Category Archives: Climbing

The Cure for Doubt: the Ultimatum

Just because I wrote an article about love and relationships does not mean D and I have been without problems. In fact, we went through a long period of turmoil for a couple of years that seemed to be constant. It can mainly be traced to my self- doubt about our relationship. Having never had a serious relationship before, I didn’t know whether this was the right one or the best one for me. I doubted. I compared him to others. And I played the game of “the grass is always greener” for far too long.

Then, one day, I went down my usual road of trying to get D to argue why he was the one for me (in a roundabout sort of way) and he stopped. He said no. He realized where this was headed once again and he made this statement instead. “I am done arguing you for you. I know that I want you. You have to decide if you want me. That’s your problem, not mine.” And he left the room. It stopped me in my tracks.

Those four sentences changed my perspective on my relationship with D and on my own worldview. Instead of continuing to look for perfection and always putting myself in a mental position akin to having one foot out the door, I realized I I needed to commit fully or I was going to lose a good relationship. I have read articles discussing divorce, how one of the signs you know a relationship is going downhill is when you stop arguing because neither person is fighting for the relationship anymore; they’ve given up. I realized that this was D’s version of throwing his hands in the air, that the confidence I had in him never leaving me was actually more tenuous than I imagined.

Looking back, I realize that this ultimatum of sorts is similar to the mental place I need to go when I am climbing on lead. When I have it in my head that I can give up at any time, I don’t push myself at all. I give myself leeway; I give myself the equivalent of one foot out the door. But when I have convinced myself there is no way out and when I have climbed up to the next bolt and am 10-20 feet above safety, I have no choice but to clip it or take a major fall. I am all in.

You have to be all in- in life and especially in love. Your partner can tell when you aren’t. Moreover, your brain can tell when you aren’t. There is no lying to your brain. Decide to be all in or all out; there is no in-between.

Is there something in your life you realized you needed to be all-in for and weren’t? What was the result?


Accepting Things The Way They Are

I have reached the end of a trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a friend, a very wise friend may I add. She has been climbing longer than I and has dealt with many of the same climbing (and life) struggles as I am/have.

As I’ve mentioned before, lead climbing (where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip in to bolted metal in the rock at various intervals for protection) has always been a very mentally engaging and fear-striking event for me, but I’ve been intent on overcoming my fears about it anyway. Why? Because I started climbing to overcome frustrations with rotation in grad school and then realized it had powerful applications in other parts of my life as well (read more at my guest blog article here). I’ve found every time I push my mental limitations in climbing, I also take on more challenges in life in general and push through struggles with ease.

Similarly, every climbing trip I take, I learn more about myself and my own limitations and mental blocks. This time, I learned a lesson straight from my friend’s mouth. As I was struggling with a move that really wasn’t hard but seemed for me a scary move, I continued down my usual path in times of crisis of blaming everything around me except myself. “I don’t like this.” “This doesn’t feel great.” “This route is dumb.”

My friend belaying calmly reminds me about the book we’ve both read (“The Rock Warrior’s Way” by Arno Ilgner- highly recommended, by the way) and how statements like this are energy leechers. “Accept the way things are; don’t wish them to be different. Work with what you have.” she relays. A lightbulb clicks in my head and midway through an energy leecher, my thoughts change direction. “She’s right. Why am I blaming the rock? The rock is just here, continues to be a rock, and though I love climbing, I am wishing it to be something else. It rained last night, so it is wet- but I can’t change that either. It is what it is,” I think.

This leads me to productive thoughts like: “I have this foot hold and this hand hold and if I hold my body into the wall and slowly inch up, I should be able to reach that better hold there and reach the next bolt. It’s not great, but it will have to do- and I’ve climbed on worse.” And in an instant, when I stop trying to make things different, my body does what I’ve asked it to do and I am safely attached to the next bolt.

