I Always Wear Eyewear

Sunglasses and goggles are great! We should all keep our eyes protected from the sun and from pokey things with sunglasses or goggles depending on the sport or your preference. But I want to talk about another bonus:

I cry on adventures. I wish I wouldn’t, but I do. I love my sunglasses and goggles for helping me keep this secret! I’m pretty good at being silent about it (not always) so it’s nice that I can keep moving while the tears come out and nobody has to know! Crying every day at a ski resort while you hide your tears in your super foggy goggles so your boyfriend doesn’t find out is probably not healthy for you or the relationship. So….maybe that kind of stuff is a different topic and actually probably really freaking unhealthy.

What I’m talking about is just a good old, “this thing scares me and I’m really frustrated and I just can’t help it that tears are coming to my eyes” cry.

I had a great experience last week, but often times they aren’t great. Many times if people notice you are crying, they will either get annoyed because you are a crybaby (which is an idea that stresses me out) or they will come to comfort you and suggest you stop doing the activity if it upsets you so much. If you’re learning a new adventure activity, especially with anxiety, depression, or other mental illness, crying is probably somewhat inevitable. That doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t be learning it, sometimes it’s just something you have to work through.

I went to a mountain bike clinic with some AWESOME ladies, and one of the stations we were working on making a turn into what felt to me like a steep hill. I tried it, slammed on the brakes. They’re all waiting for you. Backed my bike up, rode up to it again, slammed on the brakes and fell over. Damn, you suck. The teacher had me turn my bike to point straight down the hill and ride down so that I would be more comfortable with it. Woohoo! Nailed it. I pedaled around and back into line. Came up to the turn, slammed the brakes on, fell over, and the tears started. You should just go home, everyone is probably sick of waiting for you. Backed the bike up again, tried again, with the same result. And my breath started coming way too fast, and my lips were shaking. Everyone in line was saying “You can go again!” but of course I was hearing “come on this isn’t hard why are you such a failure”. I walked my bike away trying to choke out that I needed to take a break and calm down, which I’m pretty sure sounded like gibberish, and here’s the thing:

They let me go.

The teacher said, “Cool, go take a break, maybe try the other station, and you can try again whenever you’re ready.” You’ll never be ready.

I got down to the bottom of the hill where some successful people were hanging out, expecting to be bombarded with what I should have done, or lectured about how I can do it, and I just need to let myself, all the while hiding my tears behind my big sunglasses and discreetly wiping my cheeks as if for sweat.

“The head game is such a challenge,” one girl said. I looked at her blurry face, mumbled something unintelligible, and then we all just stood there. My muscles eventually released a bit and I could breathe normally, the tears stopped burning my eyes and I was able to go work on the other station for a while. I never made it back to that first station because we hit the trail pretty soon after that, but I was able to calmly get back on my bike and ride with the group. I don’t think this would have happened if the group hadn’t let me off the hook. By allowing me to calm down at my own speed, they facilitated my progress.

And this week, I managed a sharp turn into a downhill, and I’m not even mad that my feet were nowhere near my pedals (still counts!).

My 16 lb Dog is Faster Than Me

Running is hard. I didn’t believe I could run a mile until my friend, who has been mentioned before and is AWESOME, made me keep going when I wanted to stop, and quickly my distances skyrocketed after that. I’m still maxing out at about 10 miles these days, probably because I’m kind of inconsistent (working on that).

In any case, I have a Miniature Pinscher. He weighs 16 lbs, not to focus on weight but just to give you an idea that he’s a pretty small dude, and one day I got the idea that instead of going for my run and then walking him later, I could just run with him. I figured he hikes fine, and he’s a pretty active little guy, so he shouldn’t have too hard of a time picking it up.

Well, let me tell you, he is an athletic little sucker.

I had this kid on a Halti, so he wasn’t supposed to be pulling, and HOLY CRAP. I ran my first 7-minute mile. At the end of the first mile he had to poop and I basically collapsed on the grass and watched him while I tried to catch my breath (I picked it up before we left, I’m not a garbage human). Looking down to see this little squirt with teeny tiny legs who was completely un-phased by running a mile faster than I ever had, and watching him dance around me begging to get going again as I sat there in the grass was really a hit to my self-esteem. I considered walking him home and driving to my boyfriend’s house instead of finishing our run there. My expectation was that he would need to give in before I did because he’s so much smaller and I had been training without him, and that eventually, I’d have to walk him or even carry him (although I like to think I would know when to stop before it got to that point), and I was blown away. He’s an impressive little guy, but what did that say about me?

