Erik and Jeff speak with adventurer and runner, Jill Wheatley. She joins us from her current home in Nepal but when not in lockdown Jill travels extensively skiing, climbing, and running mountains all around the globe. But only 6 years ago she was trapped in a series of hospitals after a devastating injury. Listen to her story to hear how she used the power of the mountains to find transcendence.
In 2014, Jill was a Phys Ed teacher in Europe when she was hit in the head by a rogue baseball during class.
The severity of the blow resulted in a traumatic brain injury and a 70% vision loss. In addition to the physical wounds, it left Jill in a deep state of despair. After 26 months in 7 hospitals in 3 countries, she was finally on the road to physically recover but still felt emotionally lost.
Inspired by the mountain view from her hospital bed, she formed a goal: to run trails on mountains all around the world – a challenge to her broken body and the return to independence that she craved.
Instagram: Mountains of My Mind
Twitter: Mountains of my Mind
Facebook: Jill Wheatley
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“Anyone that is in a dark place, no matter what they’re going through, if I can bring a little light to that because for so long, I was in that dark cave where I believed light was not coming back, there was no possibility for that. Shifting from shame and hiding to the power of vulnerability, that shift literally moves mountains.”
Jill : Anyone that is in a dark place, no matter what they're going through, if I can bring a little light to that because for so long, I was in that dark cave where I believed light was not coming back, there was no possibility for that. Shifting from shame and hiding to the power of vulnerability, that shift literally moves mountains.
Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. Part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers.
Jeff: While working as a physical education teacher in Bavaria, a sports accident changed Jill Wheatley's life in a fraction of a second. The wake of a traumatic brain injury left her severely visually impaired and with a life-threatening eating disorder. After 26 months and seven hospitals in three countries, she was finally on the road to physical recovery, but still felt emotionally lost.
Jeff: Inspired by the mountain view from her hospital bed, she formed a goal to run trails on mountains all around the world. Now, Jill has actually run trails all around the world, including across the Pyrenees, the Swiss and French Alps, the Italian Dolomites, the Himalayas, New Zealand, Patagonia in Peru, the Rockies and Iceland. Erik and I really enjoyed speaking with Jill and I think you will, too.
Erik: Cool. Welcome to the No Barriers podcast. We have an amazing guest with us today coming all the way from Kathmandu. Jill Wheatley, really, welcome to the podcast. It's exciting to have you. Now, what's crazy... I want to start out with something kind of a non sequitur in that it's 6:00 here PM. It's not 6:00 AM there in Kathmandu. It's 5:45 AM. Why do they do that?
Jill : Only [crosstalk 00:02:45]-
Erik: Why is it 15 minutes off?
Jeff: It is, and it always has screwed me up and I'm sure everybody up because you have to do the math. You're like, "Wait a minute, Denver time. Add 12, subtract 15 minutes." It's always so confusing. It's the only place on the planet that's got that time zone, right Jill?
Jill : It is, yes, and there is this thing called Nepali time, a little bit late, so we always joke about the 15 minutes. Is that why?
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah, you get an extra 15 minutes because of the Nepali time. That's right. Well, we're excited to have you on. You have a long and storied history and now, I mean you just-
Erik: Well, she's not that old so I wouldn't know about long and storied. You're still in your 30s, aren't you?
Jill : Something like that.
Erik: Something like that.
Jeff: You could squeeze a lot of time into that and we can have a lot of chapters. But, would you be in Nepal right now if there wasn't a lockdown going on? If you weren't basically stuck in there, would you be there right now or would you be somewhere else?
Jill : Because I was here in the spring, my blueprint had be to be sort of July and August in Europe and then come back for autumn's climbing season, so I would probably be coming back in about a week or two. But otherwise-
Erik: And just to make it clear to people, like the US, like a lot of the place in the world where this pandemic has created quarantine, Nepal is very serious about this quarantine. It's lasted a long time and it's very structured, police out. You cannot break the quarantine. You go outside, police, what, escort you back to your apartment, maybe even arrest you, fine you?
Jill : Yeah. Actually at this point, yes. It wasn't quite as tight in the beginning but right now, it is very tight with people being held if they're caught out, people being held and then released, some being fined and some being taken away, yes.
Jeff: So you're planning on being in Himal in the spring, then you were going to go to Europe and do some climbing and then you were going to return back to Nepal-
Jill : That's right.