Even if you are not a climber, I’m sure you can see how a negative “wishful thinking” mentality is one that applies negatively in life in general as well. When you are taking a test and realize the questions are not what you expected, one option is to blame the test maker and the other is to accept that these are the questions that will determine your grade and so you have to do the best with what you know. And perhaps if you have committed to someone and can’t stand a habit they have, one option is to blame them and continually try to get them to stop and the other is to accept that this is how they are and they will only change if they want to (not you) and it isn’t worth injecting more negative energy into the relationship to make them change.

It is not easy to accept things as they are. I had another moment of realization during this trip in this vein about my respiratory issues (from a heart defect called a vascular ring repaired at 8 years old) which has until the last few years limited me a significant amount from physical activity and even now continues to make it extremely difficult for me to hike uphill with large amounts of weight (read: I sound like I have never exercised a day in my life and huff and puff and look like I am dying.). If you care about details, the problem is that my trachea still has a kink in it from being impinged and is weak and when I am breathing hard due to physical exertion, my trachea collapses in on itself making it even harder to acquire oxygen.

I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I'm accepting this is just part of my MO.
I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I’m accepting this is just part of my MO.

It may be overcomeable through intense respiratory training…and it may not. I have asked a few respiratory therapists their opinion given my history and their answers bely a complete lack of knowledge regarding people like me actually getting to the physical capacity that I am at. Basically, it is an amazing feat to have gotten where I am with my condition and at this point, the medical community has nothing to offer me. All invasive procedures (like tracheal splinting or even tracheal replacement- the newest medical advance in this area) that may help have been shown to have horrible side effects or not even be beneficial with exercise tolerance. And I don’t know of any doctor that would do such a risky procedure on someone with the quality of life I do anyway.

Despite all of this, I continue to feel awful when I don’t carry an equal amount of weight as others when climbing or backpacking. I continue to try because damn it, I’ve gotten this far- why can’t I just be like everyone else? I feel in my mind like I should be as capable of others, but then when my body proves me wrong and shows my flaws, I am embarrassed and feel ashamed to be me.

From this trip, I realized I am going to have to accept that my friends love me with flaws and all and most will be willing to take more weight uphill just because they are happy to be sharing moments with me. And if they aren’t, I am going to have to accept that struggling uphill is part of my MO. It will have to be enough.

Moreover, I’ve decided I am going to try my last resort (intense respiratory therapy with packs and hills) and if it doesn’t work, I am going to have to accept this is who I am and how far my body is willing to take me- and be appreciative that it has taken me this far.

Is there something you have a hard time accepting in life? Are there energy leechers you utilize in order to continue preventing acceptance?

The Balance of Creating A Great Vacation

I just got back from an amazing vacation. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and energized to be productive and throw myself anew into personal and career goals. It’s rare I feel this way after a vacation, so when I do, I ask myself: what made it feel so great? Over the years, the conclusion I’ve drawn is that even though everyone has a different definition of what a “great vacation” is, all great vacations fulfill (and balance) a number of different desires: rest, adventure, productivity/new experiences, nature and intimacy.

I came from a family where a “great” vacation was one where my parents could get away from us kids for an extended amount of time and where my brother and I could also be separately participating in activities we enjoyed (sometimes I think we have entirely different genetic makeup). We were lucky enough to go to Club Med a couple times, where there were supervised sports for my brother and theater/circus performance participation for me (adventure). My parents laid on the beach reading most of the time (nature and rest), but my dad also learned how to hang on the trapeze and we all snorkeled together and rode donkeys through the small villages of Dominican Republic, where my brother and I witnessed what “poor” really meant (productivity/new experiences). We spent evenings eating dinner as a family and were often accompanied by interesting people from all over the world, who were more than happy to tell us their stories (intimacy). We never looked at a clock, as there were no clocks on premises. It is something I’ve kept in mind for future vacations- to enjoy and be in the moment, not think about the future or the past (rest).


