiking feels like so much less than what I usually do. Yet, I always ended up happier than I started so it was worth bothering!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful writing.

  2. Hi Jill, I have followed your blog since you lived in Alaska. I love your writing and I love mountains and adventure too. I think this is one of your best posts ever. I too have a body that is betraying me but I am a writer too and I know that when I had to slow down because of physical limitations the introspection came with slowing down made me a better writer. Thanks for the beautiful post.

  3. Reading your blog this morning.. gave me Unity.. I don't feel all along anymore.. only my closest friend, my wife, has a partial understanding of the frustration I'm going through..
    Thank you Jill ..
    You will be truly missed in Alaska..
    I think now personally, more than ever..
    Remember...No Boundaries

  4. So, when I was down and layIng flat on my back for weeks I read this book called "Be Brave Be Strong". It truly inspired me to keep the faith and keep moving to something greater. During the 2016 Iditarod I would climb out of my sick bed, grab my cane and hike back and forth down the hallway to my kitchen . . . again and again. Eventually I became stronger. Your words in this post were so honest and real (again). So beautifully written. Your health challenge WILL PASS. Now you know what's been going on with your body. In time with the help of your doctors you will regain your health and your strength will returnn. When 2017 ITI begins find your strength in knowing what you did in 2016 and that you will be back in 2018. Never give up hope Jill. You are gonna be okay.

  5. There is a podcast called "The Sharp End" and the most recent episode features an unfortunate ice climber who shattered his ankle and heel. If you are interested, you can hear him talk about his post-injury activities at 21:00. It is not so much what he says, which is along the lines of "your disability is your opportunity", because that is a common refrain for consoling the injured/ill, but the way his voice sounds. He sounds pretty okay with stuff, as if his mind is not dwelling on his injury and he is happily using his time for other things. I wish I would always think this way when I am incapacitated in some way.
    It will be interesting to follow your recovery journey now that you know what is wrong. Maybe long-term endurance activities have had some kind of effect on your thyroid, and perhaps this is especially prevalent for women...who knows? Your perspective is a valuable one.

  6. I've been reading your blog on and off for years. Just reading it again and am so sorry to read of your diagnosis. It feels very odd to comment to someone I really don't know but feel I know (from reading your blog.)But I wanted to tell you that I have only good wishes for you to re-balance your body and be strong and out there again. Healing thoughts coming your way.


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