September 7, 2020

A Story of Overcoming

Behind every image is a story. Whether it’s a portrait, landscape, backyard snapshot, selfie, picture of wildlife or beloved fur family member, something happened for it to be created.

You wouldn’t be amiss to imagine this is an image of a young newly wed, adventurous, healthy and fit couple. A couple who has hopes, dreams and a lifetime of opportunities ahead of them. Maybe you think, WOW, there’s no way I’d be able to do that or how perfectly staged is that!

The story behind this image is one that epitomizes the essence of overcoming. It’s a story of moving through depression, grief and trauma. It’s also a love story that embodies the trials and tribulations of marriage, loyalty, patience and courage.

It’s my story…

The story of a 49 year old woman surrounded by support, compassion, kindness and a ton of love to realize a three year dream. A woman who quite often looks at herself with harsh judgments and self-sabotaging thoughts, yet always seems to rise above. A woman who 16 years earlier came dangerously close to ending her life.

One month prior to this breathtaking photo creation, I had asked my husband of almost 25 years for a separation. Mentally, I was in an extremely vulnerable and volatile place. Uncertainty and fear ruled every waking moment. Thankfully Neil was aware that I was unable to manage the tsunami of emotions. He looked beyond his own hurt and stood firm in supporting me. “Let’s not make any decisions until we see our Doctor and arrange some couples counselling.”

Together, we faced a similar scenario two years prior. Learning about and understanding the hormonal upheaval of perimenompause I was experiencing, we worked through it.

We had a 25 year Anniversary Celebration planned with 40 of our closest friends and family and a goal to hike Tent Ridge to celebrate this amazing milestone.

“I can’t go ahead with this. I can’t pretend everything is okay in front of our family and friends.” I told Neil through tears. 

Two days later, I was devastated to inform Mount Engadine Lodge and then our friends and family that we wouldn’t be going ahead with the celebration. 

A week later I experienced a traumatic event. That day I lost my confidence, I lost trust, I lost my sense of belonging and so much more. The one thing that was clear and the only good thing that came out of that day, was the reminder that Neil is and always has been, my one true love who has stuck by my side. He has been my rock through years of depression, suicide attempts, numerous new endeavours and ideas, heartbreak and emotional roller coasters.

Our 25 year anniversary celebration looked nothing like we had planned and envisioned over a year ago. We were going to celebrate on a Mediterranean cruise and once that was cancelled we decided to book out the beautiful Mount Engadine Lodge to reaffirm our vows. Even though COVID provided a good cover story (it was partially to blame), I felt embarrassed, ashamed and guilty for what initiated the cancellation. We did keep our three night booking in hopes that some time away would help me heal and give us the opportunity to connect in nature. It certainly did that!

We also kept our photographer!

When Kahli reached out to firm up timing and details of our photo shoot, I shared with her, “We’re not wanting anything too fancy or over the top – no mountain peak photos for this couple, although after talking to my Doctor today, she said Neil and I should stick with our plan to attempt Tent Ridge – just have to watch for triggers for me.”

Her response left me in awe… “Regarding tent ridge, if it’s the right thing for you then we would LOVE to get you guys up there. I can tell you 100% the terrain is completely different to what you were on at Bow. Just know we’re happy to help and to be patient. Leo also has a lot of experience in coaching people in uncomfortable mountain environments.”

Kahli & Leo proceeded to zoom with Neil and I, walking us through the entire hike, they sent videos of their hike, answered any questions or concerns I had and went above and beyond to make me feel comfortable.

Neil continued with his loving support. The story behind the dress is another layer. The Friday before this day, I had myself stuck in a whirlwind of negative thoughts and no motivation. I knew the dress I wanted, it was perfectly pictured in my mind. After hours of doubt and inner-conflict I shared what I was going through with Neil. “I want to find a dress, but I’m scared I’ll have a panic attack in the mall. I don’t think I can wear a mask that long! What if I become overwhelmed? What if everything I try on all I see is an overweight old lady looking back at me and I find nothing?”

Neil listened, tears welled in his eyes. “If only you could see the beautiful, confident woman I do. Go have a shower, pick a nice outfit, put some make-up on and just go do it.”

I did just that.

The morning of September 4th Kahli & Leo arrived at the lodge at 9:00am. Instead of just Kahli capturing the photos, we now had her husband Leo in the mix. Together, they’ve shot many adventure elopements, engagement and couples sessions this summer – which lead to them creating Wild Alpine Images. We had an absolutely delightful morning in the meadow. Their teamwork, creativity, casual and laid back style had us completely relaxed, comfortable and enjoying every single moment.

What an incredible way to begin the day! Now it was time to face Tent Ridge. I felt so at ease with Kahli and Leo. I knew without a doubt their main focus that day was to help me in any way possible. And that they did!

Almost every step of the way Leo was there. Comforting. Supporting. Teaching. Caring. Kahli was always not far behind, and Neil trusting them both to help me as well as leaning in for a reassuring hug and words of encouragement and praise.

Made it up the first section of the horseshoe with Neil by my side.

On an exposed section, a wind gust appeared – one of three panic attacks began to surface, everyone stopped – they all knew my triggers. They kindly gave me the time and space I needed to work through it, while being right there beside me and when I was ready, we kept going. There were many moments that I believed I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I continued on. I knew deep within my heart that if I didn’t get through this, the fear from that traumatic day three weeks prior, would linger and fester in my mind, body and spirit.

One section at a time we made it. We stopped, celebrated, rested and continued on. Reaching the weather station was a huge accomplishment in itself, all I kept saying was WOW! The excitable, adventurous, courageous me was back.

As the expansive mountain ranges before us began to change colour before our eyes with the slowly setting sun, we continued on the last part of the horseshoe. I had shared with Kahli my dream of an image with the dress blowing in the wind, me cradled in Neil’s arms for comfort and safety. For once, the wind was welcomed at the most perfect moments. The images that Kahli and Leo created are epic! I never imagined myself in photos like these. They are truly the most magical gift to celebrate 25 years of marriage and overcoming challenges and obstacles life puts in front of us. How will we top that for our 50 year anniversary?

My lifelong cherished friend Jenine, shared this that perfectly sums up how I feel but couldn’t find the words. “Love, passion and companionship come in many different forms – they may not always be delivered exactly to your expectations but they are there in spades. You just need to take some time seeing them and nurturing them.”

In dark times there is always a turning point in the healing journey, where the light begins to shine. For me when I was in the psychiatric ward in 2004, it was rock climbing. This day in the mountains was the turning point I needed, it gifted me more than I can ever express in words. It is another part of my life story that I will be able to look back on and say to myself, “You are much stronger than you think!”

So next time you see an image that catches your attention, stop for a moment and imagine the story behind it.

Who are the people, what is their story?
How did they get to this place?
Why is this important to them?
What challenges have they overcome?

Everybody has a story.
I’m grateful for mine – the good, the bad and the ugly!

All photos by husband and wife team Kahli & Leo.
Check out Kahli’s exquisite talent on Facebook and Instagram.

View our full hike thanks to Relive and stay tuned for the story after the image!