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What Missing a Foot Hole in Rock Climbing Taught Me About Mental Health Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

With the start of a new week, I’m reminded once again of the transient nature of emotions. In the moment when urges are high, they feel infuriatingly stagnant. However, last week was another piece of evidence that urges truly do consistently come and go.

Last week was… hard? I feel like that’s not the right word, but I haven’t publicly talked much (if at all) about my experience with depression and suicidality, so I’m still trying to find the words that fit. Two words that come to mind immediately: debilitating and terrifying.

Feeling suicidal for me means: not being able to get out of bed, crying, fear of hurting others, sadness, deep love, self-sabotage, exhaustion, apathy and isolation. It’s being stuck in this harrowing place of needing to flee but not being able to move. Suicidality is the epitome of emotional pain.

When I feel suicidal, I don’t actually want to kill myself. Rather my brain rationalizes why suicide might be the right decision, which leads to a dangerous thought spiral that gains power exponentially.

Today I’m thankfully writing from a place of reflection and vulnerability.

I’m writing from a place of gratitude for people who made me feel safe enough to tell them the truth.

I’m also writing from a place in the middle, the gray, a place that’s a cacophony of clusterfucks and cozy catastrophes.

There’s more to existing than being either sick or recovered.

There’s also missing foot holes. Yup, foot holes: those small pieces of artificial molds you’re supposed to put your foot on while rock climbing.

I’m a very new rock climber, and with that comes a disproportionate amount of focus on my arms and my hands. Rock climbing though actually requires a great deal of leg strength and mobility. Gripping the artificially constructed climbing holds with tense fingers causes pre-emptive muscle fatigue. When I get to a place where I’m not sure what my next move should be, I tend to freeze up and hold on tighter. This is not helpful.

My climbing buddy encourages me to constantly move my legs up. Sometimes it feels like I’m leaping with massive steps, missing opportunities for helpful foot holes along the way. Other times I’m stuck midair, searching for the nearest feasible foot hole, as I plot my ascension.

When I climb the wall, I’m relatively fearless. When lying at ground level in my bed, I can become afraid of myself.

When I’m stuck in this state of depression, it feels like everything around me has a cloud over it.

When I’m climbing, even when I’m stuck, gripping until my knuckles turn white, I can see the path, the finish line, if you will, clearly.

Last week when I was climbing, I lifted my right leg up and edged my shoe into what I thought was a small (but sturdy enough) ledge. As I reached up, my foot slipped off and I couldn’t quite grab hold of the rocks above me.

My partner caught me.

I trust her. I trust the rope. I trust the carabiner. I’m learning to practice trusting my own feet. Oddly enough, the more you fully commit to a tiny hold, the more even your weight will be distributed and therefore, the less likely you will be to fall. Your foot will stay grounded.

Why is it that success always seems to stem from moments that require you to trust the very thing that scares you? How come it’s required to trust the very thing that seems counterintuitive to, for instance, what the eating disorder tells you?

Right now, I’m also writing from a place of uncharted territory. It’s rocky (pun intended) and the crag has not yet been explored. For the first time, I think I’m actually sitting with the fucking discomfort (I was never entirely sure what that meant…). I’m struggling admittedly, but I’m persevering, and by that, I mean I’m eating.

Even though I missed a foot hole, I’ve found another one to ground into. I’m still working on my ascension. I can’t see the top, but I trust the constant motion of everything all the time. Suicidality is the most difficult urge I’ve had to deal with in some ways. To recognize those thoughts eventually move, just like some of the more short term eating disorder behaviors, has helped me cope.

In climbing, to fall means to make progress. To fall implies you are tackling a new challenge. We practice the act of falling with intent. I think that kind of makes it more like an art. Yes, the art of falling. I like that.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Unsplash photo via Jeremy Bishop

Originally published: August 23, 2017
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