Zibby is joined by journalist Claire Nelson to talk about her incredible debut memoir, Things I Learned From Falling, which documents her near-death experience while hiking at Joshua Tree. As Claire waited for days for assistance to arrive —wondering if any would come at all— she set out on a self-reflection journey in which she uncovered uncomfortable truths about her inner beliefs and her mortality at large. Despite her harrowing journey, Claire shares how she approaches each day with comedy and a determination to live.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Claire. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Things I Learned from Falling: A Memoir.

Claire Nelson: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, Claire, I saw this book when I first heard about it. I was like, I’m going to love that book. I need to read this book right away. This is amazing. It did not disappoint. First of all, your story is just so incredible. The way you wrote about it and the lessons you got from it and how inspiring, oh, my gosh, I had goosebumps. It was just awesome. I’m so glad you wrote it.

Claire: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Would you mind telling everybody who might not know, what your story is all about, what happened, and then when you decided to even make this a book?

Claire: I don’t know where to begin. The crux of the story, it’s based around an accident I had while hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in California. I had left London to go and travel and find some balance in my life. Being alone in the outdoors, had a fall, had an accident, and was left seriously injured in the desert for four days and three nights and trying to come to terms with the fact that I might not come out alive. Through that, then really looking at my life and getting a lot of that clarity that I’d gone looking for in very fast-tracked kind of a way.

Zibby: Yeah, this is not exactly what you meant by finding .

Claire: No.

Zibby: Wow. First of all, your physical endurance is really out of this world. I know that there were times in the book where you were like, pain or death, pain or death. Still, to endure so much physical pain and come out the other side, I don’t even know how you did that. It’s amazing.

Claire: I think that we are so much stronger than we think we are. The good thing is that we don’t have to, usually, put that to the test. In our day-to-day lives, we’re not having to really push the boundaries on our own capacity to stay alive, which is good. If you are in those situations, I think anyone would surprise themselves about what they actually can endure and how strong they are.

Zibby: Just before I go into things that happened, can I get the PS? What happens after the book? Are you totally fine in terms of — I know, obviously, you were out hiking and everything, but are you okay? Do you have lingering side effects physically from what happened? Tell me what life is like now.

Claire: I should preface this by saying it’s small potatoes. It’s not like I’m like, oh, this is really bad. I still have physical pain. I have permanent chronic arthritis in my ankle which I’m currently about to start some physio on, which I wasn’t able to do through the pandemic. I get niggling pains in that side of my body. Just the last three years, everything’s kind of a little bit out of alignment, so I’m just really having to focus on really looking after myself physically, which is no bad thing. Like I say, I almost appreciate the amount of what I’ve got because it’s just enough to remind me how lucky I am but not enough to stop me from doing the things that I love.

Zibby: All right, that’s a very healthy outlook towards that. I feel like I would just be whining, but okay. I’ll take it. One of the conclusions I feel that you reached in this book, or in your life, I guess I should say, is when you’re like, wow, fear really does stop us a lot, doesn’t it? You had one line. Of course, I won’t be able to find it, but something where you’re almost talking to the reader. Yeah, look at that. Fear does really hold us back, doesn’t it? Tell me about that.

Claire: Fear is such a waste of time when you really look at it. When you’re inevitably facing death and you have that moment of retrospection on how you were living your life before, did I do it right? Do I have any regrets? The things that I was like, I can’t believe that was how I was living my life, all of the little bits and pieces, the anxiety and the imposter syndrome and the not really putting myself out there, all of that stuff, it’s all fear based. I was like, but why is it there? This is fear that I have invented. It just felt like, oh, my gosh. When I saw it and I really looked at it through that lens, it was like, wow, oh, my gosh, what a waste of time. I really wish I had had a chance to step over that and just get on with it, not knowing, of course, that I would have that chance.

Zibby: You also talked about the importance of connection and how even when your camera stopped working, that that was a loss for you because it was your connection with the outside world in some way, even imagined, and how you related more to the Tom Hanks volleyball situation.

Claire: It was my Wilson.

Zibby: Yeah, your Wilson. Exactly.

Claire: Here he is. Here’s my Wilson.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, the same camera.

Claire: I still have it. I still use it. It still works. There’s also an allegory there too, which I barely only understood in looking back, that I felt connected because I still had a digital device. Even though it wasn’t connected to anything, there is still that habitual reliance now of, I’ve got a digital device, I am somehow connected to people. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and processing about that and what that means. I’m a very solitary person. Again, something else I’ve been looking at and processing is, why am I such a solitary person? Where is that balance of getting just enough solitude versus, really, am I just using it to kind of keep myself at arm’s length from other people and really connecting and really allowing people to see me, warts and all? That really just comes down to self-acceptance. You start to unpack these things, and the whole thing unravels.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. How has the impact of the fact that it’s all so public been on you? I know you talked about how newspapers picked it up right away. They were so, not attracted, but everybody was writing about the drinking of urine part of the situation.