Can’t even keep up with your dog….how will you ever compare to real runners? Why would anyone run with you? You’re so slow oh my god why do you even bother. Fat. Fat. Fat. That’s why you’re so out of breath. It’s a good thing most people don’t know you’re trying to become a runner…

Whoa Nelly, as you can see that spiraled quickly. I should also add that I was on a fairly busy road because I was heading to the crossing so I naturally assumed everyone driving by was judging me, and yes, my boyfriend and one friend who runs with me are the only ones I was willing to tell that I was trying to learn to run at this point. I was terrified of the questions

“How fast are you?” so slow

“How far can you run?” not far

“When are you going to race?” never

And I’m told that those responses are inaccurate, but they feel real. Eventually, I got up and we finished the next 2 miles of our planned 3 mile run at MY pace, which is usually more of a 10-12 minute mile.

Since then, I’ve gotten him a harness because we’ve worked VERY hard on loose leash walking and still have hard days with that, so I want to make it very clear when he can pull and I will go with him and when he doesn’t get to pull because it’s my turn to lead.

Interestingly, since starting this exercise, his loose leash walking has actually improved….. but this is NOT a dog training post 😛 He has his fair share of behavioral issues that we’ll discuss in another post, but running was super for getting him past things that trigger his reactivity without an explosion.

I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to Kelly Roberts of the Run, Selfie, Repeat podcast and 100% recommend checking it out if you struggle with your body image, self-esteem, etc., whether related to running or just life in general. She’s super real and down to earth and her podcasts have gotten me through several speed bumps when I was feeling down or wanted to give up.

Are You Toxic?

“How can you say you like (enter activity here) when you never want to go when I invite you?”

I hate to break it to you, but it’s probably because you’re toxic. If I never want to climb, hike, ski, bike, etc. with you, it’s probably because you are toxic to my adventure experience. Honestly, you’re probably not doing it on purpose. I can try to give you that benefit of the doubt, even though my brain is screaming at me that you’re the spawn of Satan and you want me to suffer. However, it’s still healthier for me and my development as an adventurer to not participate in that activity with you. Let’s talk about what makes a good, supportive environment for developing adventurers.

When you go on adventures, where is the focus? Is it on going fast? Having fun? Experiencing the outdoors? Being with the people you’re with? Practicing mindfulness? Improving?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with going on adventures for ANY of these reasons. I’ll say that again for the folks in the back. ALL of these reasons are GREAT reasons for going on adventures!

However, if I want to go mountain biking because I want to have some fun and spend time outside, and you want to go because you want to go fast, we might not be compatible adventure buddies. And that’s okay! We can still be friends, and even crazier, we can still talk about mountain biking and enjoy ourselves! Because we both love the same activity and the same places.

My Tips for NOT Being a Toxic Adventure Buddy:

  • Know your partner’s limitations, and accept them!
  • Encouragement can go a long way to help someone on an adventure, making them feel bad or guilty can go a long way for them hating you forever.
  • Do not use self-deprecating humor when it’s obvious you are more advanced.
  • Accept compliments and understand that if someone isn’t as good as you, they are impressed by what you’re doing, even if it seems simple.
  • Do not make fun of people who struggle with the activity you’re doing. Even if they aren’t there, don’t exist, etc., it will make the people you’re with feel worse if they can relate to them at all.
  • It’s okay to go on adventures with different people and have different goals! For instance, on Monday you can climb with Toby and send, send, send! And on Wednesday you can climb with Brian and take your time and appreciate the beauty of the place.

Honestly, I am disappointed that I even have to write this post, because really all I’m saying is:

DON’T BE A JERK.

But apparently, the adventure community has been socialized to think that it is okay to do some of these things (which is a topic that is definitely going to be a post of its own, if not its own blog) so here it is. Although I do think mental illness exacerbates the effect this kind of toxicity has, this really applies to anyone who wants to adventure with people.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama – the Sanskrit which we use to refer to alternate nostril breathing. I love this exercise for climbing! I like this practice because it helps me stay grounded and feel safe. Even if I’m sitting on the rope with my belayer holding me I can still hold onto the wall with one hand and stay stable while I try to restart my mind.

