Thank you, Self – Day 1 (again)


Today I went to work planning to climb tonight. I have decided that Wednesdays and Fridays are climbing days for sure. Every week. Partway through the day Rhea asked if I wanted to climb outside if the weather held. We’ve not had decent weather the past week, and I wasn’t holding out hope. I did not respond right away as I had planned to climb with a different partner per my carefully set schedule. However that friend had to do other things and then the weather tanked and as I entered my local gym’s 8-week climbing competition I figured I should probably go and try to send something related to the comp.

By the time I got off work the LAST thing I wanted to do was climb. Sitting on the bus from work I was writing in my journal when I realized that the feelings I have that tell me it would be better to go home and be by myself because I feel overwhelmed and I need to recuperate are wrong. I do need time to recuperate by myself. I need quiet time without interacting with other people in order to work through my thoughts and feelings. But that crushing feeling I had, the one that tells me it is better to be by myself, that I’ve pushed myself too hard and have overextended myself…this time it is a lie.

And it has been a lie more times than not, recently.

So realizing this, I took the bus all the way into town and grabbed some food before heading over to the gym. Rhea wasn’t there yet and I didn’t really want to climb, so I went into the studio to stretch a little–my back has been bothering me quite a lot the last few days–before climbing. Harrison (one of the staff) wandered in and we had a chat in which he said I should take my lead test. This let me bring up the fact that the word ‘should’ is causing me a lot of  trouble lately. It is a word that-in my head-I’ve been using almost as a punishment. There is an implied judgement with that word, and I’ve been hanging it over my own head for so long that its use in conversations has an almost immediate negative reaction. He immediately rephrased it. “You could take your lead test.” This I agreed with, but did not end up taking my lead test today. I still find the words “you should be able to take your lead test” echoing in my head, but they’re quiet today. I do not have to take it. I will not judge myself for taking it or not.

It also strikes me that this is just one more example of how supportive and amazing the climbing community here in Victoria is. When I honestly tell someone that I’m struggling or that something is hard for me to react positively to the people around me don’t belittle it. They’re supportive and encouraging. They don’t pass a negative judgement on it; instead they admire my honesty about it and encourage me to keep on striving for a better place.

Harry also suggested climbing easy routes slowly and statically. ‘Static’ is a word we use in climbing to describe movement that is controlled and deliberate. There are no leaps or wild grabs in static climbing. Every movement flows into the next, your body is poised between balance and effort and you don’t make sudden ‘dynamic’ movement to reach anything. Thinking that climbing some easy stuff extra slowly would be good endurance and technique training I started climbing a pretty low grade at first.

Now I’m not always a huge fan of easy climbs because they often feel like they have too many holds and the feet are in the wrong place and they’re too much like ladders to be flowy. It turns out I am actually wrong and I’m just climbing them wrong. When you slow it down, when every movement is deliberate and you’re not just rushing for the top, you can find the right movements. It also allows you to practice precise foot placements, saving yourself energy by not having to reposition.

But climbing easy stuff just makes me want to try other things.

So after warming up by stretching and then climbing some stuff well below my project grade, I climbed a couple harder things. But then I had to get on my project. It’s one of the routes for the House Feature Scramble Competition, an 8-week boulder and route progression comp at Crag X Climbing Gym that I signed up for on a whim last week. I mean hey, for 20 bucks I get entered into a bunch of weekly raffles, get to record my climbs, and get a tshirt. Totally worth it. I’m not much of a boulderer (climbing without a rope to much lower heights) these days, so I’ve mostly been focused on the routes. There are 16 boulder problems and 3 routes that change every week.

Week one I only sent two of the boulder problems. And I sent route 1, a tricky but flowing climb somewhere in the low ten range (the upper range for beginners). Route 2 has a dyno (dynamic, explosive move) in the middle and I didn’t try it. Route 3 was short, consisted of a technical corner and transitioned into a balancy top section on thin (read not very big) holds. It was the kind of climb where a foot or knee out of place meant you were coming off the wall. Absolutely unforgiving.

I loved it.

Except I hadn’t been able to send it clean. Four days I tried sending it, and every time I fell off because my foot was wrong or I forgot a hold or I was tired. So tonight I got back on it. I made it through the lower corner section (I love corners) and set up to tackle the technical face climb. And my fingers just slipped and my balance was wrong and I couldn’t recover.

It was the furthest I had made it up that climb without falling and it was the last day it would count for the competition. I thought about just giving up, after all I had tried, right? My left knee was shrieking from the angle I had put it into.

