You can lie around trying to avoid it, depriving yourself of sleep, or you can just get the hell out of the tent and pee. Carolyn Highland photo.
In the middle of the night in New Zealand, I sprung awake, shaken from the kind of deep sleep you can only get when you have walked up and down mountains all day. I lay frozen in place, knowing exactly what was happening and wishing with all my might that it wasn’t. It was an inevitably of living life outside, something to be dreaded but not always avoided. Perhaps if I lay perfectly still, it would go away. Perhaps I could just fall peacefully back to sleep as if nothing had ever happened.
This happens sometimes—we freeze. We know what’s happening and we try to convince ourselves it’s not. We try to pretend that we’re making it all up in our heads, that in fact everything is fine as it has been. We try to go about business as usual because it’s easier that way—because it doesn’t involve disrupting the status quo, or looking something in the face that makes our stomachs turn.
But it was an unavoidable reality—I had to pee.
I went through the next few minutes in my head as I lay in my sleeping bag, unmoving and irritated with my poorly executed intentional nighttime dehydration strategy. A full thermos of hot chocolate, Highland? Really?
I would try to unzip my sleeping bag, and because the zipper was messed up, it would take minutes of vigorous and precise tugging to free myself from my synthetic down prison. Every part of my body was touching one or two other people’s bodies in our 5-people-to-a-4-person-tent-spoon situation, so they would wake up. I would instantly be the asshole who broke the strict no-hot-drinks-after-8pm rule.
Sorry, guys... nature calls! Carolyn Highland photo.
I would have to leave the warm comfort of my sleeping bag and crawl over at least two people to get to the vestibule, where I would have to put on all my rain gear because it was sleeting sideways outside. Then, the getting out of the tent. More zippers... so many zippers.
I would have to walk a respectable distance away from the tent in said sideways sleet and pull my pants down in the 40º weather and pee. And then I would have to repeat the entire process in reverse.
I was exhausted just thinking about it. Why had this horrible evil befallen me? What had I ever done to deserve this? Why did people even have to pee, anyway? For a straight half hour, I lay there, debating whether or not I would get up.
Maybe it would just go away if I waited it out. Maybe I would magically fall back to sleep. Anything seemed better than the veritable odyssey of getting out of the tent in the middle of the night.
There will always be things that you don’t want to do but inevitably need to. Quitting a job you hate, getting out of a relationship that isn’t right, picking up and moving somewhere new, chasing your crazy, half-baked soul dreams despite all logic that tells you not to.
There will always be things that you don’t want to do but inevitably need to. Quitting a job you hate, getting out of a relationship that isn’t right, picking up and moving somewhere new, chasing your crazy, half-baked soul dreams despite all logic that tells you not to. There will always be reasons to not do it. The cacophony of a million zippers telling you to stay put. You go through all of the unpleasant things that will follow in your mind and you lie around, hoping if you’re still enough, it’ll all just go away. That you won’t feel the need to quit, or leave, or chase.
Just cross the damn river already. Carolyn Highland photo.
Because what you really want is to have gotten it over with. To be past this place you’re in now where things aren’t quite right. And as much as you want to un-know that, you can’t. You don’t want to stay here, in this holding pattern. You want to skip over the part where you move from relative comfort to objective discomfort, and be at peace. But the only way to get to that place is to wrestle yourself out of the warmth and walk through the sideways sleet.
In these moments, the reality is that there is something you need to do and you need to do it. You can lie around and think about how terrible it’s going to be and try to wish it away, or you can just get up. Because while you’re waiting around hoping it will disappear, you are doing yourself no favors. While I tried to wish my pee away, I wasn’t out in the cold rain, but I wasn’t sleeping either.
You’ll try to tell yourself that it’s not that bad. That you can stand it. That maybe you can work it out somehow. That whatever it is inside you that’s telling you to go can be quieted. That you can handle leaving work every day with a headache and a hole in your heart, that you can stand to be loved by someone less than you deserve, that you can settle for a life that is small.
Get in the water. Julie Highland photo.
But you can’t. Once it’s there, that call, that feeling of needing to do something, it will not cease until it’s answered. Until the job is quit. Until the break up occurs. Until the move is made. Until the crazy soul dream is chased. And as Cheryl Strayed says, you can do it later, or you can do it now. You can lie around trying to avoid it, depriving yourself of sleep, or you can just get the hell out of the tent and pee.
Because at some point later, after the zippers and the rain gear and the cold, wet, night, you will be exactly where you imagined yourself.
Because at some point later, after the zippers and the rain gear and the cold, wet, night, you will be exactly where you imagined yourself. In that place that is better than the one you left, better than the one you avoided the all the unpleasantries to stay in. Relief will wash over you and you will realize that you should have done this ages ago. That even though for a brief time your life was worse, it is now so much soul-shakingly better, because you sucked it up and did exactly what you always knew you needed to do.
Will you send it later, or will you send it now? Joe Connolly photo.
Get up. Brave upsetting the calm. Just face what you have been dreading already and know that you will come out on the other side, better for it.
From The Column: Women in the Mountains
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