We warmed up our hands by hiking hard, then beginning climbs while not being able to feel the rock and midway thawing out (adventure). We climbed on new rock with new routes, experienced our first New England fall foliage, ate dinners at local restaurants, and met a whole bunch of people from all over the US and even Canada (productivity/new experiences)! It may not be the ideal vacation for most people, but it was one we will never forget and learned a lot from.

Don't sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!
Don’t sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!

Rest- Like I said before, all “great vacations” look different to everyone. Rest to you may be defined as sleeping in, catching up on some good reads, or getting up early but taking a nap in the middle of the day. Some people may even identify a long walk or yoga as rest. Rest is whatever your mind and body need to replenish its reserves from the more hectic and stressful experiences of your day-to-day life. It is a getaway, a restoration to re-connect you to your family, your friends, nature, and/or yourself. Just make sure not to sleep away all of your vacation, as rest is not the part of a great vacation that makes you feel restored entirely.

Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.
Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.

Adventure- Adventure is definitely a matter of degree. For some people, adventure is rolled into new experiences and for others, it’s taking a short hike or backpacking into a desert, climbing hundreds of feet up a rock, or hiking up Everest. Whatever adventure is to you, its significance in vacations is important- it allows your brain to put day-to-day concerns into perspective and it provides you with feelings of accomplishment and energy to face future challenges (related or unrelated to this adventure). So the next time you just want to lounge on the beach on vacation, consider finding something outside your comfort zone to experience as part of the trip too.

It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I've been working towards for over a year now.
It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I’ve been working towards for over a year now.

Productivity/New Experiences- The only reason I roll productivity and new experiences together is that sometimes challenging yourself to experience something new is productive on its own. And sometimes it requires productivity like planning in order to have the best new experiences. For instance, before every vacation, I make what I call an “itinerary,” but it’s really not a real itinerary. It’s a list of all the places and things to do (and food to eat) in the area that look interesting with all the key information about them bulleted such as hours of operation, website, price structure, type of food, etc. There are no times or official schedules of events. When we get to the location, we see how we feel and pick things to do as the time at a location progresses. This way, I’ve done all the research “work” before the trip, but there is no stress to get X, Y, or Z done within the specified amount of time. It has worked out well for my husband and I as a couple, since I am type A and tend to schedule too much and my husband is definitely type B and would tend to lay around not doing anything with himself and regret it later. It’s also worked out well on trips where one or both of us get sick and the original general plans are just not working out for us anymore. Since all the needed information is right in front of us, it’s just a matter of a decision and quick preparation so we are “productive”, but not stressed or feeling overly obligated with our time.

My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!
My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!

Nature- To me, this is the most important aspect of a vacation, and it often satisfies all of the other desires too. Within nature, we can feel intimate- with ourselves, with nature, and/or with whoever our partner in crime is. Within nature, we can be at peace while having an adventure, exploring new places or even just exploring ourselves within the quiet. Nature is unpredictable, beautiful, dangerous, and yielding. Accepting that a vacation within nature will be in part what nature wants you to experience and also a large part how flexible you are to the experience it is providing will bring you to a better understanding of yourself and things around you. Bring a raincoat all the time so you don’t miss the beautiful sounds and smells of a fresh rain. Plan to accomplish something, but ditch the plan as soon as plan A isn’t working out as well as you had hoped. You may find a vacation in the rain is the best one you’ve ever had. (I’m talking from experience—a backpacking trip in the rain on the Appalachian trail pulled me out of my sinking depression quicker than months of talk-therapy did. See picture below.)

Intimacy- I’m not just referring to sexual intimacy, though of course that may be on your agenda too. 😉 Intimacy is not even entirely about personal or significant relationships. Intimacy is about “a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.” We can feel intimate with people we just met, who happened to be on the same trail as us. We can feel intimate with the squirrels sharing our space. We can feel intimate with ourselves. And in order to gain intimacy, one needs to quiet all the thoughts we typically we have running through our heads like cars in NASCAR. A peaceful, safe, and beautiful moment must be created to yield deepness and clarity within words, within silence, within touch. And these sometimes brief moments allow us reflection into what holds our world together: connection. It is easy to forget connection when we live our lives within our separate cars and houses and cubicles. And it is this lacking connection that continues to make us feel we need vacations at all. It doesn’t seem society is going to change anytime soon, so vacation is where you can embrace this and rejuvenate your feelings of being part of this world- your significance and insignificance within it.

