Episode 185: Meeting Yourself Where You’re At

Interview with Lindsey Ingram

Lindsey Ingram has long-haul COVID, which means she is constantly renegotiating what’s possible for herself in the outdoors. But just like she’s not just a mom, or a hiker, or a gardener — the uncertainty of her chronic illness doesn’t define her. She simply has to meet herself where she’s at.

Over the past year Lindsey has been redefining her relationship with the outdoors, her body, and how she invites others into the outdoors with her.  In certain ways, our conversation is an opportunity for her to contemplate how she’s moving forward as she navigates long-haul COVID. It’s also an opportunity for us to better understand one person’s experience living with a chronic illness.

About Lindsey: Based in the Midwest, Lindsey spends her free time outdoors in whatever capacity is available, lately walking, wildlife watching, and gardening. She explores the outdoors creatively though writing, drawing, painting, and photography. She travels solo, with her kids, or with her friends.

Transcript available below the photos!

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Featured in this episode: Lindsey Ingram

Hosted & Produced by Gale Straub

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Featured in this Episode

Lindsey on the trail

At Yellowstone

Lindsey in her happy place, out in nature.

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gale Straub – Narration:

I’m Gale Straub and you’re listening to She Explores.

Lindsey Ingram:

We can’t go in with an agenda and then just present that to other people and expect them to be in line with whatever your vision is. We have to do that with ourselves too. You know, that’s what this entire process of adapting to having COVID is that’s what we have to do to ourselves. Sometimes. You know, we just have to take a step back and be like, I know this is what you want. So how can we brainstorm to get you there in some capacity?

Gale Straub – Narration:

This is Lindsey Ingram, a single mom who loves to travel, camp, hike, and garden. She lives in the Midwest with her two teenage sons while balancing her own work and school. In spring of last year, at the very beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, Lindsey contracted COVID––and she has been dealing with the long term-effects of long-haul COVID since then. Lindsey’s a long time listener of the podcast. In fact, I first learned about her experience with COVID through a post she made in our facebook group back in November as she was coming to terms with what might be her “new normal” when it comes to spending time outside. She asked the group: “Those of you who have had to renegotiate your relationships with the outdoors based on illness or other circumstances…what resources, if any, helped you? How did you do it? Do you come out on the other side with a new form of acceptance with where you are and what that looks like?”.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Over the past year, Lindsay has been renegotiating her relationship with the outdoors, her body and how she invites others into the outdoors with her. And in certain ways, our conversation is a way to turn her questions around to herself, an opportunity to contemplate her own answers. As she navigates the uncertainty of an invisible illness. It’s also an opportunity for us to better understand one person’s experience living with a chronic illness.

Lindsey Ingram:

Now we’re in a position where we have an entire group of people who are going through this and how are we as society kind of adapting to that right.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Before we jump into the past year, let’s find out a little more of what the outdoors has meant to Lindsey.

Lindsey Ingram:

I would say that the outdoors have been my saving grace. I know that a lot of people have been on the podcast talking about how being in the outdoors helps with mental health. For me, that is no exception. I spend a lot of time outside centering myself. I have a lot of demands on my plate and being outside is where my creativity sparks. Um, being outside alone is where I find my center. I love being in tune with nature. I love giving back, you know, and being a good steward of my little scrap of earth and just really enjoying the reciprocity that we see in nature. Um, so for me, it’s a very therapeutic healing thing, but also just a core part of my identity. I’ve been going outside since I was a small child.

Gale Straub :

You use the words centering yourself. And I imagine that as a single parent, that it’s hard to find that time for yourself. And I would almost assume that it can feel maybe sometimes hard to give yourself that.

