Happy (belated) Blogiversary to me :)

Once again I have been neglecting my blog and now the 1 year anniversary from my first published post has been and gone – oops!  In my defence I have been rather busy doing things like study, socialise, volunteer with St John, make stuff to sell at markets and things and, of course, not being able to leave the house due to symptom flare-ups.  So all in all a productive month I think!  The dysautonomia stuff is being its usual lovely roller coaster but I am in a much better place with it than I was this time last year.  My medications seem to be helping stabilise it a bit and my cardiologist is, as always, amazing.  I have an exercise physiology session once a week with an awesome group of POTS girls which has proved to be entertaining so far – we have more classes that don’t end in hospital visits than ones that do and there is usually a fair amount of giggling and chattering during exercise.  I know the general theory is if you can talk you’re not exercising hard enough but it’s not that kind of exercise – it’s more pilates based using a reformer and other nifty machines.

But enough of now, this is the time for reflection, for looking back to 1 year ago and seeing where I was, what I was doing and how far I have come from there.  Well I think we can safely say I have travelled quite a distance.  Just over a year ago I read a book, a very inspiring book – a book that made me want to travel across the globe and walk in the footsteps of thousands upon thousands of others throughout the course of history.  In just over one month it will be a year since I got on that plane at Tullamarine bound for Europe and glory in the form of the Camino.  I had no idea what to expect, what wonderful (or otherwise) things would happen, what I would see and experience, what I would learn about both life and myself or who I would meet on the way.  I had been to Paris before so that wasn’t a huge leap, I was meeting up with family so it wasn’t really outside my comfort zone and I had a basic grasp of French (degraded over years of neglect from an intermediate grasp of French!).  The bit that came after would be the challenge.  I was so caught up with the excitement and magnitude of what I was about to attempt that I didn’t really think about what would happen when I was finally on my own – out in the world, in a foreign country whose language (beyond ‘Hola’, ‘Grazias’, ‘Buen Camino’ and ‘donde esta cajero automatico’) I didn’t know.  And how in the hell was I going to walk that far every day?

Some days now I don’t know how I did it, when I can hardly move from fatigue or when I can hardly stand because my heart runs a marathon and my blood pressure slowly gives in to the pull of gravity when I do it seems a bit surreal.  Did I imagine the whole thing?  But no, I was there, I have the mark on my arm and my name on a certificate that I can’t read to prove it.  Prove it to myself and the world so I never forget what I can do, what I have done and trust me, with something as crappy as a chronic illness like dysautonomia you need it.  And I really need to go back to the studio and get it touched up!  Oh, and I also have this picture!

The Camino was life condensed.  You could live a decade in one day – I am still not completely sure how or why but it happened.  You almost need a day of rest and reflection after every day of walking just to take it all in and do it justice.  And for anyone wanting to get a taste of the Camino without leaving home then the movie ‘The Way’ has just come to Australia.  Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring Martin Sheen it is a beautiful story about loss, grief, and really finding yourself in the most unexpected place.  I highly recommend it 🙂
Even though the part that I walked doesn’t actually feature in the movie – it’s been completely skipped over which is frustrating!  And sad as Galicia was beautiful in the spring, but I guess when you have over 800km to chose from you can’t have it all in the movie!

Better get back to work – I have a stall at an awesome market tomorrow and need to get some stuff finished!  It’s ‘Worn Wild’ – the alternative fashion market that comes to Melbourne twice a year.  I am so excited to be part of it this year!  Here’s a flyer – check it out!  And if you’re interested here is the link to my facebook page for my accessories company – Cherry Pie Accessories – which will hopefully be a company soon instead of a hobby!