Wherever you are off to on your next vacation, be sure to balance rest, adventure, productivity/ new experiences, nature, and intimacy into it in order to have a *great* trip.

Why I Climb

I am the last person anyone in my high school would have predicted would be a climber. Honestly, rock climbing is such an “out there” sport as it stands that I doubt anyone from high school would have predicted any of us would be climbers. Beside the point.

The point is that I used to be a sick person- mentally and physically. A heart defect, depression, and anxiety prevented me from being the person I wanted to be.

You can read more about that here (blog posts I wrote on my friend’s blog about climbing as therapy):

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:
Part 4:

The point is that climbing saved me and continues to save me. It has provided me with confidence, self-esteem, an amazing built-in friend group, fear and anxiety reduction, and ultimately happiness. Climbing has been the most incredible avenue for self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-work.

This weekend, I took my first climbing trip without my husband. For me, this was kind of a big deal. D and I have grown up in climbing together and we’ve been climbing partners since day one. I climb with other people, but going outdoor climbing with others is always admittedly more or less “officiated” by D. I’ve never been nearly as confident in systems, rope work, etc. D has never had any issues with confidence in the realm of logic (at least not while I’ve known him). And so until this weekend, I did what my natural tendency is, which is to go “Ok, you’re better at this- you handle it.” A certain amount of this comes with the territory in marriage- I’m better at cooking, so I generally cook more and he is better at cleaning the tub and so he cleans the tub (as examples). Chores are easier when divided. However, when it comes to climbing, the reality is that what prevents me from taking on responsibility is my fear of the outcome in my lack of confidence.

So when I received the offer from an experienced climber friend to come out with her for a weekend, my initial emotion was fear. The offer was appealing and I knew deep down I wanted to go and should go (how many opportunities would come up like this after all?). After too much hmming and hawing, I said yes. My own expectations of myself were high. I knew this friend was pretty picky about who she climbs with, so asking me was a compliment in itself. It meant I passed the initial test of obvious belaying/climbing skills at the gym. It meant she had at least enough faith that I wouldn’t kill her and I would be able to climb the routes she planned on leading. Given that I had little faith in myself doing either of those things, I knew I had to be at the top of my game- refresh my memory on all the skills I let D control otherwise, focus, calm down, and most of all not freak out.

I doubt my friend realized how important this trip was to me, how much I didn’t want to screw up with her. I doubt she realized that at the many times during the climb I knew I would have freaked out in the company of D and my typical climbing crew, I said to myself “You’re scared. That’s fine. But you have to get up this pitch and not embarrass yourself. Just effing do it.” So I did. Without hesitation. I came out of the weekend a more confident climber and with a few new experiences under my belt. It was an amazing feeling to will myself to be who I know I am strong enough to be….and just be that. I am immensely grateful to my friend for the opportunity to climb together and to show me that I don’t need to hide behind others or fear myself. I am imperfect like everyone else, but I am worth putting faith and trust in.

Above and beyond these revelations, I realized that climbing is one of the few (if any) sports where friendships are strengthened through depending on each other (literally- our lives are in each others’ hands), participating in the same experience together, needing to communicate very effectively, encouraging each other in one anothers’ successes, supporting each other in one anothers’ “failures,” and having to revert to some tough love when the going gets tough. When we climb with others, we are there to witness them at their best and their most vulnerable. These moments where fear creeps in, we see who people really are- their rawness, their emotions. There is no time or energy to falsify, create a mask. Accepting someone in their most raw and exposed state is the most loving acceptance there is. And thus, climbing friends are something more than just “friends.” They are unconditionally loving family.

I suppose that is where the saying comes from- “Friends who climb together, stay together.” 🙂