Lindsey Ingram:

Yes. So the journey to giving myself that time without guilt evolved over time, when my kids were very young, I always took them out when they were two and four. I took them on our first camping trip, just the three of us, which was quite the adventure. Um, we left early, we went to McDonald’s for dinner. You know, there’s really not a right and wrong when you have kids that young. So when they were very young, incorporating them into my adventures, became our adventures and then it did help that they would go with their dad every other weekend. So I really took advantage of that to really focus on myself. And instead of cleaning the house, I would take a weekend camping trip by myself, as they have gotten older, their interests have shifted and changed. Um, so I’ve had to make it more of a priority to carve out that time for myself.

Lindsey Ingram:

And I used to feel really guilty about it, sending the kids to grandma’s for a weekend so that mom can go camping when they don’t want to go is not something you necessarily hear a lot of moms doing. And our culture tries to make us feel guilty about it. But I existed as a person before I had kids and my kids are a core part of my identity, but they are not the only part of my identity. And I will still be a whole person when they are out of my house. And so finding this thing that I love, and that brings me so much joy is really something that I have learned to be protective of in a way it makes me a better mom. It makes me a better person, you know, when I don’t go hiking or walking, my kids notice, um, my son said just last week, he’s like, when was the last time you went hiking? And I said, you know, it’s been a few weeks and he’s like, maybe you should go on a walk tomorrow morning. You know? So that in me that that’s such an important part of who I am. Um, and we try and celebrate that about each other in, in this house, especially, oh,

Gale Straub :

I love that. I love that.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Listening to Lindsey talk, I can’t help but think of Adventure Mamas, a nonprofit that’s dedicated to helping mother’s find community and time outside for themselves. I’ll link it in the show notes. The outdoors was and continues to be a big part of Lindsey’s world, a world that changed drastically last spring.

Lindsey Ingram:

So I got sick the last week in March, we had just gone into quarantine. My son had been sick the week before, kind of when quarantine was when we were all locking down. So he spent that first week sick. And then I got sick in the second week. We didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe it was just going to be a cold and then I just didn’t get better. And so by the end of that first week, I was in the emergency room for the first time. Wow. And that was kind of a clue that it wasn’t going to be as easy of a journey for me.

Gale Straub – Narration:

Lindsey entered a kind of liminal space that day. She wasn’t sick enough to be hospitalized, and there was no testing available for COVID in her area. The doctors believed she contracted it, she had all the symptoms. But no certainty.

Lindsey Ingram:

So I was in this cycle of being too sick, to work, being too sick, to get out of bed and going into the emergency room and then being sent home. And I waited that for eight weeks, for two months. Wow. I did try to go back to work virtually for a few days in the middle of that. And my boss immediately told me to go back to bed. So it was a few weeks in, and it was two months of being home on bedrest. And then in the weeks after that, I just did not get better. Um, my symptoms were severe. I don’t know if you want me to go into the symptom list, but I will say they were wide ranging, um, you know, affecting everything from my breathing to my heartbeat, to, you know, my ability to stand and walk across the room and that persisted for about five months through the entire summer,

Gale Straub :

That must’ve been really scary.

Lindsey Ingram:

It was, it was very scary in addition to being scary, it was very lonely and confusing because we did not have in early March, in April, even into may, we didn’t have any science on what this looked like. So we had a lot of misinformation. Um, people were very scared for the first few weeks that I was ill. My kids had, uh, been with their father and then they came home, but then I couldn’t see them for a week or two. So, you know, we would literally hang out on the other side of my bedroom door because I couldn’t see them. I was very fortunate to have a robust support system. Um, you know, we never bunted for anything. I was so overwhelmed with the community that came up and, you know, dropped off the care package after care package, but not being able to see anybody, not being able to just get a hug when you’re the sickest that you’ve ever been in your life or give a hug. It was very, very difficult. And I know, you know, there are people who are hospitalized. There were people who are passed away, but even just being in your home in quarantine at that time, when we didn’t know what outcomes were, we didn’t know, you know, what a roadmap to recovery looked like. It was very isolating literally and mentally it was very isolating.

Gale Straub :

And what was it like not having access to one of your tools for your mental health, you know, to be able to spend time outside.