But I wanted to send it clean and get the point. So Rhea suggested climbing something easy to help my fingers recover. I climbed something vertical and easy, then belayed Rhea up something else. My knee wasn’t feeling better, I figured I had one shot to get it done. After all, up until today I had never climbed the thing in two pieces. My forearms were feeling ok. If I took rests in the right spot, I could push through the top.

So I got back on the climb.

This time I took rests at every good stance. The lower section being a corner, that meant about every two moves, but I didn’t let go. I didn’t fall. I got to the final corner moves before the transition and rested, leaning into the corner with my hands behind my back. Deep breath. Take the pinch. Reach around to the left, right foot onto the top edge of the sloper (friction, friction), right hand up to the pinch, shift weight to prevent swinging too quickly to the left. Left hand up, left foot on top sloper. Shift weight to the right, right toe up on the pinch from three moves ago. Roll onto it and reach for the hold, hook the edge with the fingers. Pop up for the left hand. Left foot high, right hand on the crimp, pull and lock off and reach for the left hand. Shift feet, hook the right fingers on the edge, left hand up to another thin crimp. Right foot to the chip and up to the final hold.

And I made every single move.

I did, at one point, make a desperate grab for a hold and punch another hold which resulted in me taking the skin off my right thumb. Only ironic because I made a rather desperate grab for something I was probably stable enough to not grab desperately for and my fingers were rested by the time I got there so it felt pretty comfortable.

So today I got to cross off another route for the comp, and I sent my first 5.11a clean in the new gym.

imageI did go home right after that and tape my knee-because apparently if I apply KT tape to my skin when it is actually clean it comes off in like three seconds. But if I do it after a whole day of doing things it’s totally fine and stays on for weeks. My body makes no sense.

Today, I am thanking myself for going to the gym, even though I didn’t want to. I am thanking myself for being willing and able to consider that feeling like I need to hide from the world and that life is too much to deal with is not actually my thought and is instead the Black Dog trying to take a bite out of me and drag me back down to the dark.

Today I am thanking myself for not giving up.

So thank you, Self. For pushing yourself beyond what the Blackness says you are capable of. Thank you for trying. Thank you for fighting the judgement that comes with the word ‘should’. Thank you.

-Not Lost Girl

What are you thankful for today? Leave a comment below!



The Black Dog – Depression

Mystic Beach – Juan de Fuca Provincial Park

I don’t know when it started.

I don’t remember ever feeling ‘depressed’ growing up. Looking back through my life from this point there are little things that tip me off that it’s not a new thing in my head. It was never anything big or obvious, nothing that would have tipped off anyone else if they weren’t paying attention. I didn’t even know it until recently when I can see much more clearly the things that are a direct result of listening to the black voice.

They seem like such small things but they add up and then quite suddenly I realize I’m not okay and something has to change or I will end up in a very bad place.

I could drag you back through my life to where I think it really began; I can almost pinpoint where my personality took a sharp dive into the negative thanks to childhood report cards. It was sometime between when my kindergarten teacher sent me home crying every day and my parents split up and divorced.  I was lucky; I had a teacher who truly cared and became quite close to us for the remainder of our elementary school lives. Her report cards show that I closed myself off from other people; she points out that while I could read and spell very well I refused to write.I haven’t seen her since then but without a doubt she changed my life for the better. I rallied, made new friends and did well in school. I never quite recovered the easy confidence I seemed to have before then.

We moved when I was entering the fifth grade. Starting at a new school was hard but it worked out. When we moved again halfway through the year it was much harder.

I was the new kid, the poor kid, the unstylish kid. I came into a school where I was the odd one out and it made me a target. Even still I found friends eventually and passed into junior high school without incident. This is where things got a bit exciting. Bullying ramped up, cliques were even more pronounced. I fell in with the outcasts, the odd-ones-out that got called names and didn’t always fit together but were happy having a place. I started watching Japanese animation, learned to play Dungeons and Dragons (not well) and started wearing more black. I got a trench coat. Sometimes people would come up and threaten to beat me and my friends up. The day I told someone ‘you do that’ they stopped threatening me. I struggled to find my voice, to say things even when just with my friends but it was getting better.

People still called me names but I had already started building up my ego and it was easy to remind myself that they were ignorant and unintelligent and jealous. I could disregard their words because I was confident that they bullied us out of unhappiness in their own lives. I still think this is true–people who feel powerless want to feel powerful and those who feel like they cannot control anything want to dominate the world around them. I understand these feelings and the reactions resulting from them; I am just as guilty as any one of the people who bullied me and my friends.

