When you suffer from anxiety, there is usually a lot of noise in your head. In my case, there are two different soundtracks. There is the one that’s telling me I need to worry about everything under the sun all the time, and then there’s the one telling me to ignore the first one.
One is involuntary (the worrying), the other is voluntary.
Regardless, it’s a lot of traffic between my ears. It’s exhausting.
Over the years, I have tried everything imaginable in order to conquer my anxiety. What I’ve learned is that anxiety is basically un-conquerable. It’s impossible to completely make it go away. But it’s definitely possible to turn the volume down. Way down. And over the past year, I have managed to do just that. However, I’m rarely, if ever, able to turn the volume all the way off.
Enter rock climbing. My daughter is a serious climber, and I’ve been watching her climb in competitions for many years. Over the years she has repeatedly encouraged me to try climbing. Until recently I never felt well enough or strong enough to give it a go.
Oddly, I finally felt strong enough to give climbing a try because I was diagnosed with osteoporosis a year and a half ago. That sounds funny, I know. But here’s the situation: weight bearing exercise is a way to combat osteoporosis, so for the last year plus, I have been near religious about getting 10,000 steps per day, along with lifting light weights, taking the stairs, etc. Somewhere along the way, I started to feel kind of semi-strong.
So I finally got on that wall. And something miraculous happened. The inside of my head was spectacularly silent. No worried soundtrack. No soundtrack telling myself not to worry. It was just me and the wall. The sound of silence has never been so joyous.
When I am on that wall, everything fades away. I’m not a patient. I am not wrestling with my physical and mental health. The only thing I’m wrestling is gravity. And it’s absolutely glorious.
In addition to the abundant silence, the other thing climbing gives me is a sense of accomplishment, which has been sorely lacking in my life since I got sick. I know I have accomplished a lot just by maintaining life and re-gaining my mental health. Let’s be clear. Those are big ones. But those accomplishments are really just about trying to get back to the baseline of where I started before everything went so horribly wrong.
Every time I get to the top of a wall I didn’t think I could climb, I am going above my baseline. I am achieving. I am feeling a sense of satisfaction I have not known in these nearly nine years of being sick.
When I come off the wall, I love just sitting on a bench in the gym. I take my climbing shoes off and let my feet air out. I am chalky. I am sweaty. I am exhausted. And I am alive. So very alive.
And it’s quiet upstairs. Gloriously quiet.
After I leave the gym and get back into my day, the noise inside my head slowly returns. But I don’t fight it. Instead of getting angry about it, I feel gratitude for the temporary respite. Gratitude to have climbed and achieved.
Gratitude for the silence of the wall.