Lindsey Ingram:

It felt like an impossible situation. My room is on the second floor. So in those first, uh, six or eight weeks, I didn’t really come downstairs unless I absolutely had to, because coming back up the stairs was a 10 minute ordeal of sitting on the steps and taking a break going up or more steps in sitting and taking a break. So I tried to really limit that. So my access to the outdoors was very limited and mentally and physiologically, you know, it takes a toll on you. What I did have, and one of my saving graces during that time was my window stayed open for the entire time that I was in this bedroom being sick. So I welcomed the birds back when they came back in April and the leaves when they came back in late April. So having my window open was made literal sliver onto the world. And that was one of the things that I would say really got me through that time was just felt little patch of sunlight and listening to the birds and watching the shadows of the trees on my wall.

Gale Straub :

Hmm. Do you remember when you went out for maybe more of a nature walk or something that felt akin to a hike that you would have taken before getting sick?

Lindsey Ingram:

I was done March, April and may. And at the end of may, I wasn’t able to take a walk, but what I was able to do was order flowers. So I ordered some flowers and they were brought to the house and the boys that I put in, uh, small garden in the front of my house. So kind of sitting on the ground and playing in the dirt was my first real connection to nature after being so sick. And that really carried me through the summer because I couldn’t walk during the summer. Um, and I couldn’t hike, but my first hike back was in September. And it was a very short, you know, just down the road and back, it was a very flat surface, but it was phenomenal just to walk to the end of my street and back, you know, and see the grass, you know, so much green was calming, even though it was just a city block and back

Gale Straub – Narration:

Speaking of gardening, before we’d started recording this interview Lindsey mentioned to me how much of an impact her grandmother, who recently passed, has had on her in relation to the outdoors, especially when it comes to gardening. I asked Lindsey if she’d tell us a little bit about her grandmother and that connection she passed on.

Lindsey Ingram:

I lost my grandmother in January. She was in a nursing home. So her last year of life was difficult. You know, she was isolated, she was alone. We could not see her. And so losing her was devastating. We were very, very close, but gardening is a love that she passed on to not only my mother, but my two sisters and I. So we are all avid gardeners. Um, when I was a younger, single mom, she would come with her cane and her big knee pads on and a van full of flowers and tell me to start digging. And so I would, I would have to drop whatever I was doing that Saturday and dig a new garden bed. And she taught me, you know, to have fun, to do things by trial and error. She taught me through gardening that you have to be patient one of her favorite sayings that I know she did not make up, but the flowers sleep for their first year creep for the second year and leap for the third year.

Lindsey Ingram:

Um, so one of the ways that I’ve really connected with the outdoors, especially the spring is kind of widening my garden beds and setting up the vegetable garden. And I just sort of feel her a little bit every day and that being patient and that being, uh, experimental and doing it for the process of doing it and not necessarily for the outcome, you know, she would always tell me that flowers die and that’s okay now, you know what not to do next time. And you might do the same thing next time. And they thrive. You know, some things are out of your control. And I think that speaks to the uncertainty. A lot of us are feeling, but, you know, being that resilient and adapting and just focusing on the joy and the process is really something I carry with me in my relationship with the outdoors as we kind of go forward, you know, I can garden, I can take walks, I can sit outside, I can do so many things. And that to me is worth so much, even if I will not be hiking up any large mountains. Anytime soon,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Though Lindsey has always been a hiker who enjoys the process more than the outcome – she describes herself as the person you’d find on the side of the trail, knees in the dirt to get a photo of a mushroom – this time has not come without big challenges: there’s still a lot of uncertainty, a continual renegotiation of what activities are possible, a changing relationship with one’s body, and hard looks at accessibility in her life and the lives of others. We’ll jump back in, after the break.

MIDROLL

Gale Straub – Narration:

We’re back.

Gale Straub :

One of the things that you mentioned when we chatted last was that through your experience with long haul COVID, you’ve renegotiated, you continue to renegotiate your relationship with the outdoors and how you spent time outside. Would you be able to speak to that a little bit, like your thought process around that?

