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.
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