Nina Gaby

Essays, art, and healthcare


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Climbing Your Own Hill

(Content warning: all sorts of autumnal clichés)

Later this month an article I’ve written will appear in a women’s wellness journal. I feel like it’s a “coming out” of sorts, I admit to my “condition”–a pulmonary auto immune disorder–and how I work to accept and manage it. 

It’s one of those “invisible” disabilities that people talk about. You wouldn’t notice it unless you were to walk up a flight of stairs with me or watch me climb a hill. Or if you knew me before–rushing through my eighteen-hour days–a fast walker and a fast talker. I’m still productive; I make sure of that, only different–almost embarrassing. On inclines I stop when I have to, winded. I take some deep breaths and keep going. Even though the effort cramps my calves and sucks the air right out of me. “It’s a metaphor,” I smile to myself. Mountains, hills, difficulties, complications. Or, “It’s not cancer, so stop whining.” I have one friend that I will take walks with, otherwise it’s just me and the dog. 

The steep hill behind our house, the part we own, is about six acres. It used to be a young ladies’ equestrian school run by Jessie Fisk in the 1930s. Jessie climbed many hills in days before it was normal for a woman to accomplish what she had. A botanist, first female professor at a major eastern college, owner of one of the first cars in our village, a postmistress. And with her partner, Miss Butters, she ran an inn, a riding school, and a restaurant on our property. When we were running the inn, my mantra during hard times was, “WWJD”…What Would Jessie Do? She wouldn’t whine, that’s for sure.

During the Covid era I have grown to love our hill, part of the bubble that surrounds us, the trails into the woods that the horses used to trot, the bench at the top where I sit with the dog. Right now it is ablaze with color as I look out over the hills and the sliver of lake below. More precious for the effort it took to get there.

My Kundalini yoga teacher sends out invitations to her yoga hikes. Kundalini breath work has become integral to my disease management. I scan the invitations for hints, how steep is the hike, how strenuous the yoga, how hot will it be? My breathing is worse in the heat and humidity so I check my weather app. 

I know I can’t sign up. I’d slow everyone else down. The anxiety alone would choke me. 

So I roll up my yoga mat, stick dog treats in my pocket, and head up my own hill. As I lay out my mat, the dog fights to lie on it, delightedly confused. An old playlist on my iPhone starts out with Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and I just set in to do whatever comes to mind, finding that my Kundalini aerobic set works perfectly to “Life During Wartime.” I lay in Shavasana with the dog on top of me. We watch the clouds trace patterns across the bluest sky. Now October, the wind is crispening. For a moment I become a wonder-filled child with perfect lungs, making up stories in the shapes above, until the dog gets restless. I do a simple mountain pose and it’s time to descend.