My rabbit heart pitter-pattered as the thunder complained above our heads, right on the tail of a lightning bolt that had lit up the weirdly gray sky.
“We’d better cover our packs,” Debbie said. I nodded and scrambled to drape my backpack with its, up-until-now, unused rain cover. I fumbled with my rolled up raincoat, sliding my shaking arms in. I was frazzled from an already-arduous half-day hike and pissed off that we hadn’t made reservations at the popular Rifugio Lagazuoi.
We’d been fortunate to find out that the next mountain hut, Nuvolau, had exactly two beds left for the night. We were encouraged to hurry since they locked the doors at 5 pm.
Now we were booking it to make it on time, and Mother Nature seemed to be playing a cruel joke on us.
The thunder had rattled me. Ever the worrier, I envisioned us caught in a rainstorm, unable to forge ahead on the slippery path. As I trudged up the sharp incline behind Debbie, I began panting. After a few minutes of apprehensive inhales, I realized my breathing was overkill for the incline.
I’m not out of breath. I’m hyperventilating!
But I had no time to reflect on why I was mentally breaking down. I looked up to see a steep rock slide peppered with boulders on our path.
“Tell me that is not the trail,” I begged Debbie.
She looked at me with a small smile on her face, which quickly disappeared when she saw that I was falling apart.
I was having a panic attack.
But it wasn’t the impending storm that had my bodily functions on the fritz.
I flashed back to seven months before, when I’d had my first panic attack. The end of my marriage. Perched on a rock in the middle of Italy, a storm speeding my way, I was transported back to that moment when my life shattered into a million pieces.
I stumbled up the stairs, my breath coming up jagged. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed, the covers over my head. Then maybe what I’d just discovered would make more sense.
I exploded into particles that day, my body, mind, and heart going in different directions. Everything I had known, believed, and loved, shattered.
As Debbie fed me electrolyte water and nuts, I brought myself back into the moment. I knew, rationally, that I’d survived that day and the many, many excruciatingly hard ones that had followed. I knew, logically, that this storm wouldn’t beat me either.
I began to regulate my breathing. In. Out.
Soon I waved her on up the trail, not wanting the storm to catch up with us.
I made it my goal to take just one step at a time. I vowed not to look up, afraid that if I saw how far I still had to go, I’d break down again.
I am here. I am here.
Without realizing I was doing it, I’d created a mantra to match the beat of my feet. It grounded me and reminded me that I was exactly where I needed to be in my life. In the Dolomiti, on a hiking adventure with a good friend. Moving forward with my life, one step at a time.
Once we reached the top of the rock slide, we turned the corner to find a sheer cliff, the trail nothing more than an afterthought on the side of the steep mountain of scree.
More thunder filled the skies, and the wind brushed my tears toward my neck as I struggled to be brave.
I am here. I am here.
Normally very much in control of my life (or at least having the illusion of control), I felt ridiculous for getting so emotional over something as silly as a few rain clouds, but I recognized that grief often came out in the most inconvenient and surprising places. I knew it wasn’t really the threatening storm that had upset me.
Finally, we made it to more solid ground, and after 20 minutes, we could see the hut in the lavender twilight. I kept my eyes on the destination, consoled by the fact that I had weathered my internal storm.