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  • Ashley Farrar

When Skiing is Scary

One of my truths of living with an mTBI is that all of the "first times" are weird, if not hard. While the weirdness is in how they feel, the difficulty can be either (and often both) my ability and the emotional experience of noticing what is different now from before my accident. And always, there are plenty of differences.


With the weirdness and the difficulty, comes fear. The fear of finally knowing what the thing is like (for now), without knowing when or if it will change. Paired with the fear is the knowledge that I will need grit to tackle and practice the thing, and persistence to not let my disappointment (of what is) keep me from doing the thing.


I’ve done a lot of doing-the-thing-for-the-first-time in the past 8 months… printing, signing my name, holding a fork, colouring, riding in a car, entering a store, pilates, crocheting, swimming, camping, hiking, riding a stationary bike, watching TV, using an elliptical, sewing, jumping into a pool, reading… and on and on. All of it was weird and hard. A lot of it was followed by tears.


Way back in May, shortly after my accident, I asked my PT, “do you think I’ll be able to downhill ski this winter?” and my PT said that yes, she thought it was likely I would. Time crawled forward, and eventually, I was given the go-ahead to try it this winter. I was warned that it will probably be weird.


Last winter, my ski coach was working with me on carving, and the rhythm of short turns... and we started playing with 360 turns. I was also really kicking up my speed, challenging myself each week to top the week before.


This year… I’m hoping to make it down the hill several times over the hour.


My sister and I, circa 2018


As thrilled and excited as I am that I’m able to give skiing a go this year, I’m also scared. I’m scared because I am less resilient than I have ever been before (I’m talking physiologically, not psychologically), I know that it will make me feel yucky (though I don’t know how yucky, or for how long), I don’t want to knock my precious noggin’ ever again, and, because I’ve been through this before and I know how hard it is to acknowledge that something is not what it once was. I know that it will bring up stuff that I’ll need to process. It will be grief-y.


But… I also know that I can make safe choices to reduce risk, that I will never have full control over the things that happen to me, and that skiing brings me joy and it’s not something I’m willing to give up when my medical team is encouraging me to get back to it. And, maybe even most importantly, I have the supports that I need to help me navigate and process the experience.


As the day creeps closer, I’m preparing myself by using a skill my grief therapist taught me: to create a plan, even if I never use the plan. The plan in itself is the power.


So... my plan?


I'm preparing for a slow day on the day of my lesson and the day after.


I'll be wearing compression clothes as my base layer if the weather allows for it.


I'm setting my expectations low… success will mean that I showed up, and put my skis on. Whatever happens after that will be the sprinkles.


I'll acknowledge my fear and use self-talk as needed to give myself a little kick in the butt.


I'll let my ski coach know in advance that I need to start with a slow speed, and might need to take extra or longer breaks than usual. I'll tell him that my vision, motor control and balance have been impacted by my mTBI.


I'll do my best not to compare my skiing from this year to last year.


No matter what happens... whether or not I need a lot of long breaks, or feel competent or disappointed, I’ll celebrate my strength.


I’ll remind myself that it takes courage to keep showing up when you know that you’re in for a bumpy ride.


I won’t let myself lose sight of the knowledge that the first step is the hardest step, and that things will get easier. If not the skiing, then my ability to withstand the awkwardness and disappointment of struggling, and to accept the reality of what is.


I’ll take some time to soak up the encouragement and celebration that I know I’ll get from my family, and, I’ll definitely pick up a chai latte for the ride home.


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