Jeff: ... for some autumnal climbing. So yeah, you kind of got it figured out, but then your plan got a little waylaid.
Erik: Did you just say the word Himal? And you just said autumnal. Wow, that's...
Jeff: I did.
Erik: He's pretty smart, Jill.
Jeff: Except it's not autumnal, Erik. It's autumnal.
Erik: Autumnal. Okay, I learned a new word today.
Jeff: From the... yeah, yeah. Oh, you mean...
Erik: All right, but I distracted you. Go ahead.
Jill : Yeah, Jeff, I use the word blueprint now. I figured out a little while back that the plan doesn't quite work for me because life doesn't always go quite structured like a plan. With the word blueprint, I feel that's a little more flexible. You do some erasing, some adjusting and you come back to it. And yeah, right now that blueprint has changed quite a bit.
Jeff: You had the whole structure figured out. Now, you're erasing floors, putting some more wings of this thing on there.
Jill : Exactly.
Jeff: That's cool [crosstalk 00:05:42].
Erik: [crosstalk 00:05:42] earlier, you're doing some prison workouts, some running up the stairs of your apartment and doing pull-ups and push-ups and things like that.
Jill : Yeah, that's right. Lots of burpees.
Jeff: A lot of our listeners probably have been to Nepal, but a good chunk haven't. Maybe you could describe a pre-pandemic and a intra-pandemic Kathmandu, especially where you are. You're near Thamel so you're in the heart of the city. Maybe just give us a description what that's like.
Jill : Sure. If anybody listening has been to Kathmandu before, Thamel is like the hub. It's bustling. It's sort of one of those places that never sleeps, full of tourists and people getting ready, coming to and from the mountains. Right now, you would not recognize it. It's literally... All of the doors, and when I say doors, the garage doors type, completely locked. There's the odd person around, but I walk through and it's... Before, it was all full of foreigners. You literally do not see foreigners there now.
Jill : With the situation and so much significant part of the population dependent on tourism, the mental health is a serious issue right now. People are struggling not only with respect to COVID itself like literally in terms of health, but the fallout of that and people losing their jobs. Unfortunately, the suicide rate is exponential right now. There is a lot of suffering that is really difficult for the country right now. It's in a tough state.
Erik: Well, bring us to more happy days to when you're in the mountains. Tell us about pre-pandemic adventures up in the Himalayas or the Himal, as Jeff [inaudible 00:07:32].
Jill : Well actually, I'll just back up a little bit more. Following my time in hospital when I decided to celebrate being alive and traveling mountains for one year, I had 13 different [inaudible 00:07:46] planned out around the world. When I came through Nepal the first time, that was about four months into my travels. One thing led to another and... I had just been out of hospital and been getting used to vision loss. I had a friend with me at the time who was quite an avid runner and convinced me... We found out that the Annapurna 100 was on and-
Jill : I had never done a race before. Before the accident, I had been living in Europe and so I did quite a bit of road biking, a little bit of mountain biking, and then combined the running and biking. I was doing long distance duathlons, so running and cycling. Anyway...
Erik: Yeah, so tell us about the hundred-mile race. Did you do it? Did you enter?
Jill : I sort of just... I don't like the word just, but I just did the 50K. There's two races, 100K or 50K, and I did the 50K.
Jill : That's with 3,500 meters... Sorry, I don't know feet. 3,500 meters elevation gain.
Erik: It's over 10,000 feet of elevation.
Jeff: Wow, that's 10,000 feet of elevation gain. Holy shit.
Jill : Yeah, and I absolutely loved it. I just light up even thinking about it. So I finished and I... I mean, it was surreal.
Jeff: You were in love.
Jill : 10 months after getting out of hospital, I ran the race. I just thought if I could get myself to the start line, that would be an accomplishment. And I did, and then I got myself to the finish line and I was just... The [inaudible 00:09:27] was just so high and then I found myself on the podium. I guess it just gave me new hope-
Jill : ... that I realized just because this major life-changing what some people may call disability... It's sort of at that time I realized I can do something. Because I had been such a dark place for so long, I didn't think I'd be able to run again or do a lot of the things that now I am doing. It was a lot more than just celebrating being alive.
Erik: You were in Bavaria near Munich. You were a phys ed teacher and what, you're teaching baseball or was it softball or something like that?