Lindsey Ingram:

One thing that I had to do was acknowledge that my situation was miserable, right? I think whenever we go through something where we aren’t able to do things that we once were able to do, or feels like something’s taken away, there is a sense of inherent unfairness in that, and it’s okay for it to be miserable. But at some point, anytime I have encountered a block like that and given myself space to feel it there’s been a need to pivot and adapt because I don’t, I don’t want us doing that forever. And I think there’s a difference between holding space for something and then wallowing that marker is different for everybody. But for me, I did hit a point where I wanted to pivot and turn and say, well, I can’t go backpacking. I can’t, you know, do my weekly hike or my, you know, multiple times a week hikes.

Lindsey Ingram:

So what can I do? And it turned into a, more of a positive mindset of being able to look at, okay, you know, here are the things that I can do, and here are the ways that I can connect. So for me, that became gardening for me that became sitting out and my back patio and listening to the birds and watching the squirrels scamper. I think like a lot of people, I have the squirrels in my backyard named now, or maybe that’s just me, but I do have them named, but really it’s just looking at that positive. You know, what can I do versus what can’t I do, or what’s not accessible to me. So for me, the path forward was, you know, really, I mean, as simple as making a list of here are the things that I can do and being very intentional of going out and doing those things, even when I didn’t feel like it, or I thought it was going to be too much trying to go out and do that. So that meant going to the nature park and walking the quarter mile, short trail, and then sitting on a bench and listening for an hour. And that’s kind of what I do now. I try and do that every week, just going to a park and walking, you know, halfway as far as I think I can and sitting down on the dirt and getting my hands on the ground and really just being quiet and listening because that’s how I can connect right now. It is still hard for me a year later to go uphill.

Gale Straub :

How has your relationship with your body shifted and how are you able to, to kind of build up some trust in your body?

Lindsey Ingram:

That is a phenomenal question. I think when, when someone’s injured or when you get sick, I felt betrayed by my body for a long time. I was like, you used to be able to do all these things, and now you can’t and is it some moral failing on my part? You know? And so some of that anger was directed inward, which is not healthy, but it’s, it’s where I was for a long time. And so shifting that to gratitude, gratitude plays a central role in my life, right? I practice gratitude every day. I’m not going to say I’m a silver linings person, because I think sometimes things are just allowed to be terrible, but seeking out things that I’m grateful for kind of keeping a running list is one of those things that just helps keep my mindsets more positive. So I started doing that with my body, you know, just thank you for carrying me up the stairs.

Lindsey Ingram:

Thank you for being able to go to the park. Thank you for driving me just this very little, thank you. Started shifting that anger away. And the other big part of it is taking better care of myself. This looks different for everybody, but for me, there were some small life style changes I could make, you know, making sure I’m hydrated. Sure. I’m on a sleep schedule. Not that I can single-handedly facilitate healing, but I can certainly make it easier on myself. If that makes any sense. I’m not a person who says foods are good and bad, but you know, making sure or trying to eat more whole foods or fruits and vegetables, things that are going to nourish me. So yeah, just practicing that gratitude, trying to treat my body with kindness and compassion, the way that I would, any of my friends

Gale Straub :

Did, did it make you think about accessibility differently?

Lindsey Ingram:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Uh, I will share that. I actually apologized to one of my friends after I got sick because our kids are the same age. We, you know, kind of raised them up together. And that included going on a lot of hikes when they were very young, you know, we lived next door to each other. Her kids are my kids, and there was a time in our lives when, you know, I was used to hiking and that wasn’t something she was used to. And so I would kind of speed ahead with the kids a little bit and we would always wait for her to catch up. But the very early, late twenties, early thirties, me just didn’t really think about how that might make her feel. You know, I think we take it for granted personally. I would like to think that, you know, I have that compassion, but I didn’t in that circumstance. And there is nothing like, you know, looking at a path and wanting to go up it and not being able to that that really resets your mindset. I think about it in the way that why doesn’t this path have, you know, a wheelchair accessible thing, but I didn’t think about it as much as I do now.

