The beginning of summer was far from what I had dreamed of. It eventually came to the point that I had to decide whether to forgo all my summer road trip plans that would take me around the east coast of New Zealand, or make up a plan B that would work with my current circumstances. I was still struggling with intense concussion symptoms which in turn set off a high state of anxiety within me.
Every part of my mind was telling me going away on a road trip was too much for me (and many people around me also thought this) and to throw in the towel, but there was this one part of me that just couldn’t give up the summer dream. And to this small voice of determination and courage, I am so grateful for, because after spending months at home in bed, living out in nature for a week, was so healing in my recovery.
So plan B it was! My friends were absolutely incredible! I can’t get over how blessed I am to have such kind, compassionate, encouraging friends in my life, who were so happy to adapt the trip to ensure I would be okay, and looked out for me every step of the way! So what did plan B look like?
It meant teaching my beautiful friend to drive a manual in just 2 weeks to be able to do the majority of the driving that I no longer could do, it meant changing up some of our roads to some more direct routes to our destinations, and on the trip, they were the ones that would make me go nap while they set up camp, went into supermarkets to get supplies, feed me sugar with they saw me fading off, and in general just being my second brain when I couldn’t remember simple things! They really were amazing, and I couldn’t have done it without them.
This trip turned my summer around! As we traveled along the east coast of New Zealand, I found such healing being immersed in nature, living simplistically and getting out of the house I had been bound to for so long. My symptoms began to reduce, and I slowly found my joy and spark coming back to me.
So much so that I decided to face my fears of surfing again and get back out there! The optimistic side of me, of course packed my surfboard, even though I thought it may not even get wet on the trip. My first go at getting back out was one beautiful morning at Ohope beach. We woke up from camping out beachside, and I decided that this was the morning! I was ready!
This surf ended up being more testing than I had mentally prepared for. A part of me thought I would return out there and everything would be the same as it once was. But it wasn’t anymore! I put on the safety helmet I now had to wear to protect my head, and with that came another whole mindset. One that reminded me what I had been through and the risks of going back out, and it riddled me with nerves and fear. So much so that every time I would paddle for a wave, fear would overtake me at the last split second and I would pull off. In the end I managed to catch one small average wave, and paddled on in, feeling very defeated and discouraged.
Two days later, now in Papamoa, I hit the waves again, as part of a photoshoot that has been lined up for months! I had initially told the photographer that I would paddle out there, but I wouldn’t be catching any waves because I wasn’t wearing a helmet. But after getting tired of seeing these gorgeous waves roll past me (it was the most magical morning), I started paddling for them. And then there I was, I found myself up on a beautiful wave, and almost in shock to find myself riding it. Coming off that wave I found the biggest smile on my face! I was finally reminded of how much I loved the feeling of surfing and the joy it brought me. I was absolutely stoked!
Unfortunately the next few surfs after this one, I continued to be challenged by this overpowering fear as I paddled back out in the ocean. I had many surfs where I would paddle out there, and become so frustrated that it would reduce me to tears, and paddle on in- catching absolutely nothing.
Determined to push through my fear, and overcome it, I continued to go out, telling myself it was fine if I caught nothing. Simply being in the ocean and learning to trust it again, was progress in itself. And then one beautiful morning my fear was no longer there. As we got ready to go out that morning, I decided that I didn’t need to wear my helmet and we were not allowed to use the word ‘scared’, only positive affirmations! That morning I caught multiple gorgeous waves. As I paddled in at the end of the session, I realised that, not for one moment I was out there, had I been scared anymore. I trusted myself again and I trusted the ocean.
As challenging as this journey has been, it has made me so grateful for the simple things in life, the beautiful friends and family I have around me, and of course, the incredible Gemma Lee community that encouraged and supported me along the way. I am forever thankful x
Photos by Craig Butland