Jill : Yep, yep.
Erik: Tell us what happened, although I know it's still probably painful to talk about it.
Jill : It's actually more comfortable the more I talk about it. Therapeutic, in ways. Each time I share with different people and different questions, it brings up different emotions and I think it's a good thing. It had been like the second week of school and we had been working with different throwing and catching skills. This particular morning, it was the first morning that the students had an opportunity to use a baseball bat. Everybody was doing what they were supposed to do. I was with one group sort of at the equivalent of third base. Another group was sort of at home plate and another one sort of off past first base. It just... Serendipity. A student who had much experience in cricket had actually hit a ball from home plate in a direction that was completely unintentional, and that ball actually connected with my skull. Basically, a line drive hit the right side of my head.
Erik: I mean, well you almost died because I heard they... Just people thought it was like, "Oh, just a clock on the head," and you're in your farmhouse by yourself unmonitored, right?
Jill : Yeah. I was taken to hospital, told sort of what was obvious and that I had a black eye. It instantly closed and swell up like the size of a baseball and the color purple. I was taken back to my farm by my two colleagues and just left with the sort of prescription to keep some ice on it and just rest and that's what I did. I mean, I can't get up. I can't get myself to the washroom and sort of in and out of consciousness for sort of a day and a half, almost 48 hours, until a friend came to visit. I was going to do this long distance duathlon, sort of end of season race in Switzerland and he was going to bring me to support me in this race. However, his support was bringing me back to that same hospital where I was taken to quickly transfer into an ambulance from that hospital to a neurotrauma center where I was quickly diagnosed with skull fractures and a bleeding and swelling brain.
Erik: I mean, so you were bleeding internally while you were sitting there in your house.
Jeff: Did you have a subdural or a subarachnoid bleed? Do you know?
Jill : Yeah, subdural hematoma. And so [inaudible 00:12:52] that black eye has actually never reopened. The focus, at that point then with the bleeding and swelling brain was to control the bleeding. The diagnosis as well with the black eye was, "It's going to be okay. As soon as the bleeding gets controlled and then the swelling stops, everything will clear and your eye, it'll open again in two weeks, six weeks, three months," and it just... The goal posts kept getting pushed and as those goal posts were getting pushed, my hope was dwindling and dwindling and dwindling and it was getting dark. The darkness on the outside was becoming dark inside. I even remember one German doctor, I had to explain the word dwindle to him because I was losing any hope for my future. From the misdiagnosis to the pushed goal post, I just kept losing hope and at that time, I struggled. I was in denial. I didn't know because they didn't realize that actually, it's never going to reopen and the trauma of the neuro optic nerve was nonreversible.
Erik: There's so much to unpack here. Obviously, there's huge emotional journey happening but there's also the physical stuff. Addressing the physical part, your eye, literally your lid, your lids do not open?
Jill : That's right.
Erik: Your one lid? Yeah, I see. And then have you regained some sight or did you never regain sight? What is your level of vision?
Jill : The right side, it's basically... If anyone saw me, it looks like I'm permanently winking. There's no-
Erik: Which is maybe a good look.
Jill : Pardon me?
Erik: That might be a good look.
Jill : Yeah, sometimes [inaudible 00:14:58].
Erik: You meet a lot of people.
Jill : Hey, you know what? I love that you said that because it's so... I'm recently been talking about humor. Even a year ago, well, maybe just a little bit more in the last year, I've been able to joke about the fact that I'm winking or my extended wink, or it's... I like to laugh. It's rare, but if I do have my glasses off and if I go running by or crossing paths with someone and they wink at me, they think I'm winking at them.
Jeff: Wait, and especially if you throw a little off to the shoulder like that.
Jill : Little shoulder?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean...
Erik: Well, maybe someday, if hasn't happened already, your partner will be like, "Yeah, she winked at me and that's how I knew."
Jeff: All right, so I know where Erik's going with this and I can anticipate. Can you just give us a timeframe from the injury itself, throughout the process, maybe even where we are here, and then maybe catch us in the middle when you said you finally realized there was serendipity involved. There's a timeline in there and I want to understand those junctions of time.
Jill : Sure.
Erik: And I know it's not vision. I mean, it's a traumatic brain injury and a eating disorder. I mean, there's a lot to unpack so yeah, take us through the...
