I woke up the morning of our Montserrat excursion with mixed emotions. I felt fairly confident about the day because I was able to climb Costa Brava, but I was anxious because I knew it was not going to be an easy day. When we arrived to the bottom of the mountain, I walked off the bus and looked up. My heart sank and I felt overwhelmed and heavy anticipating the climb ahead. I told myself I could do this and I will get to the top to hear the boys choir perform that afternoon. I grew up signing in choir and was very eager to hear the group.

This is the view from the bottom of Montserrat where I became increasingly more nervous for the hike ahead.

This is my before picture of me standing at the bottom of Montserrat eager for the hike ahead.

Photo Credit: Ellen Woodcock

We walked through a town that has narrow cobble stone winding roads, stairs, and small inclines to get to the beginning of the trail. The flight of steep stairs signified the start of the journey. From the very beginning, the bright sun was beating down while I was trying to catch my breath while slowly falling behind. About 30 minutes into the hike, I started to slow down, my chest beginning to tighten, feeling nauseous, and I needed to take a break every minute or so. A couple of my friends asked me if I needed water or a place to sit and I gladly took it. As I was drinking, I looked up at the mountain, at the trail ahead, and saw more than half the group was about 100 feet up the path. My throat started to tingle, my chest started to get heavier, my head began to spin, and I knew at that moment I was starting to have a panic attack right there on the mountain. Right away I attempted to control my breathing to avoid fainting and crying. I turned around and I saw my professor talking to our CEA representative (Eli). Based on them standing several feet away, taking with hushed tones, and my intuition, I knew right away what they were thinking. Mixed emotions washed over me while I watched them talk because I was grateful and ashamed. Having people understand and be aware that I am struggling without having to say anything is not as humiliating as having to admit it to myself. However, having to say it out loud first or even after someone notices, is still very uncomfortable and degrading.

This photo was taken right before I decided to turn around and take the tram up the mountain instead.

Photo Credit: Ellen Woodcock

After their conversation John and Eli walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to continue or turn around and take the tram up the mountain. I was uncertain of what to say because I didn’t want to disappoint myself, anyone else, or regret my decision. I also did not want to miss the opportunity to see the boys’ choir perform. My anxiety was growing as I tried to make the right decision. Instantly I covered my face to hide my tears pouring down my cheeks. Sometimes I feel so small inside this huge body and at that moment I felt as small as a pebble. Everyone in the group was watching what was happening as I tried to control the embarrassment.

John, Lindsey (teaching assistant), and Eli told me that saying I need to turn around is brave because I was so aware of what my body was telling me and I was able to say I should not continue. Initially, I felt that my choice was not brave at all because I feel in our culture the meaning of bravery is pushing yourself to the max and never saying no. I realized I was more concerned about everyone else’s reaction to me turning around than doing what was right for me. I now know that I project my insecurities on others when it did not even cross their mind to criticize my choice. The group just wanted me to make it up to the mountain safely and be able to meet at the top together. Even though I was very upset about my decision to turn around and take the tram with Eli I got to show the group that what may be easy to them is not easy to others.

Once we got up to the mountain I was nervous to come back together with everyone because I did not want to feel left out but also I did not want the attention either. I was also apprehensive about asking how the hike was because I was nervous I made the wrong choice. I feared that I gave up to easily and felt disappointed in myself. As we walked into the church to hear the choir I asked John and Lindsey if I made the right choice and they said “YES!” A sense of relief came over me knowing I did the right thing.

I was excited to finally get to the top and after watching the choir perform.

This is inside the packed monastery at the top of Montserrat where we heard the boys choir sing.

Listening to the choir sing after being out of my comfort zone for most of the day showed me that I am more to what meets the eye. It is very easy to make a quick judgement based on what you see on the surface. In class, I learned about the Iceberg Principle a couple weeks ago and I never thought it would apply to how I feel the world sees me. When you see an iceberg from above the water line it only consists of about 10 percent. The other 90 percent of the iceberg is hidden underneath the water.  I feel like I am the top 10 percent of the iceberg in my environment because many people quickly judge me by the size of my body rather than what the rest of me has to offer. Someone recently told me that “Your qualities are strong, contextual, and require specific knowledge.” This made me realize I am not just a plus size young woman. I am a student, daughter, sister, friend, singer, sailor, and an intellectual. Knowing I have these qualities and I am more than what people first perceive me as, gives me the strength to be brave everyday because they will live with me forever, not the perceptions people have of me.

Our signature group photo at the top of Montserrat!

Photo Credit: Layla (our tour guide)