• Mary Anderson

A Bigger Challenge Than the Knee

Mary Anderson, 64, is attempting to complete her solo thru-hike of the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. Since setting out from South Pass, Wyoming, in late May, she has struggled to keep going with a knee injury. Korongo is editing Mary's book about hiking the CDT, a story that grapples with dissociation and other coping mechanisms resulting from trauma.

“I had seven different people telling me what I should do while I waited for my knee to heal. I felt overwhelmed by options, and the parts of me that fear getting people angry came out in full force.”

By Mary Anderson

My knee injury has forced me into a number of positions in which I have to both make decisions and stand up for myself. Sometimes I'm great at standing up for myself. At other times I am horrible at it.

I stopped in a ski town in Colorado to see a doctor at an urgent care facility. I told her I was sure I had pes anserine. After asking me to repeat it and spell it, she looked it up on the internet. "You need to rest it," she told me. I already knew that. I was looking for specific answers, such as how long after it stopped hurting did I need to stay off it and what could I do to accelerate the healing. She did not know, so she went back to her computer.

"Can't I do the same thing you are doing?" I asked her.

She admitted this was true, so I asked her to go no farther and not to charge me for my visit.

"But I can refer you to someone if you let me examine you" was one of her arguments.

I explained I was only passing through town and did not have weeks to wait to see a specialist. It took a bit of talking on my part, but I managed to convince the clinic that since they did not take my insurance and had no information for me other than what I could get myself over the internet I should not be billed. I left feeling frustrated at the lack of medical care but satisfied that I had stood up for myself.

The next few days I was thrown into other situations that required a number of decisions on my part. I had seven different people telling me what I should do while I waited for my knee to heal. All meant well and most understood that they could give me their advice but then had to leave me to make my own decision, though some were more adamant than others. I found this much more difficult to deal with than the doctors office.

Granted the situation wasn't as cut and dried. I had no idea what would happen with my knee, nor when I could hike again. I recognized the irony that while I was feeling so alone inside I had so many people trying to help me with the knee thing. I felt overwhelmed by options, and the parts of me that fear getting people angry came out in full force. These were not strangers I would probably never see again. These were people I had some connection with, and I didn't want to lose it by angering them. My little parts were terrified, remembering what happened when people in my past were angry.

I'm not used to making choices based on what is best for me. I spent my childhood trying not to get my mother or brothers angry. I'd do most anything to get them to like me. Of course it never worked, but I didn't stop trying.

The same happened in school. I got teased a lot, and while I refused to totally conform I based a lot of my decisions on what I thought would most protect me from their teasing. I did what the teachers wanted and got straight A's.

I single-parented and home-schooled a child. Those years I focused my decisions around what my son and I thought best for him. Money was always an issue, so often my decisions, including living in a homeless shelter with my son, came down to what I could afford.

I married a man on the Aspergers spectrum and I continued to deny my needs at the expense of trying to meet his and keep him happy. Of course, none of this was good for me in the long run.

So now my challenge is to figure out what is best for me. This is not easy to do when I am not sure some days who I even am. I agonize over spending too much money. I'm not sure of the best place to go to heal. I don't know how long to wait. And I want everyone to be happy.

Last year the other hikers on the trail dubbed me Mary Badass because of all the hiking I've done. I'm realizing now there is a challenge in front of me to become badass in a whole new way. Breaking out of deeply ingrained behaviors comes with a lot of emotional pain. I have to face the fact that I have spent most of my life reacting to others rather than acting in my own best interests. I have to embrace the pain of never having had encouragement to figure out who I was or what I wanted. I have to learn to stand up and do what's best for those little parts of me, regardless of what other people think. Wish me luck!

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