Today I was reading an article that I found incredibly fascinating. It’s an article about the mental toll of football (soccer) players who are found to be extraneous to plans, whether by having another better person ahead of them in the pecking order, or coming back from injury and being seen as damaged goods and useless or worthless.
Reading that article hit a nerve, because it hit close to home when I thought about my own post-injury situation. Feeling like I was tossed aside by my climbing partners, and feeling like something that I had defined myself as, was no longer a part of my life, and that hurt a lot.
The reason why that article hit so hard was because I’ve been struggling to figure out if I truly was dealing with depression or PTSD in trying to regain my confidence, and whether I was forcing myself back to a sport that was the definition of my life and personality.
So this is about how I dealt with my demons as a climber after injury.
Leading up to my injury in the summer of 2016, I was on track for one of my best seasons ever. I was leading with a confidence that I’d never experienced before, I had just climbed Castleton, which I had thought about since I’d started climbing, and I was plugging gear for the first time. Things were looking up, and I was really excited for the summer and the fall. I really felt that it was my year.
So flash forward to the fall, when I’m out of the boot and the cast, and I’m walking around on my own, and I had picked up skiing, which was a distraction until I could get back to climbing, but was becoming quite a serious interest in it’s own right.
But I was a climber, and I wanted to climb. That was my life. That was what had defined me for six years now.
One day I messaged one of my climbing partners on Facebook, and I asked him if he would climb with me, if he would set up a couple top ropes on a 5.6 or 5.7 for me so I could just get comfortable with being back on the wall again.
He told me that he and several friends were going into Boulder Canyon, but that they were all working on their projects and wouldn’t have the time to set up a rope for me. But his words to me after that were soul-crushing:
“You can come and hang out and take pictures. Does that sound good?”
I politely declined, but inside I was heartbroken. I felt like I was so damaged that I had just been relegated to being a cheerleader.
At another point, I was standing in line for a ski movie at Boulder Theater, and someone who’d I’d climbed with several times before came up to me and asked me what I was doing with my life since “you don’t climb anymore.”
It’s not that I didn’t climb anymore. The nerves in my foot were still recovering. Climbing hard was mentally and physically painful, and my ex-partners were tossing me off. I was damaged goods.
I didn’t know what to do with that information so I did the only thing that my brain was programmed to do. I believed it and accepted it. I was done. I wasn’t a climber. I wasn’t a skier yet, since I’d just dipped my foot into that world, so there was a moment in my life where I felt I was locked out of my passions.
The result of this, for much of 2017, was a severe loss in confidence and self esteem. Climbing for me was something that went from me being so rabidly passionate about, to feeling like an outsider, because I had lost so many of my role-models and my partners.
So I started taking up sports that I felt I could grow on my own. I started to run, and I started to ski more seriously, because if I wanted to spend a day at A-Basin by myself I didn’t need a partner to rely on.
I did climb again. In the spring and summer of 2017, I started leading easy slab and easy trad again, but getting what felt like miles above my last piece and looking down and seeing that same view I saw just moments before my fall, that was terrifying.
Eventually it faded. I didn’t find that same manic energy about needing to be out every weekend as I did when I was wanting to run or ski, and while I still go to the gym, climbing is now a way to cross-train rather than something that I find myself dedicating myself seriously to. I still love mountaineering, and last year I briefly picked up ice climbing, which I felt quite proficient at, but there was a lot of turbulence at that time in my life which never gave me back my confidence as the thing I had defined myself for such a long time: A climber.
I’m not a professional athlete. I know that there are people who have had injuries who are infinitely more life-changing than mine, and in some places I feel almost guilty that I should be the one complaining.
But in coming to terms with what I was really going through at that time in my life, helps me better understand who I am today. My interactions. My overall well-being. The way I conduct my life and the sport I choose and the people I associate myself with.
The loss of confidence and self-esteem from being denied of something that defines one-self is real.
Maybe, just maybe, my story can help anybody else who’s felt the same deal with their own demons.