Jill : The complexity of the traumatic brain injury is complex. Okay, so I'll take you back to that time in the neurotrauma hospital. Four months of intensive care in the neurotrauma hospital, then that same hospital for over a year, I had a short time where I could go back to my apartment and I was... Obviously, I can't drive anymore so for a handful of weeks, I could go sleep in my own place and then be taken by... A driver would come in the morning, take me where I would do therapy all day and then back to my room.
Jill : But that was actually quite short-lived. As much as I loved sort of some time and space of my own, the complexity, the part of my brain that was injured also affected my appetite and I wasn't eating. I essentially had to learn to eat again.
Erik: And did it turn out that part of your... Obviously, with a traumatic brain injury there is confusion and so forth and hard focusing and concentrating, but it sounds like part of it was exacerbated by the fact that you weren't eating, right?
Jill : Absolutely.
Erik: Once I diagnose that, things improved a little bit, right?
Jill : There was so many different specialists because the traumatic brain injury, like you said, Erik, the cognitive function, the attention and memory, and then there's the motor function so my coordination is off, my balance, my depth perception. Then sensation. There's the sensation, obviously, of sight, but also the oversensitivity with respect to noise and then just hearing. Everything was so sensitive.
Erik: Even when people would speak to you, it would just be like an alarm ringing in your brain, right?
Jill : Yeah. I could hear people in the hallways in the hospital. I would just kind of lose my mind. At the time, it was so much, well, anger being built up and this emotion. I thought, "Just shut up," not realizing they were probably just talking as any normal conversation would be. Again, so there's the cognitive, the motor, the sensation and these emotions like aggression, anxiety and... Every time I would hear the doctors coming, I was like, "Oh, no. What now?" And then depression. I really struggle with that label when the doctors would say, "Oh, there's this, there's that and depression." I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa." I don't need these labels. I've had this major life change. I'm not going to be jumping up and celebrating the fact that I can't see a thing.
Erik: And these labels are disempowering to you?
Jill : That's a word I use a lot.
Jeff: Yeah, but in the spirit of that, though, was there a point when you said, "I'm owning it. Yes, I am feeling blue and dark and I can't necessarily attribute all of that emotional liability to the fact that I'm sad because of loss of vision. I really do have some organic depression going on"? Was there a point when you just said, "Yep. You're right. I'm going to own that," or... How did you work with that?
Jill : Yeah, no, at the beginning, I did not own that whatsoever. It wasn't until I moved to hospital in Denver and so-
Erik: And that was like your seventh hospital, [inaudible 00:20:07], right?
Jill : That's right. That's right.
Erik: I mean, so we're not talking an easy journey. You're bounced all around to different specialists and different hospitals even all through Europe and then all the way to Denver, Colorado, which is very near to where Jeff and I are right now.
Jill : That's right. It wasn't until I got the specialized treatment, Jeff, where I felt that my medical team in Denver Health, when it was really... They really tuned into what was going on and the complexities and mentioning the word grief. I had lost a part of me. I had lost my vision, but no one had ever approached it that way. No one had helped me see it from that perspective and tuned me into... The word grief really sort of helped me move towards acceptance. Dealing with the grief rather than just throwing that label of depression on me without talking about grief, it just made more sense. It helped me move to a place of acceptance when I talked through or dealt with the grief.
Erik: I was thinking about those words like anorexia and traumatic brain injury and depression. These are diagnoses, but you're talking about grief. That's sort of more of an impermanent sort of natural stage in a process. I get it, one kind of feels more permanent, maybe like, "This is who I am," and the other says, "Hey. This is a natural part of my journey and what I'm going through." The other does feel better.
Jill : Yeah, absolutely. From that first misdiagnosis with the black eye, there was always this... Jeff, you had asked in the beginning, did I know something else was wrong? I really felt that yes, there was something else wrong, but then with that label of depression and with that label of anorexia, which both later were sort of rediagnosed... It wasn't anorexia, it was avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, which is a rare eating disorder but it actually is associated with trauma. It just made sense. Once that changed, I just felt so much more understood because there was, I think, shame that... Shame sort of started to flourish right from the very beginning with the misdiagnosis. I felt-
Jeff: Shame. What do you mean when you say shame?
