Lessons from the Soft Rock Bottom

I can say that in my whole life I have only ever reached rock bottom once. During the second week my husband was on hospice after sleeping little and crying much, I had nothing. I had no energy, barely an appetite, no emotion, nothing. I was a completely empty vessel. There was nowhere else for me to fall. If my house had burned down, my dog had died, or the nuclear holocaust had erupted, it would not have made one iota of a difference to me. But the thing I realized is that there may be no safer place than that deep pit. After all, what could hurt me? What anxiety could I have when no amount of pain could bring me lower? That place was actually quite soft and calm. Being laid that bare, stripped of all energy and identity, must change a person.

And it did. In ways that I don’t completely understand, and in ways that I thought I understood, but definitely do not. Case in point, last Friday.

Somehow, I made the ridiculous assumption that I was a superwoman, without remembering that all heroes have some sort of incipient, almost trivial, weakness. Mine is evidently tiny needles. It is no secret to my friends and family that I have carried around a major phobia of needles since I was a young child. This phobia makes even less sense because not once have I had a bad stick. When I was in medical school, I did three quarters of phlebotomy and I loved it. As long as I was the sticker, not the stickee. Fast forward to the undergraduate level physiology class I am taking (Long story of why I actually have to take this class). We had this cool lab where we were going to run tests on our own blood and even do blood typing. I was so excited because I did not know my blood type, and being a health nerd, I have always really wanted to know.

Here is where I went wrong. I assumed that since I had faced down incredible fears and trauma with my husband, my issues with needles were small bananas and part of my past. Bravely, I took the lancet (1/8th-inch long minuscule needle), grimaced and whined a bit, then did the deed. Sure enough, a couple little drops of blood came out and I used them to set up a couple of experiments before trying to coax a bunch more out for the blood typing. I stood up, dancing and milking my finger, going over to the hot water and trying to restart the flow. All of a sudden, I plopped back in my chair as I felt the familiar feeling of instant cold and tunnel vision. “Hey, guys… look at me.”

Next thing I know, I am lying on a bench across the room being woken up from an incredibly beautiful dream with five people crouched over me asking questions. First ridiculous yet coherent thought that came into my head: My husband is dead. And he is not coming to take care of me. I immediately begin bawling.

I had hit my face and head on the way down because my lab partners all thought that I was kidding about the whole passing out thing. (Joke’s on them! Definitely giving them flak for that for the rest of the quarter.) Every time I tried to sit up, the world started getting dark and woozy again, which made me cry more because I knew that a trip to the ER was in my future and I did not want to go, being mostly afraid they would try to give me an IV. So I lay there, surrounded by strangers, bawling about how sad my life is, unable to move of my own accord, and very concerned about the status of my brain. So what does one do in times like these? They call their mother! Or in my case, my mother-in-law because my mother lives in Tennessee and would not have been much help.

She quickly coordinated family to find someone to come hang out with me in the hospital. (Shout out to my amazing sister-in-law Dani and her aunts for coming to my rescue.) Then, and here comes the kicker, she says, “Thank goodness this didn’t happen when you were out on the trail.”

Gulp. She is right. With my history of passing out when I get even the tiniest bit injured, I have no business out on a long trail.  What if I trip in the Whites, break a bone, pass out, and then die of exposure? What if the snake gang hears about my Kryptonite and sneaks into my tent at night to bite me with their needle-like fangs? What if I have to make a blood sacrifice to cross a bridge with trolls underneath? (Or have they rerouted around the troll bridges yet?)

Then, I remembered another lady who had no business being out on the trail. A gray-haired grandma with very little backcountry experience, with bunions, who was almost blind, and carried only a 15-pound bag that crossed over her chest. She took little food with her and only a shower curtain to sleep under. Yet, she had a goal. She had a mission. She had a love. She had things to walk out of her system. If I were a betting person, I would stake money that Grandma Gatewood was familiar with that soft rock bottom. Perhaps knowing what’s at the end of the fall makes you a little crazy, but if she wasn’t crazy, she wouldn’t be inspiring me right now.


P.S. It was just a minor concussion. I am OK. Tune in next time to see an inordinate amount of pictures of my dog and learn why Princess Pep is not slumming it on the trail with me. Or is she?


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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Vince Piquet : Feb 18th

    Don’t let the thought of “What if?”, hold ya back. Courage is not the absence of, it is being afraid and saddling up anyway. Don’t give up before ya start Doc. You’ll kick yourself in the ass from now until Hell becomes an ice skating rink. Fair winds and following seas.
    Vince aka “The Dude, SOBO ’17/’18

  • Avatar
    Leanna Abercrombie : Feb 18th


    I’m so glad you’re alright! In a way, I am glad you had this experience. I don’t want you to get hurt—ever—but there is nothing like a reminder that even when you feel invincible your body stores trauma in powerful ways. Your willingness to be present in the process will make all the difference.

    I know you will have a lot of rumbling to do out on the trail. You are totally being prepared for your journey Laura. I have no doubt.

    You’re a warrior and you’ve just begun to scratch the surface. Take your fear with you on the trail but stuff it your pack and hike the crap out of it!


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