FEAR – Becoming a master of your mind

March 17, 2014
Indian Creek climbing

In the next few blog posts I want to share a little bit about how I’ve been treating my faithful friend, Fear. We’ve grown close over the last two years since my accident.

Our relationship has been pretty tight and we´ve experienced some rough and bonding moments together. At times I think Fear has given up on me and moved on to find a new friend, but as fast as the thought crosses my mind, it’s there, more vivid and present than ever.

I remember the first time I went back to visit the red sandstone cracks of Indian Creek, one of my favorite spots on earth. It felt like a lifetime since I had last been there. My smile reached all the way around my head. Indian Creek was empty, and all the lines were just towering overhead like majestic wise men. The conditions were perfect and my body felt strong, usually a very comforting combination. I tied in, super psyched to be leading on trad gear again. Then my hands started sweating. I could feel the presence of my friend creeping up on me, and it made me feel very alive. I stepped of the ground and started climbing.

Halfway up the first route my heart started drumming in my chest, my hands were paddling on the rock and my head was ringing. I wanted to puke. I tried to take control of the conversation with my fear. I tried to breathe and talk myself into calming down, but it didn’t work. The next moment I melted into the rope, sobbing into the silent, desert air. The fear was abusive and overwhelming. Feelings rolled up inside me: I got angry that fear still could have such a paralyzing effect on me. It made me sad. I felt like I’d lost power over my own body. I felt bad for myself for all that I had been through and then angry again for being a wimp. I heard my sweetheart’s comforting voice from the ground:

It’s Ok, you’re doing great, you should be proud of yourself. There’s no rush, just take your time. One step at a time.

Nathan’s word helped me out of the rollercoaster of feelings. I closed my eyes, smiled, inhaled a couple of deep, belly breaths and started climbing again. I talked positively to myself:

I’m a champ, I’m out here again, I’m trying my hardest, I can be proud of myself. There is no rush, just take ONE STEP AT A TIMEHang when you want. You’re in Indian Creek, you’ll have a gear placement in you face whenever you need it.

One step at a time has been my mantra since day one, and it still works. Ever since I woke up in the hospital bed, I have been telling myself that even one tiny, tiny step forward is worthwhile and beneficial. Regaining motion in my elbow joint, for example, went like this: bend arm, put spoon in mouth, touch nose, touch back of head, put hair in pony tail, and so on. So I have learned to deal with fear the same way, because fear doesn’t just go away. Every time I find myself face to face with my fears, I realize I’m taking yet one more step toward controlling them better. And for me, when the fear gets this overwhelming, the best way to manage it is to step back, accept it, embrace it, reset and call up the try hard gene.

Fear is one of the most elemental factors we deal with as climbers. In some way or another it effects us all, and the biggest questions are how, and if it is beneficial for us. For me personally, fear is one of my biggest challenges in climbing, but also the best teacher. The accident caused me to subconsciously equate falling with hitting the ground and months of rehab and unbearable pain. The whole process has made me reflect a lot on my fears and how I respond to them.  I’ve had to find tools to conquer unhelpful fear and to take advantage of legitimate fears.

I’ll be talking more about my techniques for practicing fear management in my next blog post. Meanwhile, here’s a fascinating TED talk about stress, and how you can actually learn to make stress a helpful thing in your life.

Stay tuned, stay hungry, feed your psyche.