The premise is simple: you put your index and middle fingers on your forehead just above your nose (your third eye, if you’re into that kind of thing), and then alternatively use your thumb or ring finger to close off one nostril or the other, switching after each inhale. This is supposed to balance you. The left nostril supposedly is the calming one, with the right nostril bringing the stoke! So if you’re way gripped, maybe take a few breaths through the left without switching. If you’re discouraged, maybe choose right instead. If you’re just kind of a mess (I would say I’m usually too in my head to know what I’m feeling), the basic alternating pattern is probably just fine.

The most recent time I used this, I was top roping a 5.6 at a local crag. I’ll be honest, in the gym, I’m usually projecting 5.11 climbs, so this shouldn’t have been a struggle. I was on a top rope trying to psych myself up to lead it afterward because holy crap does lead climbing freak me out, and it started. You’re not safe. What if you fall and break your teeth? What if you get hurt and can’t work? About 4 bolts up, not that it matters because I was on a top rope, my breath started coming too fast. Face flushing, eyes watering, I called down to my trusty belayer and asked him to take. My brain wouldn’t allow me to sit back in my harness and let him hold me but the tension was comforting.

“are you okay?” This isn’t hard.

“what are you doing?” Hurry up.

“Just breathing,” I called down. “I just need a minute.” I had to say it a few times getting progressively louder because my voice kept catching in my throat. Close one nostril, inhale, switch, exhale, inhale, switch. On and on with the breeze blowing past and the sounds of the canyon echoing around me, he thinks you’re weird you need to move. Again, exhale, inhale, switch, exhale, inhale, switch. The rocks felt textured under my fingers again. Exhale, inhale, switch. My calves released and my feet started feeling solid on their ledge. Exhale, inhale, switch.

“Climbing!” Up I went, finishing the climb, cleaning and rappelling down without another hitch. (Because I rappelled with an ATC, not a Munter. Ba dum Tss! …..I’ll be in my corner)

My tips for using this breathing technique, or pranayama, include:

  • Tell your belayer that you sometimes take a break for a breathing exercise BEFORE you’re halfway up a route trying to shout down your explanation
  • Avoid this exercise if you’re particularly phlegm-y, or bring a tissue
  • Focus on one spot that isn’t moving, or if you feel safe enough, consider closing your eyes
  • Practice while you’re still on the ground so you know what you’re doing once you’re on the wall

Good luck, and feel free to let me know how it goes if you try this!

I Tried to Ride

There’s a women’s Mountain Bike Club here. On the website, it looks like an awesome, supportive environment to learn and have fun! They started the season with a kick-off party that included group rides, and with that idea came all of the social anxieties. Do I wear my mountain bike gear? If I don’t wear it will I look lame? If I do wear it will they expect me to be better than I am? Will they judge me when I suck? Okay, so I convinced my friend who by the way, IS AWESOME, and also a newbie to go with me, thus, huge confidence boost! Woohoo! We might look dumb, but at least we’ll be together! We’re going! We’re accountable! We’re committed!

The day of the event comes, and she’s ill. And I don’t mean “boo you whore” sick, but actually too sick to go. Naturally, I have a meltdown and miss the first group ride. My boyfriend talks me down and gets me into my car and headed down to the event for the later ride. In the car, I’m full of pep talks! I’m wearing all the right gear, I’ve got the shorts, the jersey, the gloves, my bike looks badass! Because you can’t tell by looking at it that it shifts funny and I’m still not sure how to fix that…..never mind. I’m gonna crush it, I have a helmet friendly hairdo and my helmet has been certified as “cool” by my more experienced boyfriend. Just don’t look at my feet because clips scare me so I’ve got Nikes and flat pedals and anytime anyone glances down I’ll probably start hyperventilating BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT. 

I’m stoked.

I’m ready.