Claire: Oh, they loved that part.

Zibby: I mean, come on, that was one tiny thing. They should’ve been talking about the fact that anytime you went to the side, you were blacking out with pain, almost.

Claire: Doesn’t make as a good headline as, “Woman drinks own pee.”

Zibby: To be honest, what they should’ve done is really marketed the heck out of all those walking sticks. I feel like this is an ode to the walking stick. Not that I ever really hike because I’m so scared in general, but if I ever do, I’m getting a walking stick like yours. You never know.

Claire: You never know. Be prepared.

Zibby: You must still have it.

Claire: I do, yeah. In fact, it’s over the other side of the room. Yes, I have it. It’s like a magic wand.

Zibby: I know, I loved you called it the magic wand. How has the media attention on this affected your life? That’s another way where you’ve suddenly had to become this public person. People’s fascination in your daily life, what was that like? How is it now?

Claire: There’s the media interest before there was a book when it was a new story. That was a trip. It was weird because I was trying to come to terms with what had happened. Then at the same time, my life, there was all this interest. I ended up sitting on a couch with Al Roker in New York. I was like, what is going on? Also, I was like, well, this is a chance for me to help keep other people safe when they’re hiking. It was great, but yeah, it was a lot to process. For instance, there’s some videos that I took that I shared with a documentary news in New Zealand thinking that would be it. Of course, it ended up on an Australian version. Then it ended up on YouTube. Now lots of people have seen it. It’s just getting used to the fact that people, they’re going to project their own stuff onto your fifteen minutes of your experience and decide all this stuff. It’s very amusing to me. Doesn’t bother me. I just find it very fascinating. Then since the book, that’s allowed me to tell my story in a very honest way. There’s stuff in the book that people closest to me didn’t know about or hadn’t really understood. It was really my way of being like, look, here it is, this is all of it, and not holding back. That’s been great because it’s really allowed me to feel more seen and to strengthen the connections in my life that I already had.

Zibby: Was it super emotional writing it? What was that like for you?

Claire: The parts in the desert were easy to write because they were so clear in my memory. I really wanted to preserve them. All the other parts of my life, it was like my shadow life. All that stuff that I had worked so hard to hide from other people, I was now putting to paper. Yeah, that was hard. I wouldn’t say it was emotional so much as it was just uncomfortable. At the same time, once I had written it, once it was out there, it was a relief because I didn’t have to hide this stuff anymore.

Zibby: Meanwhile, it’s not like you’re a secret axe murder or something. The things you were most worried about, which I totally relate to, because they’re your issues, and so they become so magnified and embarrassing for you, whereas the reader or the average person could read and be like, okay, yeah, I get that.

Claire: I know. It’s all to do with shame. The things that you become ashamed of about yourself or about what you’re feeling, and you hide it and you hide it, and so it becomes this cabin of shame. Then you open that box and you let the light in, and it’s no longer as big a deal. What’s been really amazing is people have been contacting me and just being like, I so related to that. It’s so nice to read someone else going through that. You’re like, we’re all the same. We’ve all got our stuff. When we start talking about it, it just makes it less scary and less shameful.

Zibby: It’s so true. That’s so important. A lot of what you learned is not — you might have learned it anyway in your life by just age and wisdom and getting over some of the things and deeper connections and this and that to get you out of the bubble, but because this was so dramatic, I liked how you showed us the before image of you versus — you have to do it. You had to show us where you came and where you ended up and all of that.

Claire: I think it helped to explain a lot of what I was feeling when I was out there and also some of the decisions that I had made. You kind of needed that context. Of course, the lessons would’ve made no sense without knowing where I’d been before. That was crucial.

Zibby: I love how right when you were rescued — I hope it’s not giving anything away. Obviously, you were rescued because here we are.

Claire: Spoiler.

Zibby: Spoiler alert. There were times in here, I was like, no, no, no, I’m reading this book, so it’s going to be okay. That you could be so sarcastic and funny right at the moment and how everybody was so surprised as you were making jokes to the doctors or the nurses and all this stuff, tell me about that moment. You were just so excited to be alive. Tell me about that.

Claire: My default is humor. That’s how I was brought up. It’s part of my personality. That was the best day of my life. I was never going to be that ecstatic. First of all, I think the joking thing was just taking the edge off of the fact that this was a really major situation. I was just deliriously happy. I can’t even describe the euphoria that I felt that day and then for a long time afterwards. It was great to be able to be kind of jovial in those moments. Also, it makes me sound a bit mad, but you know.

