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


Kayaking in April

What an awful day to be on the water – Finlayson Arm, looking in.

Like most outdoor enthusiasts I am obsessed with the weather forecast. Sometimes I check it multiple times a day just to make sure it hasn’t changed (or to see if it has) so that I can decide what to do with my free time. Sunny weekdays mean climbing outside; sunny weekends mean mostly climbing outside but sometimes other things. Rain means I should probably go camping because climbing is out of the question in most places (but not all places).

Last week the forecast called for lots of sun and we got out on real rock down at Macaulay Point/Fleming Beach for most of it. Saturday was supposed to be beautiful, Sunday adequate. I was looking for friends who were going climbing Saturday, since I already had plans to climb on Sunday in Nanaimo. Except that on Friday my friend suggested going kayaking on Saturday. An all day adventure on the ocean. Like any sane person who has only recently taken up a sport and only done it once in the last several years I decided that I would totally go!

Worst Day Ever, I’m telling you.

We met up downtown and headed out to Brentwood Bay, where my friend Natalie stores her kayak and gear with Pacifica Paddle Sports. The owners of Pacifica, Peter and Sandra have been in business for 14 years and now have two locations for paddlers to get on the water. What I love best about this place is the sense of welcome Sandra and Peter have given us the two occasions I’ve rented from them, which makes me feel good about giving them my money and supporting their totally local business. Seriously two of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve met; they’ve really encouraged us to get out and enjoy the water. Kayak rentals start at 38$ CAD for two hours (28$ if you show up after 5pm) and increase in price per hour or day depending on how long you’re going to be using it. For an 8 hour rental the cost is 58$ plus tax. I can honestly say I thought rental equipment would be more expensive, though if you’re going out every day or weekend it does add up pretty quickly. They are always willing to discuss destinations with you and know the area really well and can help you plan your itinerary which really helps when you’re just starting out.

Spending so much time on or in the water as a child means two things: I know very well that anyone can drown and I’m not afraid of it. Sometimes I’m afraid of the things that are in it; the time we took the canoe out to see the Orcas that had wandered into Finlayson Arm (I grew up on that fjord) I was very aware that there were four very large creatures with teeth diving beneath us. The dorsal fin on the bull was probably close to five or six feet high. It was intense. And amazing. We may have been hoping to see whales on Saturday(which we did not).

Despite being on the water so much the very first time I got into a kayak I was in my twenties. I loved it but have had few people since then to go with and have never been able to justify the expense to take up the sport though I have wanted to for nearly a decade. Since that first paddle I’ve had only a few more experiences until Nat’s birthday when we rented kayaks from Pacifica and paddled down Todd Inlet, coming back just after dark. We paddled through a swarm of Moon Jellyfish the size of dinner plates which was kind of amazing.

So naturally a few months later it made total sense for me to hop in a kayak for eight hours.

Couple enjoying a hiking break at McKenzie Bight

We started out just just after 11am and on Sandra’s suggestion decided to head down Finlayson Arm toward McKenzie Bight for brunch. The water was perfect for this direction; the tide was coming in which meant the current was going in our direction (though not too quickly) and the breeze helped keep us cool.

I love being on the water; this has always been true. Saturday was no exception.

Brunch on the beach was relaxed, but as we watched a kid scrambling over the rocks as his parents sat on the bluff with their dogs we realized that our childhoods prepared us for this. The kid was clambering along the rocks and his parents weren’t paying attention and we both immediately had the same thought of ‘what terrible parents’ followed by the startled recognition that this is what our parents did. We were raised on playgrounds that were wood and steel and full of wood chips and rocks and we played till dark and sometimes after if we didn’t have school. Sometimes we fell and got hurt, but most of the time we didn’t and it was okay. We learned that our actions sometimes have pretty painful consequences and how to assess the risk in a situation.

IMG_5332_EDITI envy kids their ability to heal; as an adult getting into physical adventures it’s a lot scarier to know that some things just won’t heal fully if they get hurt. I envy their sense of immortality, though it’s also terrifyingly ignorant.

After brunch we packed everything and ourselves back into our kayaks and set out to paddle across the Arm to Spectacle Falls. The wind was with us for this stretch and it was easy going. If we stopped paddling we still went in the right direction.

Spectacle Falls is pretty and remote; accessible only by boat but a casual paddle from Brentwood Bay and it’s a beautiful little rock beach with a small pool at the bottom for swimming in the warmer months. We had a second lunch here and watched a bald eagle try without success to catch his lunch. I made the quickest lens-swap ever on my camera to catch him.

He circled over us a few times after failing to catch lunch.

As we had lunch the tide was coming in quite noticeably and the wind had picked up. The next leg of our adventure would take us back the way we had come to the mouth of the arm and up the west edge of the bay to Mill Bay before turning around to paddle back to the dock. We were going to be paddling into the wind and against the current.

This photo isn’t cropped.

