I have anxiety and depression, and I enjoy rock climbing. I was showing someone about a recent 3-pitch climb I did (around 350 feet), and they asked me if I was scared. I said I was terrified. Then they asked me why I did it then. It’s a fair question. Why do I do this activity even though I can become terrified? Why do I rock climb also though I can have anxiety about it at times? How do I rock climb when there are days that I can barely move out of bed? I guess it seems kind of incredible when you think about it. I put myself in situations that would give “normal” people anxiety.
I guess I need to explain how I got into climbing. First, when I was growing up, I always wanted to rock climb. It just never seemed like it was for me. I tried it before, and I wasn’t innately good at it. In fact, I struggled when I tried it for the first time. I never thought I was that “type” of girl to do it. You know, the awesome outdoorsy badass ladies. I wasn’t “cool” like that. I wasn’t “good enough” to do it.
For a while, my thinking stayed like that. My self-worth was null. I didn’t believe in my capability. I just thought to remain hidden is better. I didn’t want to look like a “wannabe.” I didn’t want to look like an idiot. So I never even tried.
Then something lovely happened. I met my current partner who just happened to rock climb. He took me rock climbing for the first time outside when we first started dating. I kept my cool that day, guys. I didn’t freak out. He just trusted me and believed in me. I was able to do that time. I had an advantage when learning rock climbing, I had someone I cared about supporting me through all of it. Who taught me the ropes (pun intended).
But I struggled. I still didn’t feel “good enough” to be at the rocks. I had intense anxiety and freakouts. I never felt like I belonged there. Not because of other people’s actions, just because of my own. I wanted to challenge myself, but I was terrified to. I wasn’t really fun to climb with since I was so hard on myself.
Eventually, I reached out to someone about it, and they told me how it doesn’t matter how good of a climber you are…it just matters if you have fun doing it. So I was able to change my perspective a bit. I was able to try to enjoy myself more. I started taking on easier climbs. I was able to take it easier on myself. I was able to enjoy it. I may have been terrified on climbs, but I kept going anyway.
I started to feel more confident. I began to relax more. I began to feel inspired by other climbers instead of inferior to them. I began to become more involved in the community. I’m not a talented rock climber, and I probably will never be. That’s okay. I don’t have to be the best climber to enjoy the sport. I don’t have to do the most difficult climbs to feel good. It’s really freeing.
Here’s the thing, I still struggle on climbs. I still have anxiety. I still feel inferior. But their moments now. I went climbing at the gunks recently, up a very easy climb. There was a party of 3 men climbing right behind us. Back in the day, that would have set me off. I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. I would have been too anxious to concentrate. But that day, I was able to deal with it. I became friends with them. They helped me keep moving when I was scared.
It took time to get me to a spot where I loved going climbing. Anxiety and depression may make it slightly more difficult, but once you are able to do it, climbing can also help ease your anxiety and depression. It gives me a reason to get outside. It helped me feel more capable. It helped me believe in myself. It helped me connect with others. It helped me belong to something. When I’m climbing, I’m only focusing on that and not my other worries.
So if you want to try rock climbing, but you also struggle with anxiety and depression or just low self-esteem like me, try anyway. Find safe people to go with. Surprise yourself. It’s terrifying, but it can be amazing at the same time. So find a local climbing gym. Or a local organization that has classes. Meet other beginners. Find the people that know the sport, so you can learn the right way. Get inspired. Stay safe.