The Strength in the Struggle

I keep staring at the word count at the bottom of this screen. 0 words, it reads. Why can’t I find the words to say when there are so many thoughts and emotions running through my head and heart? Maybe it’s a fear of being vulnerable and opening up about something that makes me feel weak; about opening myself up to any of you who read this. One thing I’ve picked up on through conversations with others recently however, is that what’s going on in my head doesn’t just happen to me. For this reason, I am choosing to open up and share it with you. 

Adventure, mountains, the outdoors. Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re someone who enjoys those things as well which is why you stumbled across this page. All of those things are something I chase. They are my passion. They light a fire in my soul like I’ve never experienced before. They make me feel alive. They connect me with the truest version of myself. I have managed to build quite an amazing life around them. 

So, what happens when those things you love, those things that consume a great deal of your energy, time, and thoughts, start to become a source of personal struggle? When they start to give you challenges in areas you used to experience ease? Well, the simple answer is, it’s hard! Really, damn, hard. 

I’ve lived in the mountains for over six years now. I’ve grown into adulthood in them, started life on my own in them, challenged myself in them, played in them, and found my true self in them. To say they are a large part of my identity would be an understatement. They are now my home and apart of me forever. 

This past winter, as some of you may know, I decided to step away from my beautiful mountain life and chase new lessons and experiences in other parts of the world. I took a leave from work (insert sigh of relief), and decided to pack up and travel for seven months. It was the experience of a lifetime and exactly what I needed. I roamed barefoot and dirty through the desert. I sat around the table drinking wine and playing cards with my family. I snowmobiled in Wyoming with close friends. I played with hedgehogs while drinking coffee in Tokyo and drowned in deep powder snowboarding in Japan. I learned to slow down the pace of life and enjoy a good book on the beach in Australia. I faced my personal limits of the cold in Nepal. I really and truly did it all. Now, this wasn’t to say it was all sunshine and rainbows. There are a lot of things the outside world didn’t see. For all of these beautiful experiences and cherished memories, there was also heartache, personal challenges, and frustrations. I experienced loneliness, huge financial challenges, the end of a relationship, and more. No matter how hard some of the times were though, I wouldn’t change them for the world. My soul was so full from the experiences I had, both the good and the bad, and the things they taught me. I felt like I was stepping into my true self even more than I ever had. With this being said, by the end of my travels and all of these big experiences, I was eagerly awaiting heading home to my beautiful mountain town.

I was ready for reality when I got back. I had big goals and visions of what I wanted my life back home to be, and I am happy to report that all the things I had envisioned are manifesting themselves beautifully and magically into my life to this day. It’s been the most incredible process to witness and live out first hand. I can’t even put it into words. However, one thing I didn’t expect was that the one thing I was confident in, the one thing I had a deep love for, the thing I was so excited to return home to would challenge me and scare me; the mountains. 

I’ve never been a great rock climber, but I’ve been climbing for a few years now. I love it. I love the thrill, I love the challenge, and I love the relationships it’s led me to. I love how it’s hard. Sometimes you get a little nervous, but slowly and surely you work through it and figure it out. The personal sense of success and accomplishment it leaves you with is energizing. It leaves me craving more. The same thing goes for hiking. I’ve been hiking since I moved out here all those years ago and it’s an experience and activity I crave. It’s like meditating. You put one foot in front of the other and before you know it you’re standing on top of a mountain with nothing but the world to see. The friendships you build on the way are nothing short of amazing either.

When I arrived back home, after some time to recharge and get back on my feet into the rhythms of everyday life again, I was quite obviously eager to get back into the mountains. I wanted to climb, I wanted to hike, I wanted to connect with the mountains again in any way. Hiking came back easily. My body was fairly weak from Nepal, but even with that added physical challenge I eased back in and put one foot in front of the other, as I had time and time again, and found myself standing back on top of a peak soaking in mother nature’s beauty. My heart was happy and full. 

Then one day, I decided to climb. I couldn’t wait. The thought of tying back into a rope and climbing up rock, pushing myself in that sense again, filled me with true excitement. Finally, on a beautiful summer evening, I tied back onto that rope and started to climb. A few of us went to Grassi Lakes and we jumped onto the Golf Course wall (easy), but figured it would just be nice to enjoy some easy, stress-free climbing. As I made my way past the first bolt, then the second, I noticed fear creeping in. What normally felt natural and thrilling to me felt scary and created a panic rising inside me. Then, amidst the fear and panic,  all of these negative thoughts came rushing into my mind. Why is this hard? This should be easy, and it is easy, so why am I scared? What happens if I fall? Why am I up here? Where is this fear coming from? The list goes on. I took a few minutes to have a take, pause, calm my thoughts and take a few deep breaths. I continued up the climb and sure enough, I made it to the top. What usually comes with a feeling of success and accomplishment however, was replaced with a “get me off this wall and back to the ground now.” 

I wish I could say this was just a one time occurrence; a first time, back-at-it kind of fear, but unfortunately its been lingering in me all summer. It’s been frustrating to say the least. I always loved the way climbing made me feel. I never personally struggled with mental strength and ability while climbing, that it’s been hard to accept that I’ve taken a big step backwards it feels. I’ve always loved the way climbing pushed me mentally, and admittedly prided myself a little on my ability to mentally work through trickier moves and sections of routes. It’s been hard to feel this huge sense of fear on climbs I had previously completed with ease. 

