When life turns you upside…
…down and you can’t go up…
Chronic stress is like a glacier moving silently through the body and almost unnoticed until one day you suddenly see it’s there, and the devastation of how much it carved out is really quite shocking. With me it stripped me of my health, my energy levels and for a period the curls in my hair. Life’s events have played out and for that reason I haven’t written anything on here about me or my climbing for well over a year.
The goings on in my life have no place in these ramblings. And I don’t need to even write about all this, but I want to because this topic affects so many of my clients (and in fact everyone), and in turn their climbing. Clinging on to that slim thread of being a climber during life changing events is a delicate balance. Finding a place where climbing can be kind to you and can support you through is not always that easy.
One day last September, my arms decided they were empty and I knew it was time to throw in the towel for a bit. I read confusion across people’s faces when I mentioned I was taking a break without a valid enough excuse. The eyes would narrow, the frown widened and they paused. “What? But conditions are so good at Malham” one friend questioned. And, uncomfortable, I wouldn’t know how to respond. It felt easiest to just change the subject.
Then I almost lost my desire to climb. The very thing that makes me feel most alive! This has been an uneasy state for me, particularly as it’s never happened to me before and I struggled to understand it. The gentle, familiar cracks and edges of my local gritstone always previously hooked me back in from injury, previous lows and dips, pregnancy but not this time. I just couldn’t be bothered.
Climbing, even in its simplest form, is really quite complicated. Legs, ropes, hands, height, equipment, other people, guidebooks can all combine to make the most friendly of situations too much for a brain that’s already quite full up. There were occasions where figuring out how to move my hands and feet in a certain order, to generate upwards movement, eluded me. And for me, these kinds of decisions are the very essence of climbing that I love. There were moments too when I didn’t even trust myself to lead; the separation of mind and body meant I was no longer really in control. What happened to the very thing I reached out to in the past?
Apart from a brief trip to Spain in March where I pulled myself together somewhat, I had no means to apply myself. I needed things to be laid out for me, but they weren’t so I stopped... again. And then only just recently something happened. Spring came and went and summer arrived. The air was warm and the mountains beckoned. I decided I would at least try to go to the crag. There I fell asleep deeply a few times. I realised that being surrounded by these big hunks of rock was the most relaxing place for me to be. In the fresh air, with friends, removed from mobile phone reception I could at least sit there and feel the sun on my face.
It felt awkward at first – I was nervous, placing gear took time and my brain hesitated often. And this process is still ongoing. But my friends have been patient with me. Actually many of them have something or other going on too and we just laugh at our general inability. For too long I’ve been in the habit of setting goals for myself that are too hard anyway. Now my goal is just to read a guidebook description, or look at a piece of rock and go with the feeling of whether it feels right or not. I still have a long way to go to get anywhere back to previous levels, but my motivation is slowly creeping back in. And that feels good.
Life’s volume is still turned up high, but I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel. At least, with some relief, I’ve found a way for climbing to help me through.
Often clients come to me at the beginning of a session apologising for the fact that they are stressed and that it’s likely they won’t be climbing their best. Each time I thank them for letting me know, assure them this really is no problem and I so wish they didn’t feel the need to apologise. And so, if you are feeling stressed, pay attention to it, be kind to yourself, it will have an effect on you and your climbing, but it won’t last forever.