It actually ended up being not bad; we made quick and steady progress into the wind as we came up the arm and into the bay, then tucked ourselves in along the coast and out of the wind line and made good progress. We stopped in the middle to put our boats together and talked about climbing accidents and rescues and the dangers of our chosen sports. It was quite a bit later when we continued, but the sun was still warm and the wind had started to ease.

By the time we pulled up our kayaks onto the shore at the Mill Bay Ferry Terminal for dinner we were warm, tired, but still going pretty strong. Eating our sandwiches on the beach as the ferry loaded and headed back across the bay we were already turning our eyes to the mouth of the bay and the islands beyond. Salt spring Island has climbing after all, and what better way to get there than to hop in a kayak, currents or no?

Really though. Worst day ever, right?

Still we had to return my kayak if not Natalie’s and we weren’t prepared to be out overnight (though we had enough food…) so we slipped our kayaks back into the water and settled ourselves back into our paddling on water like glass. The tide was high and the wind had died and we had perfect conditions as we made the wide crossing of the bay. This time we did not stick to the coast, but pointed our noses toward the docks.

We arrived just after dusk and clambered out of our kayaks sun baked, sore and happy.

We had blisters and bruises and our muscles ached but it had been such a good day.

IMG_5421_EDITAlready we are making plans for another trip; salt spring for climbing, or investigating some other islands with cliffs on the water that might lend themselves to some ‘deep-water soloing’ (climbing without a rope on rock over water that is deep enough for you to fall into if you let go).

One thing’s for sure; I’m stoked to get back on the water.

And last minute adventures are almost always the best kind.

-Not Lost Girl

When was the last time you went on a last-minute adventure? Tell me about it!

Fear: the Art of Courage

IMG_1378EDITI was going to write about something else this week. I had almost a whole post written down and then something tripped in my brain and I decided to write a completely new one.

Today I’m writing a little bit about fear.

Lots of people have written about this, many of them with more credentials than I have. The only thing I really know is that I’ve been afraid of things my whole life and maybe you’ll agree that qualifies me to talk about what I know of it and how I deal with it. The one thing I know for sure? You’re the only one who can do anything about it.

Continue reading “Fear: the Art of Courage”

Rope Rescue in Strathcona


A mini-rack of sport gear for Rope Rescue. All fits into that 35L pack. For now.

Several weeks ago some friends were talking about doing a rope rescue course up at Crest Creek, a well-known climbing area in Strathcona Provincial Park. It’s been developed over the last several decades by the Heathens, a mountaineering and climbing club based out of Campbell River, BC. Being pretty close to broke and stuck with no fixed plans for Easter weekend, I naturally decided that the course was the thing to do.


I headed home Thursday night to pack my gear and once again realized that as a climber, camping trips are really quite difficult. Where a weekend camping trip requires only one pack, a climbing trip requires two. Per person. One pack is my life; tent, mat, sleeping bag, clothes, etc. The other is my gear. Climbing shoes, helmet, rope, draws, slings, carabiners, cordelette, webelette, water, belay devices, pulleys. This weekend packed twenty four meters more cordelette into my bag than I had previously ever carried. It’s a 35L bag with only three pockets. The time to upgrade is coming quickly.

Continue reading “Rope Rescue in Strathcona”

7 Things to Consider when Going Solo Camping

“Wet” Coast Rain Forest

It may surprise you to know that in the three weeks since going camping solo for the first time that I have not become an expert.

I have, however, spent a significant portion of my life outdoors in various conditions. Some far more reckless and ill-advised than others. This has given me a rather odd perspective; despite struggling with anxiety and self-confidence I have spent a lot of time in the woods and feel familiar and comfortable with them in a way that I do not in other situations and circumstances. The risks seem much more tolerable and manageable than they do in many social situations.

Continue reading “7 Things to Consider when Going Solo Camping”

5 Reasons You Should Go Solo

Hiking in as the sun goes down – Juan de Fuca Trail/Mystic Beach trail

Realizing I want to go camping on the beach and finding people who also are free and want to go camping on the beach are two very different things. This was the situation that started me down the (very short) path to my first Solo camping trip. It was not long or particularly strenuous, but it was something just outside of my comfort zone. Now that I am safe at home I have had time to reflect on it and now I know I can do it, so there are very few things stopping me from doing it again. In fact I find myself thinking that I should do just that.

Still, the fact that I did this and it was kind of scary made me think that hey; someone else might like some encouragement to go do this very thing. So I present to you my top five reasons you should totally go solo.
Continue reading “5 Reasons You Should Go Solo”

Go It Alone – First Solo Camping Trip

Alone on the Beach

I have discovered recently that fear has played a massive part in all of my decisions to date. So, in an attempt to over come this thing I have begun doing things that are kind of outside of my comfort zone.

Like any reasonable person this means picking things that make me nervous and doing them anyway. One of those things. is rock climbing because I love it and honestly I am absolutely afraid of heights. This is not a blog post about rock climbing, however, so onto the other thing.
Solo Camping. Continue reading “Go It Alone – First Solo Camping Trip”