We all have stepping stones in our MS stories: the Alps Trek was a major and inspiring one for me
When MS Trust supporter Rebecca Morrison signed up to our Alps Trek back in 2016, she could have never imagined just how life-affirming the experience would be. In this blog, she writes about her own journey with MS, what inspired her to take on a challenge for the MS Trust, and why she’d encourage others to do the same.
September 2016 saw my joyful return to the Alps! I had last been there on my honeymoon, 19 years earlier, and with the entrance of MS (relapsing remitting, diagnosed in 2011, with first symptoms and clinical signs in 2004 – it took me a while to be ready to accept its possible existence), I had not dared to presume that I would explore first-hand these magnificent mountains again. Dare I?
Thanks to the less erratic course of disease from the summer of 2015 with a DMT proving effective, and embarking on a multi-stranded holistic approach familiar to many of us, I had the sense that I was getting more of a handle on the MS, and could create time enough, which I appreciate can be a luxury, to work on building up the physical strength – and thus also the emotional strength. The day came when signing up for a challenge of this largeness seemed in the realm of the possible, and definitely worth striving towards.
Becoming part of something beyond myself seemed really important. Many of us find ourselves on an inevitably inward journey as we go through stages of digesting what it may mean to have a chronic illness as a major character in our lives as we explore the variety of options on how to deal with the ebb and flow of symptoms as well as shifting fears. This coming to terms – always a work-in-progress, I suspect – with the altered nature of our “new” lives, deciding when to push through, when to rest up, is part of a private world of inner exploration, and an external one, too, in part, for those we love and who love us are our companions as we navigate: which challenges have which possible benefits that may outweigh which possible risks, we ponder, as we try, ultimately, to decipher what it is that makes us feel at our most alive and most true to ourselves. Often I’m struck by how in fact it is the simplest things that can make a daily routine knocked off-kilter feel robust again and can imbue days with a sense of contentment.
This coming to terms – always a work-in-progress, I suspect – with the altered nature of our “new” lives, deciding when to push through, when to rest up, is part of a private world of inner exploration,
“Keep moving, kid!”
For me personally the way to get closer to that less panicked, less anxious place, involved, gradually, a whole lot of physical exertion and as much time spent in the great outdoors as possible. I went armed with the two mantras that remain my gentle and dusting-off driving forces by turn in these post-diagnosis years: “step by step”, the message from the La Fontaine fable of the hare and the tortoise; and “Keep moving, kid!” - those the words of encouragement and treasured advice from my Uncle Ian (he, too, had MS). His words would chivvy me through tired moments on the longer walks in the Scottish hills. The road that led to the Alps had begun to beckon irresistibly.
One to consider?
Would I encourage others to join an organised expedition like this? Undoubtedly! The motivation becomes something shared with others, you become aware of all the support there is around you, sometimes even from strangers or those you barely know, in addition to the influx of love from those already firmly in your life. The energy created by knowing how others wish you well and want to help you fly beyond the limitations and darker moments is amazingly powerful and stays with you beyond the actual challenge or expedition. And the determination required to gradually attain the level of fitness and the re-learning of some physical tricks that once seemed off-limits* is also renewed each time a donation comes in.
*where possible, that is, for each of us has different limitations as part of our reality, and working with them becomes the positive challenge.
Confidence and trust
For me, signing up was a major step in believing that life could open up again. There are many moving, life-affirming moments along the path to any such challenge: one for me was the faith my GP showed by agreeing to sign the medical consent form and unhesitatingly saying: “Yes, I think this is a good idea, and I think you can do it.” This still boosts me now on doubting days. And saying “Yes!” was also the first step to becoming part of the community that is the MS Trust, as well as a positive way of letting others beyond my inner circle of friends and family know about this new aspect of my life.
The Scottish hills beckon
And so the fun began! Exhausting often, but the right sort of tiredness this time, a world away from the purely energy-sapping fatigue; sleep grew better, too, the body felt grateful to rediscover long-forgotten muscles and to meet some it had never known. And at last I opened up far more wholeheartedly to the beautiful landscape around me: the beach walks, the local hill of Bennachie, the Old Railway Line that used to convey Queen Victoria to her beloved Balmoral, and then my first Munro, Lochnagar, the loch at its foot, Loch Muick, becoming an oft-tramped part of the training when the legs allowed, as increasingly they did. And onwards, deeper into the Cairngorms with the security of being with an experienced guide who became a friend, one of the many excellent human beings who entered my life at this time and helped me learn to be more at peace with this new set of circumstances.
I wish all who take part in any of the MS Trust challenges inspiring, strengthening times
From Munros to Mont Blanc
After three consecutive days of hiking together in the Cairngorms, I sensed the three days in the Mont Blanc range would still be extremely challenging. But, provided the injections went well, and at least some good hours of recuperative sleep were had in between, it was not pie-in-the-sky to be dreaming of those other mountains: and so it proved.
Embracing the senses
To have the memories of those days is treasure indeed – muscle memories, too, my legs still remember the ascent to the highest point of our tour over boulder fields to the Fenêtre d’Arpette (2, 665 metres!) where the steepest descent I have ever known awaited us. The camaraderie, the kindness of others, the sharp mountain air and clarity of light, the berries and flowers, the feel of the water in the lake we bathed in after our second day of hiking, the emotion at several points, for surely I, the lass who had sometimes been tired out by ten minutes of slow walking, shouldn’t be able to do this, to be in a place of such astounding natural beauty that it brought tears to the eyes. I was so fortunate to have this chance, and I can truly say that without the confidence the whole experience gave me I may not yet have dared this next step, a return to the city that had once been home, Berlin, where my nature walks are by lakes and through forests, and my passion for classical music lives vibrantly, and work prospects begin to open up again, differently so, but with the promise of fulfilment.
Surely I, the lass who had sometimes been tired out by ten minutes of slow walking, shouldn’t be able to do this, to be in a place of such astounding natural beauty that it brought tears to the eyes
We all have stepping stones in our MS stories: the Alps Trek was a major and inspiring one for me. I wish all who take part on any of the MS Trust challenges inspiring, strengthening times, and to all of us finding our way with the ebb and flow of a disease different for each of us, strength and a sense of pride in those days lived as well and as joyfully as we can, engaging with the world beyond ourselves and staying as true as we can to what matters to us most as we navigate the new structure and rhythms of lives altered.
I raise a coffee to you all, and to your families and those true friends who help make you feel at your best. And I salute the Alps, and the MS Trust for returning me to them!
Take on a challenge for the MS Trust
If you've been inspired by Rebecca's story and would like to take on your own challenge for the MS Trust, we have many different treks and adventure challenges you can sign up to.