When we think of Kilimanjaro, we think of that lone standing volcanic peak that peers out from the clouds beneath, with a handful of giraffes stood in the foreground.
Spoiler alert: I never saw any giraffes in the near vicinity of the Kilimanjaro National Park. But the volcano is stood among greenery and that infamous peak is visible and peers above the clouds.
Many think of Kilimanjaro as a trip of a lifetime, but in reality, it was the start of something more meaningful for me.
10 years on, what Kilimanjaro meant to me
– Childhood Dream –
As a child, I watched people on TV travel to Tanzania, climb Kilimanjaro then witness wildlife such as elephants, giraffe and lions in their natural habitat.
I wanted to do that too…
Spoiler: I did 🙂
– Growing Up –
I grew up in an area where 4 out of 30 places listed on England’s poorest towns and cities are within my home region of the North East of England; needless to say, there weren’t many people I knew who travelled or did expeditions.
My tweet sums this up
– Perserverance –
Climbing Kilimanjaro in itself was not an easy feat for me. Ok, the walking was easy, but everything around that took perseverance, which at the time, I did not realise I had.
Adventures have helped to make me more resilient.
Before I even got on the bus to travel to Heathrow for the flight to Nairobi, I had several hurdles standing in my way. To others, these hurdles might seem mediocre, but to someone with anxiety and huge self confidence issues, this was hard.
- Fundraising: the only thing standing between me and attempting my childhood Kilimanjaro dream was no job, no savings and a minimum fundraising target of £2500. During my entire life, my first and only time I was presented with an opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro was at Northumbria University; I said yes instantly. Then came the doubt.
- Anxiety thoughts: What if I don’t or can’t raise £2500? What if I fall ill on the mountain or on the flight? This is my first long haul flight: what if I panic on the flight?
- Money: how can I afford kit?
- Illness: I suffer with menieres disease and Asthma: the what ifs were constantly there. So I had to plan how to manage this.
- Self esteem thoughts: I am not fit enough. I won’t summit. I can’t make it?
I even cried when I left my parents at the bus station in Newcastle. They were proud, but I still didn’t understand why anyone would be proud of love me. However, I was overwhelmed that perhaps my dream could become a reality.
Long story short, I pushed through all of these issues via training, which then helped to calm my mind. Additionally, I made a 4 month fundraising plan and reached my target. Now the only thing left was the flight and mountain.
I did panic on the flight, but I had already told the group “mum” (a women my age who just took it upon her self to be the group mum) that I got scared. So every little noise or turbulance, she reassured me that this was normal and it would be ok.
The altitude sickness caught up badly at 4600m, but I managed to eat and drink as much as possible and push through to the summit. I even swallowed some sick that came up as I knew if I started vomiting then I’d lose precious calories.
It wasn’t easy, but here are some tips I picked up.
Struggles with mental health problems, self esteem and previous trauma had made me more determined to achieve this.
– Self Esteem –
When you have spent the last 10 years being bullied for being gay, been called a dog, ugly, useless, being told that no one will touch you with a barge pole, suffering with menieres disease and only 4 years prior being unable to leave the house due to Agoraphobia, it is hard to imagine that you can climb a peak that stands at almost 5900m.
Needless to say, each small step from saying yes to the challenge, to fundraising, getting on the plane, climbing the mountains and making it back home have made me realise that I am not the things people once called me.
This was a huge kick in the bum for my anxiety and depression. It made me realise that I CAN.
– Mindfulness –
Although there was a lot to plan prior to ascending Kilimanjaro, the process also helped me to focus on the tasks at hand.
During the fundraising, I would concentrate on what I had to do to reach my fundraising target of £2500. I would concentrate on organising fundraising events, packing for these events and socialising at each of the fundraisers.
Then came the packing, I was completely focussed on preparing my kit list, what clothing fit right, what felt right, how much did it weigh, were my current boots comfortable enough? Where could I buy cheap clothes?
Then climbing the mountain, I took in all the sights, sounds and smells (yes even passing the toilets!).
All this helped to calm my monkey mind.
– Managing Expectations –
This was the first time that I learnt to manage people’s expectations.
Although part of this was my self esteem problem, the other part is reality: it was always “if I get to the top”.
As I have learnt over the years, even the most seasoned mountaineers don’t always summit due to factors out of their control such as avalanches, illness, injury, weather. I even turned back from a 4000m peak in 2015 due to anxiety.
Overall the Kilimanjaro experience was a huge dream come reality for me.
It boosted my self esteem: it made me realise I CAN travel. I CAN walk for days at altitude. I CAN make a plan to manage anxiety. I CAN be away from my safe space. “What ifs” ARE usually irrational. I CAN achieve my dreams.
In addition, I couldn’t afford the trip from my own pocket, so I had to fundraise and it made me realise that I CAN fundraise and achieve targets.
This is why Kilimanjaro was more than a “walk” to me.