Written by Gail Muller

In the darkest of times, we thrive and survive by saddling up our hope and riding through.

Let me tell you how hope got me through, even when people told me to surrender and get comfortable in despair. No way – we’ve got this ‘Despair’, we don’t need you.

When I was in my teens I was as fit as a fiddle. Mostly. My feet were weird and my gait was wonky. So, I was finally referred to medical specialists in London who said I’d be in a wheelchair by the time I was 40 due to musculoskeletal issues. WTAF? That’s a serious body blow as a teenager, and I firmly decided to ignore the hell out of it. So, there I was, with a prescription of doom laid out ahead of me and my decision to not even entertain the idea. I kind of internalised the doctor’s message – I was only 14 and I didn’t process it. Frack it – I felt fine and was a cross country runner, competed in the 1500m and swam competitively. Then, at about 23 y/o, chronic physical pain struck and never went away. It crept through my right hip, back and shoulder like sinister mould through my body.

I tried everything to cure it, and over the years I went from that first innocent visit to the Doctor, (“Sorry to waste your time but I seem to have this pain…”) all the way to the Pain Clinic at the hospital at age 32, where they said I needed to accept my fate, stop trying to find a cure or answer, apply for a disability badge for my car and prepare for the worst.

Drop the hope.

Two doctors told me to do this, and although I understand that not accepting your situation can be harmful, I don’t ever subscribe to giving up your hope.

No surrender. I refused to stop working, I refused to give up my mission to un-fuck my body, and I refused to believe that I couldn’t better my situation with some method that I was sure I could find…just around the corner if I hung on for another day or another week. Despite howling agony, 24/7 physical distress and having to crawl and pull my body across the floor to the shower some mornings because I couldn’t walk, I was going to find a cure.

I tried thousands of things. Literally. I fasted in the Thai jungles for 12 days, had injections into my spinal cord, meditated, took crazy herbs, swam, had acupuncture, did transcendental breathing and deep cold therapy…amongst many other things. Some really helped to differing degrees and others were horseshit, but for every leap forward I made, the crash back into pain was harder to recover from every time; sometimes suicidaly so. All I had to cling to was the life-float of hope – the voice that said ‘There will be something that works, keep going.’

Eventually I met two specialists when I was working in Italy – a chiropractor from the UK and an Italian dentist. These men changed my life. They realigned my jaw and my bite. This, along with wearing braces for two years and removing amalgam fillings, reduced my pain by 80%. They literally saved my life. They would waive fees when I was broke, travel to my home and treat me when I was incapacitated on my sofa so that I could walk again, and told me repeatedly; – ‘Don’t give up. We’ll get there. Don’t lose hope.’

Well, the doctors predicted a wheelchair at 40. I’m now ACTUALLY 40, and I am in the best shape of my life. I run, swim, hike, weight train and can work and sleep in relative physical peace. I am still in daily pain but it’s so minimal I embrace it as a friend who is there to remind me to be grateful on the regular. Instead of a wheelchair, I’m planning a 2,300 mile hike along the Appalachian Trail next year to celebrate my strength and tenacity, and to help and inspire others to share their stories of overcoming adversity. It’ll take me up to six months of walking and camping along the trail to complete it, so I hope my body can stand it. Let’s see, shall we?

I’d bet it will. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the pain, but I wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale without the hope. Never give it up, whatever you need it for.

I’ll be writing a book about my journey along the Appalachian Trail, and will use it to share the tales of those who join me and impart their wisdom along the way. I want to use my Thru Hike to leave a concrete legacy of inspiration in the book for us all to learn from.

All you’ve overcome has purpose. If you’d like to come with me for a section of the trail and share your story of overcoming your personal battle, whatever that is, you’d be most welcome.

Gail Muller is a writer and a teacher. She goes against the grain on a daily basis. She enjoys running, surfing, trekking and has a keen sense of adventure. She is undertaking the Appalachian Trail this year and will take 6 months.