Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Like most of my posts, I am writing about personal experiences but hope to reach out to people who had similar experiences. I want to share what is needed in response for anxiety attacks. This could be helpful for anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack, intense or not, or who just experienced "fear" on the mountain and judged her/himself based on that fear.
Fear doesn’t only approach us in physically life threatening situations like a potential deep fall, an aggressive dog or a scatchy person in a dark corner on the street. There is another type of fear which just exists in our minds. The fear of loosing a job, a friendship, getting punished even if there is nobody who could punish you anymore. The fear of being disliked from our social environment, not reaching a goal or just getting denied on the phone. This type of fear is unreal, because there are no consequences that you could’t change for yourself. There is no irreversible physical impact on you.
The next story tells a mixture of these fears and afterwards comes a “Soul-Back-Up”. In my eyes this is what makes you strong again and reminds you of the beauty, power and awareness that each of us holds in them.
The other day we went trad climbing in the Gallatin canyon after a night of heavy rain. The route we chose was cold and covered in lichen,
but I still wanted to lead it and place my own gear. I only had in mind that I wanted to practice leading on gear and how much more I enjoy leading than top roping. I started climbing and placed some gear, but none of my gear was that great and I started to panic. Sometimes I even just froze and couldn’t move. Tears were filling my eyes but I forced myself to continue climbing. I thought it would just go away and I would gain some bravery again. Looking at my gear and realizing how marginal it was, I wouldn’t lower anyways. On top of this, my friends encouraged me to continue climbing. At some point, I got to a fist-crack and just looking up it gave me a shiver that filled me with fear. I was able to finally place a good cam and lower down.
Arriving at that crack made me feel frozen in my movements, my heart was running fast and I was just full of fear. At the ground I was full of tension, scared and crying in boosts here and then. We continued walking to another climb, but just walking on the rocky terrain made me scared and scenarios of falling down the steep terrain filled my mind.
We left soon after that and I needed twice as long to get to the car. My body hurt the rest of the day and could fall asleep for 3 hours in the middle of the day. At night I would wake up with a raging beating heart while heavy breathing. I had troubles to calm my self down and I realized that these where anxiety attacks.
And of course the days after I would ask myself, why my reaction had to be so extreme. And why I couldn’t just deal with it in a lighter way (like my friends on the crag). Why couldn’t I be stronger mentally and physically?
It is important not to forget why our body and mind are sending us feelings of fear. Especially in climbing, since life-threatening situations are part of the sport. Telling my body that I could slip any moment, fall and break a leg or arm was a rational and legitimate move of my mind. This is a normal reaction of a body in a life-threatening situation. This kind of stress was there to protect me from dangerous decisions.
Bringing my body and mind in this kind of situation should only happen with a lot of self-understanding and support of myself. I have to go into myself, and ask if I am ready and prepared for this. What are my motives and drivers. Right in front of the climb might be too late to ask this. If I am doing this truly for myself, and I appreciate myself as a human being and accept who I am, I should not be scared of failing in any way. Failing is just a word which means “not achieved it”. There is no judgement behind it. I think I also wanted to be stronger than my physical fear, but why overgo the signals of your body? What would I prove with that and why do I need to prove anything?
Fear is nothing bad that we should be scared of. Yes, it is an unpleasant condition, but fear is not a threat. Fear gives us indication about ourselves and our lives. In this case it indicated that I wanted too much from myself in the described situation.
I was going against myself without asking myself if I really feel comfortable enough to do that climb. And that does not only count to my physical strength and experience. That strong fear was probably triggered by something else too: climbing unrelated fearful experiences connected with personal insecurities in the past which are still easy to scratch open. These personal insecurities can be anything that tears me down. Mainly negative mantras like: “You are not good enough”, “I am worthless” or “I don’t belong here”. They pull strategies of protection of myself in moments of insecurity triggered by a scatchy climb, an argument with somebody or just unsuccess in whatever other thing. A strategie of protection can be just a social withdrawal and a close up of mind and emotions. Or an anger attack, blaming somebody else or an anxiety atack. This "strategie" doesn't make you feel better but it protects you from other emotions or personal self-devaluation. Fear can take me in that mindset and I have nothing to offer than just listen to my body. Fighting against me will only make me loose against myself. Accepting feeling that emotion and being understandable and supporting with myself will calm me down. Recalling who I am and what I do in a positive way prepares me for any problem. Only by changing my view on myself and my positive qualities I am able to difference between a “real” fear (threatening physical health) and fear that only exists in my head. That real fear can be rationalized with experience and knowledge and a logical desicion for further steps has to be made. The "unreal" fear can be accepted and understood but this fear is nothing that is meant to stop me.