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Home > MSAA Publications > The Motivator > The Motivator: Summer/Fall 2010 > Stories to Inspire
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Stories to Inspire

My Dream to Let Go and Fly

By Barbara Ellis

Photo of Barbara Ellis "MS changed the rules and freed me to think outside the box."

I'm an adventurous woman. Twenty years ago my plans looked something like this: hike the Continental Divide Trail through Montana, canoe the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, and explore Yellowstone National Park by horseback.

God laughed!

One of the challenges with MS is figuring out how to reinvent your life periodically. That doesn't mean you have to stop dreaming or give up who you are. It does mean seizing every moment that your body allows to do the things you love. Sometimes it requires thinking creatively, taking risks or experimenting with choices.

I was diagnosed with MS soon after my children left the nest. I had a satisfying career and was planning exciting things for my midlife, when everything changed overnight. I felt like Alice-in-Wonderland plunging into the rabbit hole, unwittingly ratcheting down... down...down from a life as a busy healthcare executive to learning how to be a person with a disability, unable to work.

I wanted more than anything to find my way back to my old life. I grieved over the loss of my job and the challenge to my self-esteem. MS demands adjustment, sometimes many adjustments over and over again. I had difficulty adjusting to the lack of structure in my life, where previously I always had people-to-meet and places-to-go each day. I was, after all, an archetypical professional woman who planned her life and played by the rules.

Then one night I had a lucid, colorful dream. I was free-climbing a rugged vertical rock face slowly and confidently until I was within a few feet of safety near the top of the wall. Suddenly, I found myself with no handholds in sight. My legs were stretched to the max and beginning to cramp. I was hundreds of feet off the ground without the smallest crack to reach for. I had no ropes to secure me and going back down was unthinkable. I was truly between a rock and a hard place.

As my dream continued, a relaxed voice spoke from the top of the cliff, "You are okay, but it's time for you to let go and fly. If you insist on hanging on, you will lose your grip, fall, and never learn that you've really always known how to fly - you were just afraid to try."

In this dream, I felt bone-chilling terror. My numb fingertips began to lose their grip and slip to the edge of the narrow crevices of the cold red sandstone. Again, in my dream, the voice spoke. "Use the strength you have left to let go. Push yourself away from the rock. Surrender to the unknown."

Adrenaline surged. My head pounded. My heart raced. I knew that I could not fly. Yet, as all of the energy ebbed from my fingers, I realized that I was grasping fiercely to control a situation over which I had no power. In my dream, I pushed myself away from the rock.

For a second or two I remained breathless, suspended in midair. Then, instead of plunging down as I'd anticipated, I lay prone on an invisible cushion of air and began to float. Cautiously, I spread my arms into the air and discovered that with minimal intent I could move in any direction. Anxiety subsided as I developed a delicate confidence.

The subtleties of flight began to feel instinctive. If I tried to force myself to go faster or make sharp turns, I lost buoyancy and teetered off balance. If, however, I allowed myself to relax and simply enjoy the experience on its own terms, I soared peacefully without struggle or tension. From this perspective, I could see that the success of my flight rested entirely on my willingness to abandon all previous notions of how my world worked. It had everything to do with acceptance and exploration of a new paradigm.

As I arose from the dream state, the clear distinction between the rock and my MS began to blur. The fear was gone and so was the voice; in their place was a sense of empowerment. It was time to surrender to the experience of discovering my new life...to let go and fly.

Photo of Barbara Ellis in her Volkswagen van Barbara Ellis in her Volkswagen van, in which she lived and traveled to many beautiful places.

But in real life, not in a dream, how does someone let go and fly? My third son, Rod, was the one who gave me the inspiration. At 23, he was the most adventurous and carefree of my four sons. Rod lived much of his adult life on a shoestring, traveling in an old Volkswagen bus, seeking mountains to climb and new rivers to kayak. Rod suggested that I, too, buy a Volkswagen bus in which to live and travel, so I could get the frequent rest I needed and still indulge in the travel and adventure that I'd always wanted to do.

At first, I thought I was too far into adulthood and a responsible work ethic to adopt his "no barriers" approach to life. Yet, his carefree spirit was an inspiration. MS changed the rules and freed me to think outside the box.

Thus, I became a vagabond. I lived and traveled like a turtle inside a six-by-15-foot shell on wheels while I regained strength and began to think about reinventing my life. My VW camper bus was the quintessential vehicle for hippies living on the road with no itinerary, agenda or timetable. But, I wasn't a hippie.

When I was strong enough to drive, I traveled to beautiful wild places where I could rest and recuperate. When I was weak, when my legs did not work or my hands and arms were unresponsive to the demands of the steering wheel, I would stop for the length of time it took to regain strength and function again before moving on.

I have been committed to a healthy lifestyle throughout adulthood and I believe it has helped me to live well with MS. However, the most powerful force in my life has been the dream. When I'mhaving a bad day from my MS or when I'm feeling down, I remember to "push myself away fromthe wall and enjoy the flight."

I had a birthday this June and celebrated by hiking the two-mile round trip to Bear Creek Falls in the Bitterroot Mountains near my home in Montana. No one could be more surprised than I to see I've made it this far or that I'm still walking the trails at age 70. Sure, MS has slowed me down and I trip a lot because my feet and legs are often numb, but hiking sticks are great inventions. Any day on a trail is better than the day after my diagnosis when it wasn't clear if I'd lost my ability to walk. So today, I treasure every step.

I still have my old VW van and my love of the outdoors. I no longer live in the van and I don't go exploring as much as I'd like, but I relish every new adventure. I know that between the realities of advancing age and MS, I will be reinventing myself for the rest of my life. Sometimes unexpected treasures are hidden within the difficult challenges in life, and sometimes, they may be found in our dreams.

Barbara Ellis is a member of the patient advisory board of the CCSVI Alliance and is writing a book entitled, Eagle on the Highway: A Vagabond Journey of Adventure and Healing.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 12:34