Zibby: No, not at all. It’s great. It was obviously such a contrast to when we got glimpses of what you were thinking during that time, especially all of the, I’m not ready, I’m not ready. You were like, I’m going to die here. I’m going to watch it happen slowly. This is terrible. This is not how I want it to end. Do you still flash back to those times? I know you had said you have flashbacks to the whole thing, or you did at least soon afterwards. That moment, does that inspire what you do now?

Claire: Yes, it does in its own way. What I remember most was finally that sense of acceptance, that incredible feeling of being at peace with the situation. I’m able to call on that. Of course, I’m still human. I’m still going to get stressed and anxious and annoyed by trivial stuff, but I just can call on that and remember that. I got to have that moment of peace and then still come through it and be alive and other stuff now. It’s always going to be there. It’s always going to be the thing that I can refer to.

Zibby: I was just mentioning this to a girlfriend of mine because I think about dying constantly. Every morning, I wake up and I’m like, okay, I hope I don’t die today because I have a lot to do. I’m taking this flight. Oh, my gosh, I hope I don’t die on this flight because I really need to get back. It is top of mind for me all the time. In that way, I feel like I’m always fighting against time. I know my brand is like, ha ha, funny, moms don’t have time, whatever. It’s also that current that none of us have time. Our time is all limited. What do you do knowing that? I think some people operate life with that in the forefront. Then my girlfriend who I was talking to was like, “I never think that way. What?” She’s like, “It never occurs to me.” I was like, “Oh, no, it occurs to me all the time.” I’m feeling like, and this is obviously a leap, but this has to be at the front of your consciousness having come so close, that it could happen again, right?

Claire: Yeah. It’s so funny. Just yesterday, I was having a conversation with someone about death. They were saying, “You must have this conversation a lot.” It’s like, I like having this conversation. The more you’re aware of our mortality — it’s weird to me that it’s the one thing we can be certain of and it’s the one thing that should inspire what we do each day, and yet no one wants to think about it. They don’t want to talk about it. They want to pretend that it’s just not an issue or it’s just not a reality. I’m like, this seems strange to me because that can do so much for us. It’s not about being morbid. , oh, we’re all going to die, but we are. Hey, how about using that? I like that you’re using that to be like, okay, time is precious. Let’s do this.

Zibby: Let’s go.

Claire: Yeah, let’s go. I’m the same. For me with my experience, it’s like, this sucks, whatever’s happened. This sucks, but I could be dead. Hey, how lucky that I get to be ticked off at this thing today because I could be dead. You can use it in so many ways. I think it’s powerful. I think we should be using it and being more aware of it. Again, it’s a bit like shame. You let the light in, it becomes less of a scary thing.

Zibby: Yes. I think this comes probably from a place of anxiety. Anyone with enough anxiety is always worrying about the worst thing thinking that if you worry about it enough, when it happens, it won’t be a big deal. There you were. You had all this anxiety and whatever. You didn’t seem any more excited about the prospect of dying either, so I’m not sure it actually works as a tool.

Claire: You shouldn’t be excited about it. It’s just been like, okay, this is the reality. Why don’t I use that? It’s almost like it takes away fear. If you really acknowledge mortality, it can really help you to just be like, well, the fear doesn’t matter because I’m going to die one day. I might as well just do the thing. Again, just using it for good and not using it as something to worry about. You can’t affect the outcome through worrying.

Zibby: I saw on your blog and everything you ended up moving to Canada. Is that right? Now you’re there? Yes?

Claire: No, I’m in London again.

Zibby: Oh, you are. Okay.

Claire: I had a two-year visa for Canada. The first year was obviously turned upside down by this accident. Then by the time I was back on my feet, I had a year left on the visa. I was like, I want to use that, so I moved to Vancouver. That’s where I wrote the book. Then my visa ran out, so I came back to London about three weeks before the pandemic hit. It’s been a time for all of us.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh. How was that? How did you end up getting through that? What was the two-sentence experience like for you?

Claire: A lot of watching birds and walking in parks. I was actually grateful for some of the lessons I had taken from the whole desert experience because I think some of that really came into play during all of this, and not just for me, but for the people around me. I was actually grateful to be armed with those experiences, in a way.

Zibby: Particularly how you remembered how to be bored, which I think was also a really powerful lesson.

Claire: Oh, yeah, learning how to be bored, which is really just a way of learning to be comfortable and very present and not looking to be distracted. Boy, there was moments of being tested through 2020. Also, the whole trying to come off social media more, I gave myself a free pass during the pandemic for that because, exceptional circumstances. That was a real new set of lessons and challenges for us.