That’s all from me today
Buen Camino everyone 🙂

The Butterfly Effect

Isn’t it funny how one decision, or a series of decisions that lead into each other can change everything. Often at the time it doesn’t seem like a big thing but it throws ripples that become waves that then turn into tidal waves that crash through your existence and the existence of others after which nothing is ever quite the same – like that movie from the 90’s; ‘The Butterfly Effect’.  Decisions like that can have consequences that range from exceptionally good to heartbreakingly tragic but the thing they have in common is that the consequences are monumental.  So far the Camino is looking like it could be one of those decisions.  At least I hope it is, but you often can’t tell right away only afterwards, once the ripples have run their course.  The last time one of those decisions came into my life and the lives of those around me was early January on a cruise.  Fortunately that was a good one too and has resulted in the romance of a lifetime for two very lucky people, sadly I was not one of them but oh well, we can’t have everything!  Actually, if you really want to be pedantic you could say it started much earlier than that, when we first decided to go on a cruise.

My decision to walk the Camino has not been a light one.  It was spontaneous, yes, but I am aware of the issues I could face, the things that could go wrong and I choose to try anyway.  Not to say that I haven’t been a little nervous about how my body will cope with it and to that end I posted a question on a Camino forum I have joined recently asking if anyone had been in a similar situation and tackled the Camino (apart from my original source of inspiration – The Year We Seized the Day); I received a surprising and very uplifting response.  The response was from a girl named ‘Thea’ who has MS (multiple sclerosis) and tackled the last 100km of the Camino last year with the aid of a 4 wheel frame.  Her story was further inspiration and I am more determined to do this now than ever (well, in the last week or so since deciding to do it!).  She wrote a bit of a blog about it and it makes for some rather inspiring reading.

It is now 7.5 weeks until I leave and I am equal parts excited and nervous.  I have only ever been to Europe on family holidays and have never travelled overseas by myself.  I always thought it would be more fun with someone else and I have had some great travelling companions to share amazing memories with.  That being said I also have some not-so-amazing memories, mainly involving travel with mum but hey, that’s what mum’s are for right?  For messing things around, getting lost, amusing language barrier stories, minor camper-van accident stories, billions of unnecessary photos, being late to things and finding them closed and generally being a nuisance or a complete dag (see picture below).  Along with the bad comes the good though; I’ve been to some amazing places with my mum and I wouldn’t trade her for another – camera obsession and tendency towards lateness or no!

I know when I look over all the things I have done there is a lot I have achieved, a lot I have seen and done and a lot of places I have been.  But that’s not the point here.  The point is I don’t feel like I have achieved anything of note, not me personally anyway.  Does that make sense?  You could be sitting there reading this going; what is she complaining about? She’s done all that, I know people who haven’t been out of the state before or never went to university or went and didn’t complete their studies!  I’m not apologising for the opportunities I have had or the work I have done and I’m certainly not making them seem like nothing at all. I’ve had to fight hard for the things I have done, particularly over the last 7 years.  What I’m saying is this; in terms of happiness, life satisfaction, expectations etc I haven’t really gotten anywhere close to where I would like to be, or far from where I was when I finished school and not through lack of trying or lack of desire to do so.  A lot of people my age have the energy and the wellness to achieve what they want to or to not achieve, if that is what they prefer. And that is why this trip, this challenge, this decision is so important to me.

Like most girls (and some boys) growing up I wished that one day someone would come and tell me that I was a princess, that my life would change and become a fairytale.  I had a very vivid imagination.  This dream wasn’t helped by the release of the Princess Diaries or the true fairytale of Mary and Frederik.  Sadly that day hasn’t come for me and I came to the realisation that it would not (ok maybe I’m still dreaming a bit – or just naively holding out hope) and we have to make our own fairytale, our own story – there’s not really anything wrong with dreaming, unless it takes over your life and makes you unhappy in comparison.  Look back over your life and think – if your life was a story, would you read it? would you be happy with it?  It doesn’t have to be extraordinary but it should make you happy.  It should make you proud.  There are moments that could make you sad but there should be more that make you smile.  Life satisfaction is a very important thing but it is also a very subjective thing.  What makes one person happy will not necessarily make another happy.

