The View from Square One

I sat across from my doctor last week, my phone on the desk between us, recording every last detail. Three of my four medicines were doing more harm than good. We needed to figure out a whole new treatment plan.

And so we’re back to square one.


Words are how I make sense of the world. So when something like this comes, I find myself thinking about the metaphors for it. A few weeks ago, Sarah Bessey posted a piece about climbing mountains and wanting to quit. (If you haven’t read it, you should go do that. Seriously. I’ll wait.)

“Aha!” I thought. “That’s it. That’s my metaphor.”

Well, sort of.

I’ve been staring up at this mountain for years. One day, I knew, I’d have to climb it. I spent my spare time wandering around the valley, looking for trails that went up, but I only ever made it as far as the base of the mountain.

From there, every path I tried disappeared into a tangle of trees.

Healing wasn’t going to be straightforward. I’d never make it to the top in snatches of spare time, so six months ago, I pulled out of school to make this my only thing.

Climbing any mountain is grueling, even if your path is clearly marked. But when it’s not, when the blazes on the trees only go so far, when the trail fades as you climb, you find yourself circling back to the valley again and again.

Some paths are dead ends, and all I can do is turn around. Others are too perilous—something I don’t always realize until I’m tumbling back to the bottom of the mountain.

This is at least the fourth time I’ve been here this year, staring up the rocky face, trying to figure out which trail will get me to the crest.

I knew the road to healing would be long. I just didn’t know I’d have to walk this part of it so many times.

Every time I start back up the mountain, I think, surely this will be it. And so I expect the new thing—a new diagnosis, a new treatment, a new dietary adjustment—to be the thing that changes everything.

And then it doesn’t.

So we head back to square one.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there again—for the umpteenth time. You’re staring up at a different mountain, of course, but one no less difficult. And this time around, you don’t know where to begin.

I’d like to tell you that even here, looking up, I see good coming out of this relentless climb.

But I don’t.

Not yet.

My legs are shaking from exhaustion. Sweat drips off the end of my nose, making a trail through the smudges of dirt on my arm. A latticework of faint scrapes covers my exposed skin, reminding me of just how unforgiving the trees ahead can be. Taking a deep breath, I stand up and start walking. My feet, blistered and sore, cry out in protest. Slowly, oh-so-slowly, I pass the rocks and bushes I’ve come to know well.

And I keep walking.

I don’t know how high I’ll get this time, or when I’ll get to the top, or how many times I’ll find myself back in the valley before I do. But for today, I’m plodding up this mountain one step at a time and stopping to rest when I need to.

Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the peak through the clouds. It's still miles away, but it reminds me of how many have climbed these slopes before me and how their stories gave me hope that it was possible.  

And so, one foot in front of the other, I keep climbing. 

Photo by brewbooks, Creative Commons