Saturday, March 26, 2016

#EBCTeam2016: Instructor Andrea Mitchell

Back here in Canada we've been loving all of the updates coming in from our Everest Base Camp instructors. We've already introduced you to Angus, let's get to know our second instructor, Andrea Mitchell.

Andrea has been instructing for Outward Bound Canada for six years. Andrea is a clinical counsellor, certified therapeutic recreation specialist, adventure therapist and owner of Hemisphere Adventure. She has been designing and facilitating groups for individual, community, and team development for the past 13 years. Andrea is honoured and excited to be on the team for the Reach Beyond Expedition to Everest Base Camp.

In preparing for this expedition, Andrea took some time to reflect on the impact Outward Bound Canada has had on her throughout the years. Thanks Andrea for sharing your story with us!

"I’m in the hallway of my basement packing to go instruct an Outward Bound Canada fundraising trip to Everest Base Camp. I’ve been involved with OBC since 2008, instructing since 2010. It’s an organization that I’m passionate about.

I came to Outward Bound because I was desperately seeking a lifeboat. I would have settled for a raft, instead I got a ship with a crew and leaders who were highly skilled and intentional.  At 23 I was still crawling my way out of a pit I was dropped in as a preteen.  Experiencing sexual assault was by and away the hardest event of my life; a close second and third were the thoughts and behaviours that came in the years that followed.

In nearly every other way I was a child of privilege. I have empathic, intelligent and capable parents, who had the ability to apply a lot of resources towards my recovery. I grew up with an ocean view on the hill in West Vancouver, went to one of the best public schools in Canada, lived and travelled all over world.  My life was not hard - abuse trumped all that, it made life unbearable.

My geophysicist father is a compulsive reader and researcher and learned everything he could to help me. I attended trainings, and workshops and sessions, whatever he could think of. My brothers joke that I’m the most trained Mitchell and three out of five of us have graduate degrees. It helped, I accomplished a lot. I was pursuing a university degree in recreational therapy after a two year false start in engineering, and I had spent a year studying yoga therapy and backpacking through India. Yet still it felt like I was clawing at happiness; I could get some under my fingernails but never a hand-full. Then my father heard about Outward Bound.

He pitched it to me as career research - I was studying therapeutic recreation with a focus on adolescence mental health. So I went. I chose “Mindfulness in the Mountains”. I would have chosen “Women of Courage”, a program specifically for women who have undergone abuse, but I didn’t know it was an option yet. I was 23 and the minimum age was 25 so I had to write a letter to get in. The course was taught by Ken Wiley and Martha McCallum. It was 10 days backpacking expedition through the Canadian Rockies. I remember arriving at CrossRivers Wilderness Centre and meeting Troy Patenaude and Julian Noris, I had a strange sense that I had arrived to my people.

Physically I was’t challenged by the course. In high school, my father had read, exercise helps anxiety and depression - I did a lot of sports. Socially I had always been good with people, I had always found it easy to start conversations and make friends. I was also a pretty extrovert, and that has never hurt anyone. My self-esteem and ability to be vulnerable however were in shatters. I had a deep, hurt place inside that was curled up in a ball crying.  Outward Bound did not force me to take her out and look at her, instead they taught me resilience.

Being on expedition was something that seemed to come naturally to me. I didn’t struggle when it rained, I was fine with long days, I slept well in tents, I enjoyed learning the skills and I really liked developing as a leader.  I gravitated towards leadership rolls; I kept my head in stress and could get people on board with my ideas.

Following was harder. It wasn’t that I wanted to tell people what to do, I didn’t trust anyone else with my safety.  Ironically not my physical safety, I’d been on a rock climbing team in high school and never stressed about putting my life in someone else's hands. It was my emotional safety I wouldn’t risk. The experience I had on that course and the many that followed restored my faith in other people and in my own humanity. I learned that there is always an end to situations that feel hopeless and even if I can’t see it yet if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll find it.

OBC’s programs are developed to facilitate growth in people; they are in the business of building resilience and they are very good at it. It is not therapy, it is facilitated growth and everyone is capable of growth and change. I learned that I was responsible for myself, I was responsible for my community and my community was responsible for me. The door was then opened for trust.

On my very first day I fell in love with Outward Bound Canada. I began instructing for them as soon as I finished my degree. Another degree, a start up, a fiancĂ© and two step children later I still use my holidays to instruct for OBC.  Yes, now I get to do incredibly cool things like instruct Women of Courage out of a heli-lodge with a Via Ferrata and do this trip to Everest Base Camp; but more than anything I keep coming back because I know that for some people Outward Bound Canada is going to change their lives. It is important for me to support this organization’s success and I deeply hope others feel the same."

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