Motivation and inspiration come in many (unexpected) forms. I certainly wasn’t looking for either, I was too busy feeling lousy and being stuck in my head, worried and depressed. Then, about a week ago, I watched the movie “Chasing Mavericks” for the first time. I’d been dragging my feet about it; the DVD arrived from Netflix and sat by the TV for almost a month before my husband convinced me to “just watch it already” so it could be returned. Admittedly I didn’t realize it was based on a true story, I’d just heard mixed things about it and had a vague sense of what the story was about – crusty surfer takes troubled kid under his wing, they surf monster waves together. I knew Gerard Butler damn near died while filming it, and that was about it. (Boy, was I wrong!)
Now, let me clarify that “Chasing Mavericks” is not about Ulcerative Colitis. It’s not even about overcoming illness. Yet it resonated with me, and where (thanks to this stupid disease) I find myself in life right now. First, like I wrote above, it’s the true story of pro surfer Jay Moriarity (of “Live Like Jay” fame) and his relationship with his mentor, Frosty Hesson. At age fifteen Jay began training with Frosty to surf these gigantic waves that roll into Mavericks near Half Moon Bay in California only a handful of weeks per year. We’re talking waves that can reach 80 feet. Two surfers have died there. So, training to survive—never mind surf—these things is a big deal. What makes this story so powerful is that Frosty not only put Jay through rigorous physical training, he put him through rigorous mental, emotional and spiritual training as well. He had the boy write essays, do research, and ultimately delve deep within himself to face his fears. You might be asking, okay, but what the hell does this have to do with UC?
Well, a lot actually. For one, UC attacks a person on all four of those levels. The physical deterioration is obvious. But its toll goes deeper. We begin feeling, then thinking, and finally outright despairing of the big (and perhaps unanswerable) questions. The medical community can’t even tell us what causes UC, so of course nobody is going to be able to put to rest (on a cosmic level) why this is happening to us, when it will end, what we did to deserve this, if our lives will ever be the same again. (Let me take a stab at that last one – no they won’t, they’re changed forever).
There are several themes in “Mavericks” that mirror the life lessons we UC sufferers would do well to embrace: overcoming adversity (obvious, I know) because it’s part and parcel of the human experience; continuing undaunted no matter what comes our way; facing our fears; embracing and accepting the truth (painful as it may be, even if we don’t want to hear it); maintaining a positive outlook; and respect–respect for ourselves and respect for others. Ultimately, the overarching message is choice. Choosing how we live our lives, choosing to think and act positively despite the forces acting against us. (In the movie these negative forces are family, friends and life events as much as they are mother nature.) The takeaway is that by making a choice we are taking action, and thereby taking control. We need not be passive bystanders (a.k.a victims). Furthermore, it’s about making the right choices. It’s about not fighting something that you can’t change, and about redirecting your energy and efforts to where they’ll do the most good. Think surfer zen–peace, balance, well-being.
Nearly five months of UC has left me in a pretty dark place, questioning absolutely everything in my life and lamenting crap that I have no control over. I’m the farthest thing from “zen.” I don’t even feel like the same person anymore. It’s raised more than a few fears, too. I’m afraid life is passing me by while I’m sidelined by this thing. I’m afraid that I won’t get back on track, that my goals will need to shift, and I’m afraid of not being able to adjust. I’m afraid for my overall health. The simple questions begin building until I’m being crushed beneath an ocean of anxiety, insecurity, and doubt. There’s no bright horizon, just a dark, looming wave ready to crash down and drive me right to the bottom. Melodramatic? Frankly, it depends on the kind of day I’m having. On the days where nothing seems to be going right, when I can’t find substitute joys to replace the ones I’m restricted from, when I’m feeling like I’m faking it just to make it, no. That’s exactly how I feel. Like Jay, paddling out into those towering walls of water–just one tiny human, helpless against one of the greatest forces on earth.
And did Jay get his ass handed to him? Yes. Time and time again. But he was resilient and undaunted. At age sixteen he became famous at Mavericks for taking what’s considered probably the worst wipe-out in the history of surfing and getting right back up on his board. That was my slap in the face. If one sixteen-year-old kid could have such guts and determination, what the heck is my excuse? I’m not facing death. (Not yet, anyway!) And so that’s what inspired me about his story. The wave might crash down, it might drive you to the bottom, it might hurt you, but it can’t break you. Not truly, not unless you let it. Your choice.
UC is not epic. It’s not Mavericks. But it is serious, it is debilitating, and it is life-changing. Watching this movie made me realize that though I’m no longer living the kind of life I expected to live, there’s still a lot out there for me to be doing. Namely, not letting my fears—or this disorder—decide anything, much less my fate.
Live Like Jay.