Despite the feeling of moving backwards, I chose to do what I did while traveling. I decided I would appreciate the struggle for what it was teaching me. I remain committed to not giving up. I keep going out climbing, I keep getting scared, I keep getting frustrated, but I still do it. I am choosing to embrace the fear and experience it for what it is. We are always so scared of negative emotions, feelings, and experiences, but I truly believe if we let ourself feel them fully, no matter how raw and scary it may be, that they hold the biggest lessons to teach us. If we live through them instead of running from them, if we face them head on, there is so much to learn and to grow from. They make us who we are. 

For the last two months I keep tying into the rope. I keep pausing (often many times), to calm myself down; to take a few deep breaths. I’ve shed tears, I’ve been angry, and at times even very embarrassed. There’s even been days where I’ve gone out and been too scared to climb at all. Still, I go. I choose to live through it. I am determined to discover what this is teaching me. My mind is set on the fact that this is a life lesson I am meant to be in and work through. Of all my days out climbing, I’ve had two now where it was pure joy, no fear. For that, I am grateful. It’s small, but to me it’s a huge step. Since these days I’ve still found myself back in a place of fear, but thanks to them I know that working through it is possible and within my reach.

So, what is this lesson teaching me? What am I learning from this mental struggle and fear? Well, funny enough, it’s teaching me a lot of beautiful things. It sounds funny, but I have admittedly learned to love this experience, phase, and challenge in my life. 

I am learning resilience. I am learning how to cope and move forward in spite of this setback. It is teaching me to decide you want something bad enough, and then to work through and overcome the obstacles no matter what in order to achieve it. It has taught me patience, determination, and mental strength. It’s funny, even though mental strength is exactly what my struggle is, I believe it’s taking even more mental strength to work through it. 

I have learned to be vulnerable. A lot of my days out climbing have been with people who are relatively new relationships to me. I’ve been forced to be open and vulnerable with them right away about the fact that I am having a hard time with the activity. It hasn’t been easy to admit in front of them. It’s taught me to trust them and to be real. In admitting this sense of feeling weak to them however, I have in turn received support, kindness and encouragement. The people you surround yourself with really do make all of the difference. Their love and positive energy are helping me work through it and fill me with the sense of belief to keep going and trying. They are the big reason I keep getting back out. They help me believe in myself, even when my head is telling me the opposite. 

I am learning to slow down. This lesson has been years in the making, but it’s really showing its true colours now. Thanks to this fear, I am taking that step back and appreciating life at a different pace. I still climb, but I am climbing easier things and that’s ok. Some days I have just been belaying friends because I can’t work up the courage to try. I have found myself running, canoeing, and trying different activities. Sometimes I even just spend the night hanging out with the best company of friends in the park enjoying a beautiful summer night. The mountains are always there, showing us the adventures they hold and activities we can chase, but it’s ok to slow down too. It’s tiring and hard to keep up with them every single chance you aren’t working (trust me, I’ve been there and burned out because of it). They aren’t going anywhere. I believe sometimes we just need that afternoon on the couch or that glass of wine with a friend while watching the sunset, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It is so fun to endlessly chase the big moments, but in slowing down and appreciating the little moments too we truly get all of the magical moments in life. I have made some new, incredible relationships amidst this challenge because I am taking more time for them and truly appreciating the moment I am spending with them. I have caught up and had beautiful, deep conversations with those closest to me. I’ve sat on the lake watching golden hour light up the end of a perfect day with an incredible person. Those little moments truly bring magic and meaning to life. The slower pace is different, and sometimes hard, yet it’s such an important thing to do. 

Like I said earlier, this struggle is still a present struggle. I definitely can’t say that it’s something I’ve overcome. In fact, just last week I nearly cried while trying to lead the first pitch of a multi-pitch with my best friend. I admitted it to her once we were at the first anchor, and she too admitted her head wasn’t in it that day. So, we went for brunch. We soaked up the sunshine on a patio eating delicious food and having beautiful conversation. I’d say that’s still a pretty perfect day. 

I am not sure why I can’t get my head space back into climbing. Perhaps my mental capacity is tired from being out of my comfort zone traveling for seven months and dealing with all the new experiences and challenges that it’s craving comfort and simplicity. Maybe it’s all the headlines or stories I’ve heard over the years of friends of friends getting hurt, and sadly even losing their lives. I really don’t know why I am suddenly experiencing it out of the blue and I am not sure I ever will. All that I know is that I am learning a great deal from it. It’s shaping my summer into one filled with beautiful relationship, vulnerability, trust, effort, resilience, and a different pace of life. For that, I am grateful. For that, I choose to embrace it and keeping learning from it until one day I work through it and come out even stronger on the other side. Until then, I’ll keep facing it. I’ll keep putting my trust in the process and what’s meant to come from it. I’ll take it day by day, and I’ll experience and live out this beautiful life exactly as I am meant to.

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