Achieving happiness can be as simple as changing your attitude – just deciding to be happy seems to work for many people.  For others it is far more complicated and depends a lot on where you are in life.  But one thing I have noticed is; changing something small can make a huge difference to your happiness.  Shifting your attitude or your perspective.  Deciding to do something different.  Taking up a challenge, taking time to smell the roses, smile at the violets or look at the stars.  Sure there will be hard times, it’s part of life, but there will be good too and if you can look at those good times you’ll often find that they were simple.  If that doesn’t work then looking at puppies and kittens can be very entertaining – for example:

Above Left: Dogs of destruction – that green and yellow fluffy stuff once belonged in the blue thing they are sitting on which was once their bed

Above Right: Life saver – well she was there and she didn’t move and looked pretty cute

Left: Yes, that is a small dog in a tree.  His name is Archie and he likes to dream big

This has been a bit of a long post today.  Ding would like to sign off by saying he is still impressed by the amount of room I have left him in my pack although he still hasn’t decided what the most comfortable spot to while I’m walking will be.  Now if you’ll excuse us, I think Ding and I are going to watch the Princess Diaries…

Written in the stars

Isn’t it funny how when you make a huge decision to do something out of the ordinary or sometimes even something selfless and good, all the pieces start fitting in to place of their own accord, like the universe is telling you – this is what you are meant to be doing right now.

On Tuesday I finished reading ‘The year we seized the day’ and decided to walk the Camino de Santiago.

On wednesday I went in to town to look at new hiking boots and found that all the outdoors shops were having sales.

On Thursday I told my mother what I was planning and she didn’t disown me or have me committed – in fact she offered her frequent flyer points to help get me there!

On Friday I received a promotional email from Jetstar about their friday sale fares and booked a round trip to Singapore for $438.  If I have enough frequent flyer points I could cover the cost of my fare from Singapore to Paris and only have to pay for the Paris-Singapore fare on the way back – this could be the cheapest journey to Europe ever!  AND My brother is heading out to Europe for an undetermined amount of time when I’m on my way back and we cross paths for a few hours in Singapore.

Then, out of curiosity, I checked my horoscope.  I’ve always believed certain personality traits etc are common to people of the same sign, it seems more than coincidence that it keeps happening.  However I don’t usually set much store in the daily horoscope because I believe that a lot of them are completely made up and designedly ambiguous so you could really apply them to any situation, but this time it was different.  Cancer:  “You are bold, daring and enterprising during this time.  You feel hemmed in by present circumstances and feel an uncontrollable urge to enlarge your vistas.  Your restless need to accomplish more and break free of present limitations may inspire you to seek a new job, look at new places to live that offer more opportunities, increase advertising of products that you market, or peruse business opportunities in your local area”.

Ok, if you look at the last bit with a bit of liberal interpretation and don’t limit yourself to the options suggested you could ‘be inspired to go on a crazy journey’ instead.  Or it could be talking about my desire to study medicine and imply that my results for last weekend’s GAMSAT (medical entry exam) are going to be phenomenal and I’ll be offered a place into the school of my choice…

I think I’ll go with the crazy journey now 🙂
And ‘enlarge your vistas’ – how much more enlarged can you get than a pilgrim trail across Spain?!

Where was I – oh yes, Saturday (today) I went through mum’s drawer of hiking gear and found; waterproof over-pants, gaiters, a dry sack (only 1L but still useful), a hat with a brim that goes all the way around and isn’t ridiculously large and inappropriate like my travel hat, hiking pants with zip-off legs, shorts and hiking poles.

Yep, hiking poles.  I am now faced with a tough decision.  Do I become the uncool hiker with extendable ski-pole-like walking aids OR, do I find myself a nice branch I can use as a walking stick along the way (preferably in the first 10 minutes or my knees will hate me sooner than necessary) thus joining the ranks of the ‘cool’.  It just doesn’t seem right to be doing a pilgrim trail with hiking poles, a wooden walking stick, however, seems perfect.  Then again, I do have a super-light ultra fancy-looking hiking pack that happens to be a very bright colour so I might just stick out anyway.  Tough decision!

Up, up and away (well, almost)!