I was lucky to not have a terrible high school experience. I took Japanese classes, hung out with friends, made new friends and lost old ones. I was liked by my teachers and did okay. Almost failed math because I didn’t do the work. Managed to not fail math and graduated. I decided against going to university because it was expensive and I didn’t know what I wanted to take. I was aimless and free. Worked entry-level jobs, hated all of them. I started spending a lot of time going to a local nightclub to dance. I made new friends. For a few years I wasn’t drinking, just dancing and hanging out. I befriended the staff early and that kept me safe. Someone was always watching out for me. He’s still really important to me almost fifteen years later. I started drinking in my early twenties and that eventually got a bit out of hand as it usually does. I stopped going out as much and cut way back on drinking.

The greyness in my head got a bit darker, but I still felt pretty happy. I figured I was just dissatisfied with work (which was true, I was working in a call centre at this point and it was soul-crushing) and wanted to get away somewhere, anywhere.

I quit for a month and flew down to California where I stayed with a friend and had a great time. She lived in Fremont, and I felt great coming back. Went back to my old job for six months before quitting (for good this time) and heading out on another trip; this time to Finland, Sweden, and Japan.

They greyness–a general dissatisfaction with life–followed me around but it was bearable when I traveled. When I came home from Japan I was crushed. I withdrew completely and had a really difficult time being motivated to do things. The disconnect from my life that I felt in Japan was an almost holy thing for me; I could completely isolate myself even in a crowd of people without any trouble. Even now that public isolation draws me. In Japan it is easy to be alone. The disconnect from ‘real life’ is intoxicating. I don’t have to deal with things when I am elsewhere. Not really. This is the voice of depression. I’ve spent a good long time convincing myself and others that this is just wanderlust. I’m sure the reason I want to travel is not just that I am depressed and want to run away from everything but I can admit that this is a big part of what makes it attractive to me.

Flash forward seven years and suddenly I’m thirty and have finally gotten into climbing. Something I’ve wanted to try since I was young.

I found out that I am stronger than I thought, that I understand my body’s movements and that I am quick to pick up new skills. I climbed often, pushing myself to keep reaching for the next hold and the next problem. I was happy.

Now, coming up on the three-year anniversary of my first date with Climbing I find myself at an all-time low. I have been stuck in this black cloud for almost a year and I’m not sure I can climb out again without help. More than one person has told me that if climbing doesn’t make me happy I may want to consider giving it up. The fact is that almost nothing makes me happy right now so I can’t tell if this is valid advice here.

Light in the Dark – hiker wandered past my camera on a long exposure – Mystic Beach

But I remember all the times I’ve belayed for new climbers or worked with my friends to help them get outside or learn a new technique. Even when I’m totally disinterested in leaving the house and want nothing to do with the world around me I want to share this thing. That whenever a rock face presents itself I find myself looking for the sequence of hand-and-foot-holds that will get me to the top of it. I wonder what lies beneath the moss growing on the sides of cliffs, and I dream of the feeling of rock beneath my fingers. Three years in and I’m anxiously awaiting the next issue of Climbing Magazine and Rock and Ice. My Facebook feed is half people I’ve known for over a decade and half full of climbers.

I made advances in how I dealt with my fear last year, but this year I’ve slid even further down the spiral. The Black Dog is dragging me down and I don’t know if I can fight it myself. I am afraid that the White Dog isn’t strong enough to fight it off anymore. I am faced with the very real possibility that this isn’t something I can fight by myself and that makes me feel weak and worthless. I know that’s a lie whispered by the black dog. My worth does not change if I need help. Sometimes you can’t fight your own battles alone.

Climbing has introduced me to the best support group I could ask for; the climbing community in my area is strong and are extremely encouraging and supportive. Surprisingly not just where climbing is concerned. When I talk about having a total freak out on a climb a lot of them get it. I had a few people tel me that they thought they were the only ones. When I tell them that I’m not really okay right now and that I might need help they give me hugs and listen. When I say that lead climbing outside terrifies me they encourage me to just keep climbing even if it’s just on top rope. Climbing is a source of immense frustration but also immense joy. Climbing has challenged me in so many ways both physically and mentally.

I am not okay.

I am choosing to believe I can be.

And I am going to keep climbing.

-Not Lost Girl