It was chilly but the sun was still out. I sat on the grass, mesmerized by the water. Lake Titicaca was more majestic than everyone said it would be. As the sunlight danced along the water's edge, reflecting a sharp bright blue sky, I took a long deep breath. I made it.
An epic odyssey
I had been travelling for the last three months, a gift I gave myself for healing my body. I turned to the Overcoming MS plan after letting my symptoms get out of control.
Muscle spasms, difficulty walking, optic neuritis, drop foot, falling, severe chronic pain, pins and needles, migraines, stiffness… the list goes on and on and all before my 25th birthday. I turned to the OMS plan because I was at rock bottom.
I’d lost walking, I couldn’t feel my entire right side, I had indescribable daily pain and weighing well over 300 lbs, I knew I was running out of places to turn. The altitude is high at Lake Titicaca, reaching over 12,500 feet above sea level. I could feel a heaviness in my legs as I tried to push myself to catch up with the group. They were all far ahead of me and I was pretty sure I’d be the last one to get to Pachamama, one of the two sacred temples at the top of Amantani Island.
I was on day two of a five-day silent meditation retreat and after spending the entire morning focusing on breathing, we were told to head to the top of the island.
It had been less than two years since I lost walking and started the OMS plan. In that time, after dedicating my life to healing myself, I regained feeling on my right side and just a few months later rode 40 miles for Bike MS. After that, the miracles kept coming and I trained my body differently than ever before.
I treated myself with kindness, understanding, and patience. Suddenly, I could walk a straight line, I hadn’t used a cane in months, and most notably, I lost over 155 lbs (70.5 kg) as a result of healthy living. So what’s a girl to do when she gets an opportunity at a whole new life?
She quits her job to travel, because she never thought she could. Memories of the past two years flooded my head as I silently struggled to walk up the stone path. I started to sweat and my legs felt shaky.
“Come on, Carolyn, you can do this. It’s just walking!” I urged myself in my head. I could feel my right side getting weaker as the last person from my group disappeared from view.
I started limping and I could feel a muscle spasm twisting in between my shoulder blades making my heart pound. I was still about halfway from the top of the island and I was seriously doubting I would make it there at all.
“Come on, Carolyn!” I urged again, trying to force my legs to move faster. “You worked so hard to get here and you can’t even make it to the top. You’re not fit, you’re sick. Stop trying to be something you’re not.”
The bullying felt like a punch to the gut. As I continued to beat myself up, the sun started beating down and I broke out in a dripping sweat. I
ripped off my sweatshirt feeling a rush of panicked thoughts chasing through my brain. I couldn’t make it to the top and that was what my life was always going to be like.
I can push as hard as possible, live as healthfully as possible, but I’ll always be the sick girl, I’ll always have MS and it will always be stronger than me. No matter how much commitment I make, this disease will always hold me back. I felt like a failure – weak, wasted potential.
'I couldn’t calm down so I stopped and leaned against a giant rock, I was giving up. Eventually everyone would come back this way and I figured I’d just wait until then. About 15 minutes later I noticed a man wearing a poncho and a hat walking towards me, his head down – Daniel, another from my group, was walking extremely slow, taking one step at a time.'
I couldn’t calm down so I stopped and leaned against a giant rock, I was giving up. Eventually everyone would come back this way and I figured I’d just wait until then.
About 15 minutes later I noticed a man wearing a poncho and a hat walking towards me, his head down – Daniel, another from my group, was walking extremely slow, taking one step at a time. I realized that I was right. I couldn’t get to the top of the island, not alone.
I started walking next to Daniel, keeping in line with his steps. We looked at each other and then looked down, walking together in silence, one tiny step at a time.
It was one of the longest and most difficult experiences I’d encountered, focusing solely on each painfully slow step, battling every thought of self doubt, until we finally reached Pachamama. I passed my group as they sat together in meditation, and looked out across the lake
. Exhaustion took over my mind, body, and spirit, I collapsed to my knees and sobbed, gut wrenching, heaving sobs. MS was not stronger than me.
Daniel was my light
I made it. Multiple Sclerosis is my journey up Amantani Island – difficult, exhausting, and full of self doubt, but Daniel was my light, my Overcoming MS, that gave me hope to reach healing – my Pachamama.
No matter how big or daunting your path up the island seems, we can do incredible things when we open ourselves to accepting help and simply take it one tiny step at a time.
You are stronger than your illness, you just have to believe in yourself and the amazing things you’re truly capable of achieving.
*Carolyn Kaufman is a writer, health coach, and speaker, living in Boston, MA. She dedicates her life to showing others what living with a chronic illness can look like if you take care of your body, mind, and soul. In the past three years she has gone from being super morbidly obese and losing the ability to walk to feeling fit and hiking mountains in Peru. If you are interested in connecting with Carolyn, you can reach her through her website www.withouttheweight.com or follow her on Instagram: @withouttheweight.