Jill : When I say shame, I feel shame like it's just an intensely painful feeling that I'm flawed, that I don't belong, I'm not worthy of love or worthy of recovery. When society tells us we should feel a certain way or we should believe doctors, what we should look like, I think there's... And the labels that come with that, you have a traumatic brain injury and you have PTSD and you have an eating disorder, and all of these cognitive deficits, all of these labels that, in turn, society puts stigma or stereotypes with... All of these shoulds, and coming back [inaudible 00:23:32] the misdiagnosis the... Yeah, shame sort of was growing inside of me because I felt like I was so flawed. I just had all of these things that aren't normal.
Jeff: You were probably doing occupational therapy, PT. Lot of people that are in our community, in our No Barriers community, have gone through sort of that river of therapies when it... Talking about learning how to eat again, learning how to use [inaudible 00:24:02] again, learning how to run, learning how to ski again. But then, learning how to love yourself again is something that gets forgotten and it is in the mix, if not maybe probably the most important part. It sounded like from what you're saying is you did all these other things and maybe that part didn't get addressed. But then once it did, am I right that that's when a lot of the transformation started to happen?
Jill : Wow, no one's ever put it that way. Thank you. Yes, and even to this day... That's self-work. It needs attention.
Jeff: Yeah and by the way, it doesn't take a TBI to know that you've got to learn to love yourself a little bit better, but you were just thrown right into the hyper cycle, the whole thing and forced to dive into that. Yeah, you're right. I mean, everybody needs it, but you were like, "Bam. Here we go."
Jill : Yeah, yeah. In the neurotrauma hospital, each day filled with seven different therapies but none of them addressing what you said, the self-love but dealing with the grief. It wasn't only until I was in Denver that those conversations started to happen. But really, I feel that it's only been since I've been out and the mountains have become my therapy and my... I call it my recovery playground. And I've opened up to... Meditation has been huge for me since I've been out. That really helps with the acceptance and yeah, self-love is tough.
Erik: I think you address some of that in your writing. You talked about becoming gracious with yourself. I really like that.
Jill : The compassion and that we show for others, or I like to think that I show for others, sometimes I realize that I don't show it actually for myself, and these times of lockdown have been a good example of that. Lots of learning and just trying to be kind and compassionate with myself like I strive to be with others, it's a battle.
Erik: What was your first glimpse of light or hope in this journey? Do you remember that first... Was it in Denver, maybe looking out at the Rockies or what...
Jill : I get that question a lot, and I still struggle with a definitive turning point, but for sure in Denver when I could see the Rockies from the hospital. When I was caught up in that angry stage, I was exhausted of just being in 24-hour care essentially for two years, no one leaving my side. I just wanted to be alone. I was court ordered because I was refusing the medication. I really didn't think that life was worth fighting for and so in Denver, I had this court order where I had no choice in the medication and the tubes coming in and feeding me and in my nose, in my stomach, and I was trying to pull them out.
Jill : There was so much darkness. There was no light. But it was when during that time that once I became more nutritionally... My brain started being nourished again and healing that I realized or I came to accept that I'm not going to walk out of this hospital by myself if I don't start getting onboard with this team. But yeah, I just remember sitting in a corner room. I can tell you exactly where it was in Denver and I can see... For some reason, I had a ruler in my hand and I broke it with the doctor there who said he was going to extend this court order. I was so furious. I'm like, "Just let me into those effing mountains," and [inaudible 00:28:13] "What are you going to do?" I'm like, "I don't know. I'll figure it out," and that what I said. "I'll figure it out. Just let me in the frigging mountains," and that kind of... When I think back now, that actually... Once I finally-
Jeff: You made it.
Jill : Yeah, that was-
Jeff: You made it happen. You were like, "Let me out in there. Let me figure it out." Turns out, you did.
Jill : I did.
Jeff: That's great because I'm so stoked, Jill, that you remember that moment because that moment seems to have... You made that happen. You manifested that, even in the midst of this total shitshow that you were in. You were feeling like it was just... You were being suppressed and oppressed and everything was bad and you were like, "I just want there, and I'm going to figure it out," and you did.
Erik: Now, to the mountains. Why did you have this intuition that the mountains would sort of be some kind of healing laboratory or recovery or confidence? Did you just have that belief? What were you thinking?