It hasn’t been long since my last post but I felt the need to share 🙂

I just bought my half-way flights (insert much excitement and terror here) – Gotta love a good Jetstar friday fare sale (even though I swore I wouldn’t fly Jetstar for a very long time after the last time)!  Melbourne-Singapore return for $438 wowee!  So that’ll get me half way there and I guess that means now I’m committed – that’s right, we have a green light on the Camino de Santiago!  I’m so excited and so nervous I think I’m going to be sick…

Annoyingly the site wouldn’t let me use the AmEx so I only get half a frequent flyer point per dollar instead of a whole one.  That reminds me; research all frequent flyer schemes and take complete advantage.  QANTAS are giving me a significantly reduced fare back to Singapore from Paris.  Now I just have to tell the rellies in Paris that I’m dropping by, get some more hiking socks, figure out the easiest way to get a pilgrim’s passport, wear in my hiking boots a bit and, oh yeah, have a normal blood pressure.  Is that expecting too much?!

I’ve decided that I’ll only attempt half of it this time – time, funds and de-conditioning are not exactly on my side.  So I’ll be walking from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela – only 460km instead of the 780km from St Jean Pied de Port.  Ha! only 460km…

What I have so far:

I’ll leave you with the words of Billy Joel – ‘you may be right, I may be crazy’ but I don’t care right now!

The decision (or my moment of madness)!

On Friday night I picked up a book (ok not so unusual, I have been know to do that).  I had a huge exam the next morning – the GAMSAT for entry to Medicine – and I couldn’t sleep.  I tried all the usual tricks (I had insomnia off and on for a few years so acquired a fair few); counting backwards from 100, telling myself a story, counting sheep, meditating, getting angry, crying, making myself a warm drink, hot shower etc but nothing was working.  It was 3:00 and I was still awake.  I remembered a friend had lent me a book a month ago so I picked it up to read a few pages.

Well, I still didn’t get much sleep that night, but I had started something without realising what I was getting into.  The book was ‘The year we seized the day‘ a travel narrative co-authored by Elizabeth Best and Colin Bowles about their journey to complete the Camino De Santiago, an 800km pilgrim trail from France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain.  I identified a lot with Eli, she has faced some huge physical and mental challenges in her life, so have I.  By the time I finished the last page I had decided – I want to do this too, no, I CAN do this.  If Eli can do it then so can I.  Later on I realised just how much I actually needed to do it.

I think to better express the magnitude of my decision I need to explain a bit more about me – what makes me who I am and drives the decisions I make.  If you’re interested read about me.

After thinking about it a bit, how it could change my life, change me, mean something to me, I began to realise how frustrated I was getting with the world around me.  How everyone was so worried about money or when to have kids etc.  Problems that seemed so trivial to me in comparison to what I’ve been going through for so many years, for most of my life.  I know they don’t feel trivial at the time, you don’t need to be constantly unwell to feel like you’re drowning in problems and you can’t see a way through but it’s all subjective.  When you put it in perspective – yes, it’s annoying for you that you’re sick for the whatever number time this year but it’s the end of March and I haven’t been well since going in to hospital in January.  Actually, if you really want to be more precise, I have a chronic illness and haven’t been completely well since 2003.  Reflecting on it all I came to the realisation – I can’t put up with much more of this, if I try I’ll end up depressed again or exploding and alienating everyone.  I have to change something, to do something drastic, change perspective, gain perspective, find something or maybe just find myself.  I’m going to walk the Camino.  Yes I, Claire, with my dodgy joints and my low blood pressure and immune problems and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or whatever it is, am going to walk a pilgrim trail across Spain…  Help! (I mean, woohoo!)

So I ordered a couple of guidebooks, looked at a few websites, made a packing list.  Bought some new hiking boots (which I actually needed to do anyway!) and a super-lightweight pack, hiking socks and arch-supporting inner soles.  Began researching flights to Paris and trying to figure out how in the hell I am going to afford to get there (hello frequent-flyer points and pity).  In typical Claire style I started tackling this idea head on – I wonder what will happen.  Will I run out of steam?  Will my body stop me?  Will common sense and self-preservation get the better of me?  Will I be completely fine and own this thing? Or will it be somewhere in the middle?  Who knows, but I want to find out!

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