Gale Straub :

Yeah. How did your friend respond when you apologized?

Lindsey Ingram:

You know what she said? That’s okay. She said, I, I’m sorry that you know what that feels like now, but it’s okay. And you know, we’ve been friends for 20 years. We have the sort of relationship where, you know, we have a lot of grace for each other, even though we’re in different places in our lives. A lot of our worldviews are different, but, uh, she accepted my apology with grace and compassion, which is more than I could ask for really, she sounds like a good friend. She really is.

Gale Straub :

So what has community looked like for you, have you found and connected with other people who are experiencing long haul COVID symptoms?

Lindsey Ingram:

Yes. So that was one of the weirdest things about going through this last year was that sense of loneliness. And I thought it was just me going through this and doctors couldn’t explain it. And there was no treatment. And one of my good friends forwarded a New York times article to me in may. And it was the first time that a voice was given to my experience. And I think that we go through this a lot. Like we go through something, we are very internal. We feel that loneliness. And it’s when you, your story connects with other people’s stories, um, that you find that sense of community. And for me, I cried so hard over that New York times article, but it was the first time that, that we saw, um, you know, that other people were going through this, you know, kind of months of suffering and vague symptoms.

Lindsey Ingram:

And nobody knew what it was and the word long holler hadn’t been coined yet. But in that article, there were support groups springing up online for other people going through this. So I limit my time in, in these two particular groups that I’m in because having this and this being a part of my life is something that’s kind of shaped my last year, but like motherhood, it’s not the only part of who I am. You know, I have a lot going on, but at times being in that support group has, it’s like holding up a mirror to your own experience. It’s just online. There’s really not anything in person. You know, we are still in the middle of a pandemic, but just having other people to say, Hey, this is the thing that I’m going through. Does anyone have anything that aligns with this or just putting resources to, to each other has been really key to kind of mentally moving forward? Absolutely.

Gale Straub :

Is there anything that you want people who are listening to know about long haul COVID, you know, what it’s like or any misconceptions that you’ve even encountered that you’d like to correct?

Lindsey Ingram:

I would say that everyone experiences things differently. It’s very strange when your lived experience has been politicized and the way that this has. And sometimes that’s very hard. And so if you know somebody who is going through this, don’t politicize it for them. You know, your friend who has long call COVID, isn’t making it up for attention and your friend who has long call COVID isn’t to share their story. If they don’t want to spread awareness, I think there’s pressure either way to dismiss or pressure to share your story and, you know, really get that out there. There was especially last spring and fall and summer, it’s the same things we hear about other people who are going through things, right. Or other people who have experiences. I’m not an ambassador for everyone who has COVID just because I’ve had COVID. So if I want to share my story, I will, but you know, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re entitled to everything that my doctors are telling me. And I think it comes from a place of genuine concern. You know what I mean? You care about somebody, but that’s true for anyone with a chronic illness. You know, you can give advice that they’ve probably heard 40 or 50 times before, and you’re tired of hearing it. So yeah, just give people some courtesy and some grace, you know, the same courtesy and grace that you would want to be treated with. If you were in the same situation

Gale Straub – Narration:

This past year has been a good reminder to listen to other’s experiences and respect boundaries whether it’s with long haul COVID, other chronic illnesses, or accessibility and mobility needs. As we continued our conversation Lindsey brought it back to understanding that accessibility and negotiation is a part of life and relationships. Making the outdoors more accessible, as well as meeting people where they are has become a central theme for Lindsey.

Lindsey Ingram:

I would say circling back to the idea of reciprocity, you know, a wonderful way that I have found to connect with the outdoors is to share it with other people and to make it accessible for other people. One of the things that I did a few months ago when there was still snow on the ground was I bought little, um, Explorer day packs for my friend’s daughters. They’re like nieces to me. And they had binoculars in them and little magnifying glasses and some crayons that I had taken the wrappers off, or like rubbing on bark and whistles and little compasses. And so we just went to the same nature park. We play a game called, you know, left or right. And just at every trail that we stop at, you know, every junction they get to pick left or right. And so the kids get to pick what way we go.