Jill : At the time, I think just when I think of mountains, I think of solace, nobody around. I had been so exhausted of being in constant one to one care, I just wanted a place, silence and to be alone and just figure it out with Mother Nature. I thought that in that one year and sort of inspired by these different mountains, new places where I didn't have to talk about the accident... I had been tired of talking being in therapy and just... Yeah, just using the mountains to figure it out.
Jeff: Were you concerned, though, that when you went back into the mountains that you wouldn't be the same person that you were and you maybe wouldn't have the same capacity? Were you fearful that you'd be limited in some capacity?
Jill : Absolutely. A thousand percent. Yeah, and it was tough starting because getting out of hospital, I just... When I had gone in on September 3rd, before this all happened, I was fit to race in the world duathlon championships and so I come out of hospital expecting that I'm going to be able to run like I could before and have that strength and dismissing.
Jill : This is where the kindness and compassion for myself comes in. I'm falling. I'm trying to run and my body is completely different because it had gone from very fit and healthy to... I don't like to use numbers, but 30 kilos to... And then weight restored, so my body had gone through so much significant change, then the vision, so I was just going in with this expectation that "Oh, yeah. I could run trails before," not mountains like I was, but I still had these expectations on myself and it was ugly. Physically, there's stories my scars can tell on my hands, my knees, broken glasses because I always have sunglasses on and falling and even if I didn't... The sunglasses would break when I fell. It was me in anger throwing them, stepping on them because I was so furious. I just thought I should be able to run like I used to.
Jill : Those first few months, I started in Europe in the Pyrenees. I just remember some really, really dark just frustration that I was never... Am I really enjoying this? It took a long time to accept, and I still... I absolutely admit that I still have these moments where I'm like, "I can't do what I could before and I..."
Erik: I still have those moments, Jill. I will be getting ready really fast for something and I'll whirl around and slam right into a wall and just be like, "Fucking goddamn son of a bitch," and then I have to just take a couple breaths as I put the ice pack on my forehead.
Jill : See, connections like that are so helpful. Honestly, since I've started with the... Well, this is jumping ahead but when I was in Khumbu in autumn, and I met this guy and he's like, "Oh. You know, Erik's on Ama Dablam right now," and I'm like, "No. Who's Erik?" This is when I first heard your story and have since read everything or listened to everything and the movies and... This connection is so helpful for me. When I hear people that can relate to the frustration or... It's that empathy. I never want sympathy, but sort of knowing I'm not alone in these struggles or these battles, it's not... Every day is not the pretty mountain pictures and yeah, I'm cool with it all.
Erik: I think you touched on to why this podcast exists, so people know we're all the same. Our stories are the same from thousands and thousands of years of human history. We all go through the same shit on a macro level, I would say. So you morph into this bigger idea that brings you all around the world and then you pick 13 mountain ranges where? Bring us through the map.
Jill : All right, so started in Andorra in the French Pyrenees, Italian Dolomites... I'm going around the world with my pencil, if anyone can see. Italian Dolomites. Slovenia, amazing place, the Julian Alps. Slovenia to Ladakh in the Indian Himal. India to Nepal, Nepal, I extended. It was only just because that Annapurna 100 turned into staying to do the Manaslu race. Ran around... After Nepal, New Zealand to Patagonia so Argentina, Chile, Peru. That's when I came back to Colorado and ran in the Rockies and went to see those doctors and cried a lot of happy tears with them. And then yeah, that's 13. Oh, no, no. Sorry. First year and then Iceland.
Jill : After the... Oh, sorry. I did the Rockies and then a bit of the San Juans so Colorado, Utah and Arizona, and then Iceland and then that was a year. But I just felt like at that time, I was just getting started. I was just starting to move to a place of accepting that this is how it is and this vision is not coming back. But at that point is when I started to open up, started to talk, started to do some writing and felt like, "I'm just getting started. I want to continue with this."
Jill : I haven't jumped around quite as much. The next year was more combination of Central Europe and back to Nepal and then a little bit more in the Rockies. And then now with the current situation, I've been in Nepal now almost one year, which I'm happy to be here, for sure, and there's lots of things, mountains waiting once this lockdown ends.
Erik: I mean, I don't want to be cheesy about the connection, but your story is very much the hero's journey. You had this thing happen to you and you're trying to process it and you go off and do this just big, massive adventure around the world. Eventually, I guess, you have to come home.