I’m unintentionally slowing down on the freeway……

So like any strong, empowered woman who don’t need no man would do, I called my boyfriend in a panic instead of logically pulling over and ASKED HIM if I should pull over. The stupidity of this move was only clear to me in hindsight. I made it to the exit and rolled off the freeway, coasting until I came to a stop on a side road between two gas stations, blocking one of the entrances. Still on the phone, still panicked, he coaches me through trying to get the car back in gear which doesn’t work, and then I try to push the car, but of course, I rolled to a stop pointing uphill so I get nowhere and have to jump back in the car to brake as it starts rolling backwards. I opened the hood, looked at everything, called my dad, found out I don’t actually have AAA when I thought I did (working on rectifying that), and then put the E-brake on and seatbelted myself back into my seat to try to keep my shit together.

Fast forward a while and my knight in shining armor who was driving to skiing and bailed to come get me shows up, and says: “I’m here to rescue you, beautiful damsel!” Just kidding. But that’s basically about how useless I felt as depression started shouting at me: You ruined his day! You don’t deserve his help! Why couldn’t you be more competent so he could have fun!

In real life, he says: “Woah, there’s fluid all over your car” which, in all of my panic I had neglected to notice. Holy crap, you’re so stupid, how long have you had a car and you can’t tell it’s covered in ATF??

Long story short, one of my transmission hoses had come detached due to a broken clamp and spewed fluid everywhere, making it so my car couldn’t go into gear. Luckily, I had broken down across the street from Lowe’s so we could run over and buy a new clamp, which my boyfriend was kind enough to install for me so I could avoid ruining my brand new (well, newly consigned) jersey, and once we added 5 quarts of ATF, suddenly it was driving! This only took us about 4 hours, so I missed all of the group rides, and try as he might, the boyfriend could not convince me to go to the kick-off party that late. The good news is, this is a to be continued story…..they have a newbie/beginner ride in a few weeks, and it’s on my calendar, and I am GOING. I hope.

Bouldering League

Gripped. Terrified. Panicked.

These are the words I could use to describe the time a small rock slide started while we were in a chute on Mt. Sneffels, or the time I got lost at a resort and ended up on a black run instead of a blue, or the time my dog had an allergic reaction while we were backpacking, but this time it was much more simple. I was on the second to last hold on V2 that I had just been crushing during a bouldering league practice. Frozen, and running out of strength fast, I could have gotten myself out of this situation by grabbing the finish hold and climbing back down the rungs to the ground. Unfortunately, my brain could not process that plan as I hung, knees balled up toward my chest, feet having long since slipped from their respective holds. I became hyper aware of everyone in the bouldering area of the gym looking at me, as the blood started pounding in my ears blocking out everyone who I assume was saying “you’re fine”, “what’s wrong”, and “just let go”. Eventually, I managed to peel one finger at a time off of the hold I was grabbing for just long enough to grasp a down-climbing rung, and swing down hand over hand flailing my legs until I slipped off. Flat on the mat with tears on my face and my breath coming painfully fast, I could feel hands touching my shoulders and I slowly inched backward from the wall to get out of the way.

“You could have just jumped, you would have been fine.” Their words echoed what the logical part of my brain already knew, but couldn’t get through the sheet of panic. It echoes again and again after every job I’m too afraid to go for and every coffee date I don’t set up with a new acquaintance or old friend, every time I chicken out I hear it and I hate myself….

“You could have jumped, you would have been fine”

“You could have jumped”

“You. Could. Have. JUMPED.”

We might not all show it in panic attacks, but there is something in all of us that tries to keep us from jumping. Fear. Anxiety. Insecurity. I could get the thesaurus out, but you all know these feelings and no matter how hard it was, we have all mastered them! And yet, they still plague us. It can pop up on a boulder problem when one second before we were feeling super solid, or on that kick turn that feels too exposed when you were just crushing the skin up, or just before that presentation at work when you were just feeling so confident… the floor falls out from under us. Hopefully, not because there’s an avalanche, but the emotional storm can crush and suffocate us nonetheless. And yet, we stand back up.

We get back on the mountain.

And we jump.

The truth is, I came back to the next league practice to be super frustrated that the problem I panicked on had been reset and didn’t exist anymore; inducing feelings of so much relief that I didn’t have to go back up there, and then guilt for feeling so relieved. However, I did finish three other V2s that day…..and down-climbed most of the way down before jumping.

You don’t have to jump from the top to make a jump. Just jump.