Zibby: I do love how you said that once you’re bored — I love that you said it made you read lots more books. I was like, there you go. You even noticed, I think you said something about the squirrels or the movements of the animals in the backyard and how that became riveting TV, essentially, for you after a while and that you noticed all those little things happening. How great? Especially as a mom, everybody’s always like, let your kids be bored. Of course, they’re like, no, I want more iPad. The idea that even for adults it’s not so easy and it’s important for us to be bored and not to be constantly overstimulating ourselves.

Claire: It is, exactly. It’s just slowing down, is really what it is. I still do it. Anyone who follows my Instagram, I often post things of the fox that hangs out in the garden or slow motion of a bee because I’m just staring at it. I do use that as my meditation now, is to just really focus on nature and what’s going on and just watching it. You pay attention to the details. It takes out all that noise and that rush, rush, rush. You can just slow it down. For kids, I think it’s a great way to then become curious as well about the world that’s around them, and as adults.

Zibby: Now you’ve written this wonderful memoir, so inspiring in so many ways. What do you want to do with your life now? What is your big game plan? Do you have one? Are you going to just see what comes next?

Claire: Oh, Zibby, a game plan, wow.

Zibby: No pressure. No pressure.

Claire: I’m really looking forward to traveling again. I want to keep writing. I’m brainstorming some thoughts and ideas at the moment. Everything’s just a short-term plan now. You can’t look too far ahead. Again, just slowing it down and going with what’s going on in the moment.

Zibby: I love that. Everything is a short-term plan. What else is there? Of course, they are. I want to hear a little bit more about the publishing journey of this book and then what advice you would have for people who are trying to become authors.

Claire: What would you like to know about the publishing?

Zibby: So you have all this media attention. At some point, you decide you want it to be a book and that you’re going to take the time and write it. How long did it take to write? What was your process like? Then how involved was your editor? What was that whole experience like for you?

Claire: When I was still recovering in New Zealand and I was writing this, I thought — so many people were like, this should be a book. You should write a book. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so I thought, yeah, I can write this as a book. In the back of my mind, I’d already had this idea for a book before this happened about addressing all of the stuff in my life in London and all of that anxiety and stuff like that. I thought, but there’s so many parallels here between these two parts of my life. I remember thinking, would anyone care about that other stuff? A friend put me in touch with her agent, the amazing Sarah Williams. I said to her, “Look, hi, this is the story idea I have. Do you think anyone would be interested?” She’s just like, “Um, this is the story I’ve been looking for.” She really, really got the story I was trying to tell. It just kind of went from there. By the time I was in Vancouver, I had a publisher. Then I had about three to four months to write it. It was intense. I was working part time in a shop. Then the rest of the time was sitting in cafés and going to the Vancouver Public Library and just trying to get down so many thoughts. It’s hard because writing a book is really daunting. I’m not trained to write a book. I don’t have a wealth of academic experience in, this is how you write a book. Just had to kind of go with what felt right. I had a great editor at the publisher who was helping me to pull the structure together. Sometimes I’m just like, wow, that really happened.

Zibby: Wow, that’s exciting, though. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Claire: Gosh, I think just write the way that you speak. I’m talking for a memoir because I don’t have experience in the rest of it. Write the way you speak. Write what feels right. Be prepared to have to leave parts of it out later on, but just still write everything down. Also, read it out loud, even if not to someone. Read it out loud. It really helps you to get the hang of the language and how things sound. It’s actually not something I did enough of. Sometimes I’ll read it out loud. I’m like, hmm. Also, finally, be prepared that you’re still going to want to tinker with it until someone takes it away from you.

Zibby: Yes, like a kid with their Legos. It’s like, all right, no, get away.

Claire: Yes, exactly. It’s time now. You’re like, wait, wait, wait.

Zibby: Claire, thank you so much. What a great book. I’m so, again, inspired. I feel like a broken record. To have you go through this, I feel like it’s as if it happened to me. You’re not trying to have us think that you’re some superhuman person. You’re trying to say you’re just like everybody else with all your regular stresses and worries. This is what happened. It’s just so great. It’s the wakeup call. I hope that it helps wake people up. Although, anecdotally, I’ve found nothing except for the experiences themselves shake people up, but I’m hoping that your writing is enough to at least convert a few people to the seize-the-day type of mentality.

Claire: That would make me so happy. Even just one person, it would just make me so happy.

Zibby: If any book can do it, it would be this one. There you go.

Claire: Thank you so much.

Zibby: I hope to meet you in person at some point. Thank you. This was really fun.

Claire: Yes. Thanks so much, Zibby. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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