Jeff: Let me segue off of the hero's journey because it is, and I'm sure your familiar with it, Jill, the idea of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. Just to finish that part about coming home, when you come home at the end of that cycle, I mean it's a never-ending cycle but when you do get home, the true hero, which, you are a hero, the true hero sees an opportunity and embraces the opportunity to then be a teacher and share this cycle that they've been through. I know you were a trained teacher. That's your background. But after talking to you now for an hour and a half, girl, you're a teacher and not only have you had these... You have these parables that are just so strong and powerful and profound, but you have a really unique and succinct way of sharing it and sort of driving through there. Number one question, do you acknowledge yourself as a teacher and number two, do you see any way for you to continue to share messaging and to share content and lift people up? Because you do.
Jill : Oh, thank you, Jeff. I actually have never thought of that perspective of a teacher, per se, however what I have found when I shifted my perspective from "No one needs to know this," or "No one wants to know this" to "If I share my story and light to somebody's day like I just brightened his day, then maybe my story is worth sharing." I now see the benefit in being vulnerable and being authentic. I really feel that by sharing the heightened connection when I can... Others can connect to adversity. It might not look like vision loss or traumatic brain injury or any of these labels, but every human can connect to adversity. If you see me as being a teacher because of how I handle this adversity or, what I say, serendipity, then I think that's a label I'm happy to take. If I'm [inaudible 00:38:29].
Erik: It sounds like [inaudible 00:38:32] by all these learnings, finding that vulnerability and this new person that's growing out of the old person. It's sort of liberating. It frees you to be this new person. It's beautiful, really.
Jill : Anyone that is in a dark place, no matter what they're going through, if I can bring a little light to that because for so long, I was in that dark cave where I believed light was not coming back, there was no possibility for that. But now, by sharing my story, if I can give somebody just a little bit of light to move from that darkness, that vulnerability is so worth it. From shifting from shame and hiding to the power of vulnerability, that shift literally moves mountains. Moves mountains with me and if I can move mountains with others, then... If I can help get other people on a trail, their own Everest, their own mountain but moving from darkness to light and ignite a spark in others that for me, I felt for so long wasn't there, then let me talk and I'm happy to [inaudible 00:39:49].
Jeff: You are a thing of beauty, Jill. Let's just take everything you just said and put it on the entire mission statement of No Barriers. Literally, you just encapsulated it all so perfectly. My God, thank you. That was fucking beautfiul.
Jill : Oh, thank you.
Erik: Hey, sorry. Jill, last question from me is that you have all these scars, right?
Jill : Yeah.
Erik: You got the stomach scar from your feeding tube and scars all over your knees, it sounds like, and this eye that doesn't open. What do those things represent for you when you look back now?
Jill : Stories. Every scar has a story. There's a song that my brother reminded me of, ironically, just before my accident that bruises make for better conversation. I think resilience that I recently poured boiling water on my hand. I recently put 11 stitches in my finger, the whole depth perception thing. But for me, I think of course there's the frustration like you referred to, Erik, when you walk into a wall or something like that, but it's resilience and that compassion for myself and being kind. But also, I've been through worse and I'm going to get through this. I've learned from what has happened in the past and I know that there's going to be brighter days ahead.
Jill : When we talk about impermanence, it doesn't mean that change is always going to get better and better and better, but we accept that sometimes there's going to be low points. The analogy of mountains, it just fits, I feel, my story so well in many ways. There's the ups, the downs, the climbs and literally in the mountains, I actually enjoy running or climbing than the downhill for a number of reasons. But life's like that and I can really relate to the ups, the downs and just keep moving forward and...
Erik: One step at a time. Awesome. Well, it's been an incredible adventure, Jill, and I know there's many mountains to come so we both are really looking forward to hearing what's next for you and all the mountains, all the challenges you're going to take on. No barriers to you. Thank you.
Jeff: You're a teacher. You're a teacher and I hope and send prayer vibes to you that you continue to find ways to do that because the world needs more Jill Wheatley, for sure.
Jill : Thanks, Jeff. Thank you very much, the both of you.
Erik: The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer Pauline Shaffer, executive producer [Dietrich Jonk 00:42:43], sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler [Cotman 00:42:46], Special thanks to The Dan Ryan band for intro our intro song Guidance, and thanks to all of you for listening. We know that you've got a lot of choices about how you can spend your time and we appreciate you spending it with us. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.