Lindsey Ingram:

The kids get to be around nature. You know, they get to pick up leaves and explore them. They get to do rubbings against wood or a plant. Um, you know, they’re using their binoculars to look at birds, instilling the love for kind of presence and being still as one of the things that drives me. And I love doing this with pretty much every little kid in my life. At some point they will go on a hike with me and get that little day pack. But even when you can’t do the things that you want to do, sharing what you can do with someone else and sharing what really matters to you with someone else makes such a profound difference, right? You’re creating that memory with someone you’re creating a connection with someone that you can then carry forward and maybe they will then share that thing with someone else. So that’s, that’s one of my favorite things about the outdoors is that reciprocity and sharing it with other people, um, and trying to give back in my little circle in any way that I can.

Gale Straub :

That’s beautiful.

Lindsey Ingram:

Obviously I take my kids, but also my kids’ friends, camping or hiking back when they thought that was a cool thing to do with their mom. You know, um, they don’t so much now that’s okay. They will, again, I hope so. We’ll see, because I did, you know, instill this love of the outdoors with my kids. We go on these long, you know, a 6,000 mile road trips across the country to national parks, you know, and right now they are in a season in their lives where this is just not a thing that interests them. And I spent a while fighting against that. You know, sometimes we share the things we love with people we love and they just give a big piece out too to that idea. And it’s really easy to take that personally, but just honoring that about people, you know, if they don’t want to share that with you, it’s still the thing that you can do by yourself. You can go on a hike by yourself, you know, you can do things alone, as much as you can do them with other people. So I would say, you know, look at the barriers and see if you can adapt to those barriers or overcome them, whether it’s a fear of being alone or you know, that you aren’t physically able to do the things that you ideally would want to do.

Gale Straub :

Yeah. Yeah. So just as, you know, an anecdote for me would be going away with my sister for a couple of days. She works on her feet all the time as a server. And she was like, no hikes. You know, I know her. So I also knew that she would love to see some beautiful things. So we ended up doing more of those quarter mile, half mile to the lookout point waterfall kind of hikes. And, and we met in the middle, you know, we, we both got to enjoy it and we were kind of flexible for each other and accommodating for each other. And that’s a good reminder to, you know, calls back to your apology to your friend.

Lindsey Ingram:

We Can’t go in with an agenda and then just present that to other people and expect them to be in line with whatever your vision is. We to do that with ourselves too, you know, that’s what this entire process of adapting to, you know, uh, having COVID is, but what a beautiful sentiment that, you know, your sisters so well, they, you knew that she would want to be outside in some aspect. Um, so you found a way to share that with her. Yeah. Yeah. That’s what we have to do to ourselves. Sometimes. You know, we just have to take a step back and be like, I know this is what you want. So how can we brainstorm to get you there in some capacity,

Gale Straub – Narration:

Just as Lindsay is meeting other people where they’re at, she’s trying to do the same for herself as she moves through the effects of long haul COVID. And as we all move through this time, as restrictions are lifted here in the United States, I’d encourage you to stay respectful and considerate of others on the trail. And otherwise, as Lindsay continues to recover, she told me that she’s looking forward to the summer, to a road trip to the upper peninsula of Michigan. In fact, she shared that just the act of planning a road trip is very calming for her. Something she looks forward to. So in this spirit of looking ahead, I’ll leave you with Lindsey’s last thoughts.

Lindsey Ingram:

I, I would just encourage anyone, whatever your abilities are, whatever your resources are, you know, you can trouble very cheaply. Um, and I know that traveling in any way as a privilege, but wherever you live, you know, you have a window, you have access to the outdoors and that can look like a walk, you know, in your neighborhood. It can look like, you know, a drive if you have a car, but the outdoors is there for all of us to, to enjoy and to give back to.

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