On climbing and chronic illnesses

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I’m not sure if this is going to be a little bonus post this week or my first post of 2020. But I feel inspired so I’m gonna write it.

I’ve been climbing since I was 14 and at my peak I could do a 6c+ (font) which is a V5? Anyway I started as a top rope climber and did some regional competitions as well as a bit of leading before moving exclusively to bouldering in 2016. This was a big move because bouldering was my nemesis before hand because it was scary and I found equivalent grades felt impossible. It was also my first introduction to really steep terrain, which still to this day I am hopeless at although definitely improving. However, I also found something in it which was so rewarding. See I like a challenge. I also found it calming. A break from the stress of A-levels – which at the point I was behind on due to ME. And slowly but surely I got up to my peak bouldering grade being a V5.

Then life happened. I had a really horrendous endometriosis flare up which caused an ME/CFS relapse (doctors have actually said this) so I barley climbed for a year. Tried to get back into the sport at the beginning of my second year at university and I could still boulder a V3 with relatively little effort. I then ended up largely bedbound for two years and here we are now.

I have been climbing properly again for a month. Bouldering exclusively although once I get my stamina up and I have some more money I’ll go down to the local awesome walls and get myself on some autobelays to test out my stamina and maybe push the grades but we shall see. I’ve said in my previous post that I’m climbing at V1-V3 level – with V3 being my peak/if it suits me, I can probably do it. Since coming back I’ve had to focus a lot more on technique because I have no strength. Yet I’ve got myself up overhangs. I’ve worked and I’ve worked, and I’ve worked some more.

Not just on specific problems or techniques but also on thoughts towards myself. I’m something of a perfectionist. I am also someone who struggles with not being the best at everything. Now I was never the best at bouldering but not the point. Coming back means that I am very much the worst. Or not the worst but not great. I have had to accept that, and not beat myself up over it. We all have our own journeys and my journey is a comeback. A journey to hopefully coming back better. I know I lacked some technique, some old pictures of me make me cringe. It’s about building on that – growing and hopefully becoming physically stronger as well. I always say comparison is the thief of joy and slowly but surely, I am learning to not beat myself up because x can do that blue easy and I can’t even start. And that’s the same with everything. There’s a lot of potential comparison in life – with grades, with stats, with weight. And with a chronic illness it’s hard to believe you are enough and you are valid. But you are. If you know you’re trying your best then you are enough. (And that doesn’t mean killing yourself trying. It means listening to your body)

Since bouldering again – well today actually. I realised, and all the cogs in my brain finally clicked, that I can tell how my body is doing. Yes, I have climbed through extreme pain but it’s about knowing what and why. Is it likely to cause an injury or a flare up that just doesn’t make it worth it or not? With bouldering I am slowly learning when to push and when to not. Or I hope so! Today (well won’t be when this is uploaded) I had a not so great session. I didn’t see at much progression as I have been over the last few weeks and my body was struggling because HSD was interfering with my elbows meaning slots of slabs were out and ME/POTS were causing my legs to feel incredibly weak and me to question my hands ability to grip. I could feel that, and I knew. So instead of pushing it too much and stress I decided to see what I can do. I got up two V1s (allegedly) that are so not my style and I had been trying to do for weeks. I got up a V2/3 that I have been trying since last week and it was such a shock because although I had attempted to route read the whole thing at some point, when I did it I was so focused on this one move that I was struggling with that I kind of figured out the rest on the spot. I also did a V2 on some steep terrain and did so effortlessly once I got the first move. I spent the rest of my session trying some things and seeing how far I could get. I breast planted into the wall (yes quite literally) and got further up some of the more difficult v2/3s for me and further up a v3/4 so all in all not a waste of time.

I’m very bad at assessing how ill I am based on symptoms because I could feel dreadful and have it only be cognitive screen scaring fatigue or it could be actual fatigue. I don’t know the difference. Being able to climb means my body has that time to give me subtle signs, telling me when it’s not coping with life.

Since coming back I have learnt to not measure my progress by grades or colour of climb. But rather to measure it on the skills I’m developing. On my ability to deal with specific types of holds or parts of wall. I really want to improve my overhang work and eventually my roof work as I have always been useless at these things. I also want to be able to dyno although I tried dynoing something as someone told me too and actually got closer to the move by being static… In terms of specific holds I want to get more confident on volumes and slopers as these have always been points of low confidence with me and my old wall didn’t really have volumy climbs so I haven’t had much exposure.

It’s way more satisfying to measure progress in that way. The final thing I have learnt is to just try things. Even if they’re outside your current grade range or look a little scary, it doesn’t matter if your not able to top it – just getting yourself used to the different hold types and movement types is an important step in pushing those grades. The caveat here is be careful and don’t risk an injury. I know I can’t crimp anymore because I have no strength and my fingers are unstable as is. Instead of trying to kill my fingers I’ve been mindful. If my fingers start hurting, I ease up. If I really want to try that crimpy problem and the crimps are too much, I’ve been trying to find creative ways around them. Just trying things is fun and it’s also a good way to show progression. If you can get further up something marginally outside your grade range than you could the session before, that feels good. That’s the reward of bouldering.

As with the last post the pictures are old! But hoping to go for a family and closest friend sesh whilst I’m home for Christmas and I’ll be taking it easy but hopefully we’ll get some fresh pics!

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