One step at a time
Last year, in the weeks before my planned surgery, I did a lot of walking. Correction: I’ve always done a lot of walking. Not because I am such a sporty type or a health freak, but simply because I enjoy walking. The only downside – at times – is to know that I have to walk back. That was so great during my first year in Portugal, I remember; to walk without a destination or clock to tell me that it’s time to turn around. Anyway, in order to get my body as strong as possible before surgery, I walked. High speed. Not that silly speed-walking thing with stretched legs, hollow back and waving arms, just walking fast. It was perfectly normal to walk along the coast to Cascais, stand there watching the bay for a few minutes, turn around and walk back. Speeding up even more for the last five hundred meters or so and sweating as a horse after running up the stairs at Praia da Azarujinha. It felt good.
Last Tuesday I made it to and fro Monte Estoril and that was only barely. On the way back, I left the shore at Estoril to have a coffee at the qiosque at the station. This turned out not to be such a great idea, due to the taste of the Delta Premium coffee (mais saboroso, menos forte) mixed with the fumes from the cars passing – yak! Done with the ocean – I’m not a big fan – I decided to walk home through the tiny streets instead of along the coastline. Again, not really the most fantastic of choices as this meant a lot of uphill and downhill (followed by more uphill), resulting deep breathing with a body that does not really support deep breathing yet, due to withdrawal from the fentanyl I have been using since May or June last year. I stopped using it about ten days ago. Great dope, but the effects of withdrawal are – among others I don’t experience – shortness of breath, insomnia, restless leg, muscle cramps, chills, fevers, itching rashes and a splitting lower lip. Not so strange, considering that this opioid is on average seventy-five times stronger than morphine. Dope sucks.
The good news is that I made it to Monte Estoril and back. Last week, I barely reached Estoril. Progress! Wednesday I could not get myself to walk along the beach; I knew there would be no waves to speak of, nor would there be any cloud in the sky to shoot, so I decided to walk into opposite direction and find myself some trees. As a result of that I ended up breathing fresh air with the scent of pines and the Lantana camara or camará-de-cheiro which is toxic for livestock. Funny detail about this shrub with its beautiful little flowers is that it has been grown specifically for use as an ornamental plant since Dutch explorers first brought it to Europe from the New World. Ha! Take that, Portugal!
Apart from getting my body back into shape, after all – I did lose eleven kilos and most of my stamina – the walking helps me to clean out my brain. Healing is all about keeping your thoughts healthy. Because of the way fentanyl works, these past few months it has not been very difficult to keep a positive mindset. It connects to the opioid receptors which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation. Not surprisingly, the first days after I stopped using it, I experienced some difficult moments. Suddenly memories from the days in the hospital came back, the leftover pain that got suppressed is pretty annoying and when on top of it I got hit by some virus, I felt like a little child and tears ran uncontrollably down my face. Sob, sob…
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Let go, breath deeply and walk the walk. Slow down, stand still and just look. There is always something to take a picture of. Some detail, a wall, a group of trees, late mushrooms, some branches that nature has put in a nice composition that only needs framing.
To give memories a more positive meaning (or less negative, there is a difference), these slow walks help a lot. When walking slowly and paying attention to details as well as the big picture, almost automatically my brain starts doing the same with the thoughts that pop up. For instance: while climbing a moderately steep hill I had to stop twice to catch my breath and give my legs a rest, something that usually doesn’t happen. Noticing that it frustrated me I decided to stay motionless after reaching the top and instead of looking around to scan the landscape ahead of me, look inside. What was I thinking that triggered the frustration? The fact that I usually take this type of hill without problems and that I felt weak. So what? Could you even have walked to this hill six weeks ago? Only a few months ago you were in a hospital bed without any option to move, so please… Lighten up and shoot!