Under Pressure

On Outside Magazine’s page I came across an article written by Beth Rodden, a professional climber I knew little about. Her article about her social and professional life as a climber was so honest, it really struck a chord with me (read it, I really think you should). Refreshing to say the least. And a couple of days later, my friend sent me a link to an article written by another famous climber, Sasha DiGiulian, who opened up about her occasional struggle with body image. Seemingly all at once I was hearing about strong women opening up about the pressure they feel to be someone else or to portray themselves a certain way, and how confusing that can be. We don’t always get to hear about the other side of success, the human side. This was a conversation I wanted to be a part of.

About a couple of seasons ago or so, I started to lose interest in rope (sport) climbing. It became apparent to most people I climbed with. We have a small gym, and a few years in to climbing I became one of a hand full of girls who were climbing at the top. The pressure I put on myself to perform inside trickled into sport climbing outside where I felt the most vulnerable. I didn’t feel ready to climb hard on rope, but that’s what the other girls were doing and I felt I needed to, too. Well-minded people would tell me to get out more because so and so just sent this particular route, or that person is projecting this. I felt like I wasn’t succeeding, and it stopped being fun – I never could live up to my expectations of myself, or the expectations I felt people had of me.

But just the right amount of pressure, though.

Whether or not those expectations were real, they felt real. In time I stopped climbing outside because I felt like I shouldn’t be climbing 5.9s all day like I wanted to, I should be doing 5.12As or harder. So, instead of going out and feeling almost sick to my stomach about trying something I did not want to try and feeling like a Negative Nancy, I would stay in. In time, people stopped asking me to go out, naturally. I wanted desperately to climb, but couldn’t face the repeating conversation at the crag explaining why I did not want to get on whatever route I “should” get on. It was a frustrating time, and I didn’t like being this person around my friends. I spent most of my time training for the upcoming bouldering season instead, which was very fun and prepared me for some outdoor bouldering later in the season.

Like most people I think, I feel most comfortable doing things at my own speed, and when I feel ready. It bothered me that my relationship with climbing was becoming this complicated thing when I could tell it was very simple for most people. That made it hard to really talk to anyone about. In hindsight, I easily could have just climbed what I wanted, but I very much set in my head that I either climb hard or not at all (stupid, I know!). I really didn’t think anyone would relate until I wrote an article called “Crying on a Cliff” which had nothing but positive responses from strangers. It touched on a different side of climbing insecurities, but was reassuring nonetheless that climbing does spur a smorgasbord of emotions.

I’ve gone back to seeing rope climbing as a fun thing, and pretty much dismissing anything that suggests otherwise. I’ve been out a few times already this season, and they’ve been fun. When I climb outside now, I know what I want to do and will stick to my plan and not feel guilty about it. I will belay until Kingdom Come, and respect those who try to get me to try harder stuff, but unless I feel ready I will politely decline.

Although it reads as if this was easy to admit, it was not. I don’t like admitting that I struggle with anything. Who does! I’m glad professional climbers like Sasha, Beth, and countless others are opening up about their struggles and difficulties knowing that not everyone will be able to relate or understand. On a positive note, catharsis and introspection are rewarding, and quite often it takes situations like this to truly change and evaluate oneself. 🙂

This climbing season should be a good one!

Climb on xx

4 thoughts on “Under Pressure

  1. I can only assume I’m among the list of people you feel this pressure from, and I just want to say I’m so glad you’ve opened up about it. There’s nothing wrong with crushing 5.8s and having a good time. Sometimes our climbing community (including myself) works on assumptions – one of them being that since you crush V6/7 now, you’d better believe you’re capable of climbing 5.12a. Not to say that you aren’t, but you shouldn’t have to feel pressured to do so just because other people expect it of you. I hope you know I’m down for a sport session of any grade range with ya anytime. I’ve also felt pressure to try hard when I climb outside…hell, I made an instagram account based on the pursuit…but I can’t help but feel like climbing isn’t fun unless you’re doing it for you – no matter what the grade. Again, glad you spoke up. Climb on!

    1. Thanks girl! This wasn’t a stab at anyone in the slightest, just a comment on how the pressure wasn’t necessarily working in my favour. I’m not blaming anyone, but just addressing that the pressure I put on myself and the pressure I perceived from others was too much. It’s all me! Climbing hard rope outdoors is something I enjoy, but it was just too much too fast I think and I didn’t find it fun, more mentally taxing. I sound like a drama queen now that I’m getting into it, but it’s not as a dramatic as I make it sound. haha Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  2. Well posted! It is nice to read about another girl’s feelings regarding climbing. I personally relate to this pressure feeling, not about grades and challenges themselves, but mostly about my climbing frequency. Climbing got into my life and quickly became a huge part of it. Like an addiction, it helped to fill a few holes and misconnections, giving me more motivation to deal with my own issues, while providing me with great times. Some problems went away, some new appeared, but the point is: I am not addicted anymore. My life priorities have changed and some big holes are gone (or at least more manageable). I still do love climbing, don’t get it wrong. I have a great time when I am outside or in a gym. I just get the feeling sometimes that if I am not “breathing climbing” there will be judgement from the community, since you don’t talk about it all the time and knows all about crags and techniques. I was feeling under pressure every time I do anything on my free time that is not climbing. “Why aren’t you outside climbing? It is weekend and so nice out!”. Sometimes I simply don’t wan’t to. Thank you for sharing your pressure. I climb with moderation now, in my own pace and shining bright like a diamond!! 🙂

    1. I couldn’t have said that better myself! Incredibly well written. I, like you, loving hearing about others feeling different kinds of pressure. I wish it wasn’t there, but I think you and I have come a long way in dealing with it. 🙂 Climbing outside is awesome, and yes maybe the weather is perfect, but it doesn’t mean anyone should feel bad about doing something else instead. That’s the beauty of the sport – it will always be there when you want it. 🙂 It helps to have friends who have other hobbies as well… like dancing at the Pheonix :D. Love ya, thanks for commenting. 🙂

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