Pilgrim Graffiti Wisdom

IMG_0481Arrows were common on the Camino. Sometimes found on a stone marker, a sidewalk, road or wall, yellow arrows marked The Way from St. Jean to Santiago. As someone who finds themselves directionally challenged, I completely depended on them. My strategy was to follow an arrow, or follow a pilgrim. This was a very successful technique until I arrived in the larger cities where sometimes accomodations were off the beaten track. On those occasions, I was more than challenged and lost my way more than once. Not even GPS could help, as wifi was only available in restaurants, and technology is not my friend at the best of times. I envy my husband who has an innate sense of direction, born with a compass up his ass. He always knows which direction he’s facing, tells me it’s something about the sun… Luckily for me, the trail was well marked. An additional feature that blazed the trail was the graffiti left by previous sojourners. I enjoyed photographing the wisdom of others who had traversed this ancient pathway. This particular patch of wall is speaking to me now. It feels like my life has been pulled backwards a long way. In fact, I think the arrow got pulled so far back that it dropped out of the bow and fell to the ground… and got lost in the tall grass. However, the arrow is now back in the groove and I’m anticipating being “launched”. One thing I did to get through this difficult time was to set a target for myself. It needed to be a pretty substancial bullseye to get me out of my dark hole. Our farm supplies potatoes for Frito Lay Chips and in their effort to improve efficiencies, they often come up with clever motivational ideas to inspire their growers. So, to borrow from their concept, I needed to come up with a B-HAG – A BIG HAIRY AUDACIOUS GOAL. I decided to train for a marathon, as long distance running has long been my therapy for mood regulation. Sometimes I have been able to outrun the black dogs of depression. Therefore, three weeks from now, I will be travelling to Rome to run the “All Roads Lead to Rome Marathon” on April 8. Having run several marathons, I guarantee that this one will not be my best time, not a Personal Best (PB). In fact, I am quite certain it will be a PW (Personal Worst). They will close the race at 7 hours, and I hope to be done before that. However, as far as I’m concerned, this B-HAG has already served its purpose. Training got me out of bed and gave me purpose until I could reengage in life, and for that I am thankful. It won’t be a great race, probably not even good, but it will be good enough. I am blessed to be accompanied to Rome by a good friend who has agreed to help me navigate my way. While “not all those who wander are lost” (Toilken), in my case, I usually am. So fortunate to have friends who have been there to walk beside.


The Long Journey Home

A year ago I was anticipating and training for my Camino pilgrimage. Many of you have inquired about my trip and some of you wondered how it all ended, as my blogging seems to have trailed off at the end. For that I must apologize. I had hoped to share much more of my adventure with you, as it was both amazing and life altering. As I indicated in previous entries, the Camino is a journey that tests the body, mind and spirit and some say that the true journey begins once the Camino ends. This has been my experience. I embarked on this journey seeking a spiritual experience, a chance to go inward and take time to consider the direction I would like my life to take. Turning 50 has indeed been a milestone and has coincided with other recent life changing/challenging events- completing my Masters degree, coming to terms with my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and Homer’s melanoma, our children leaving home (although they have been flying in and out for some time now- we have finally dismantled the nest), the terminal illness and subsequent death of Homer’s father. I thought the Camino would be a time to ruminate on all of those things, but that wasn’t the case. There came a point in the journey where the rhythm of walking and fellowship with other pilgrims became the focus. It was enough to live in the moment, enjoying each opportunity to see the beauty all around me; whether it was the magnificent landscape, the birdsong during sunrise, the interesting conversations, laughter and simplicity of life shared- and no media to remind me of the real world and its troubles. It was my vision of paradise, and were it not for the love of family and friends back home, I would have been content to stay. In fact, coming home has been the greatest challenge I faced. Having expereinced life on the mountain top, it was difficult to return to life in the “valley of the shadow of death”. Leaving the Camino and my fellow pilgrims was much more difficult than I anticipated, and I was suprised by my sense of loss and grief. Those who have known me longest, know that many years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder (manic depression), which I have managed to control throuogh life style adaptations, such as limiting caffeine, sleep hygene and long distance running. Unfortunately, at the end of my Camino journey, I experienced a manic episode, and my journey did not end as I anticipated. I have coined this part of my trip the “Manical Mystery Tour”. The challenge for me is that my mania, which has only occurred twice in twenty years, goes hand-in-hand with what I perceive to be intense spiritual experiences, resulting in confusion. How am I to process my thoughts and experiences, when mania changes my perceptions? How do I trust my thoughts, when it is my very thoughts that are altered by the mania? It’s a bit of a chicken or egg scenerio. Which comes first? Admitting this recent episode is a challenge, as I have trained as a psychotherapist and am on the cusp of starting private practice. As much as I practice and advocate for mental health, I still feel embarrassed by this diagnosis and have struggled this past year to get my head back above the water line, as the resulting depression has taken me down. It has silenced me. I feel as though I have been in a cocoon- awaiting the warmth and sunshine of spring, eager to spread my wings and rise above once again. It has been a long winter, but I’m getting there, slowly. “One day I will be a beautiful butterfly, and then everything will be better” (quote from Bug’s Life- which my sister Teresa does with a heavy German accent, and makes me pee my pants laughing… but that’s another story). I would love to share more of my Camino stories, and hope to get a chance. Sorry it has taken me this long to get over myself. Love to you all, Janette

This is a print my youngest sister Rhonda created entitled “My Three Sisters”. I look at it as I sweat out my depression on my treadmill, training for an upcoming run, and I am assured that all will be well.

“…We return coloured bright with the things we learned in the woods.”