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!

Climbing and my eating disorder. To quit or not to quit?

Eating disorders in the climbing community are kept kinda hush, hush, Yes there was the so called climborexia phase but now climbers realize technique also plays an important part. This being very true. Technique is important. But how does climbing place
in the role of a developing or success of recovery from an eating disorder.

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Chris Sharma!

 


 Sport and eating disorders.

Well research has shown that people participating in competitive sport are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder such as Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa. OSFED (Previously EDNOS) is also a cause for concern as it has been highlighted as the most dangerous of eating disorders. I guess sports can be categorized into Technical, endurance, aesthetic, weight dependent. ball games and power sports. Amongst these Aesthetic sports carries the highest rate of eating disorders with weight dependent sports coming a close second.

You may ask. What does this have to do with climbing? Well to be climbing is not one sole category but a multitude. One of those being weight dependent. Not forgetting technique and potentially endurance and power sport. This however is all dependent on your chosen area of climbing. Be it sport, trad, Alpine,bouldering, mountaineering or competition.

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Steph Davis!

 

So of course your ability to climb at any given time is partly down to weight to muscle ratio. Fat won’t help you get up the wall.Specially in female climbers pressures to be thin are added. This could all lead to the development or severity of an eating disorder. There are some very thin climbers out there.

There is also the pressure factor. Be it from family or your coach. There is the potential that climbing families can apply too much pressure on the child. The potential on a coach pushing a young person too far. To a predisposed individual talk about simple things such as weight- to – muscle and healthy eating could play a part in the cause or increasing severity of an eating disorder when mixed with other known factors such us; bullying, perfectionism, pressure from school, abuse or death of a loved one.

Your eating disorder may portray itself to you as a way to excel in your sport. It may start as a fitness plan or a healthy eating plan and rapidly spiral out of control.

Climbing and recovery.

This section I guess specifically focuses in indoor climbing and competition climbing. When grades are most important. While in recovery from an eating disorder simple things such as putting your harness on or your chalk- bag round your waist may become triggering. Maybe the feeling that your going backwards instead of forwards. The inevitable weight gain. This can all effect recovery. Not just mentally but physically.

We all know that exercising at a low weight is extremely dangerous and can be the cause of heart attacks and premature death. There is also the fact that exercising during the weight gain process can cause you to overshoot your natural weight. Of course us climbers can’t just not climb. It’s like a drug and to many sufferers of eating disorders exercise is like a drug.

So yes not only can climbing be a cause or reason for an increase in severity it can also be a hindrance during the recovery process. Especially when not many people know of your disorder.

My Experiance

Well I’ve had an Eating disorder for six years. EDNOS. About 18 months ago I started climbing. I was rubbish at it but I loved it. It was just for fun then really. No weight-to-muscle to triggering coaches, no targets apart from those which were self set. May 2013. I climbed my first 6a. My instructor said something about how I was light so it was easy for me. Not that this was the cause of the increased severity in my eating disorder as many other factors played a part but it was something I remember almost a year on.

June 2013 I had lost A LOT OF WEIGHT. Ok probably not that much. We don’t have working scales at home so I can’t give definitive numbers but people were commenting. June 2013. Marking the start of recovery. When recognized and openly admitted there was a problem. June 22nd, I went to my friends party. A buffet. Ok I didn’t eat a huge amount and refused to eat dinner that evening. I also proceeded to do some silly amount of sit ups that evening but it was a step in the right direction.

I guess I was fighting for recovery from then on really. I was however still losing weight. Late July I gained a whole 1/2lb. This freaked me out like hell. Returning from holiday in august things started to slip again. Thing is with this slip my climbing was noticeably better. I onsited a 6a+ Not just climbed, no hours spent. Just straight up. No effort what-so-ever. I was so tiny it was all so easy.

Picking myself back up from the relapse. Eventually I guess climbing wasn’t a problem until 2014 came along. Since the new year I have been gaining and gaining and gaining. This is due to a failure to be-able to intuitively eat. A failure to be-able to eat what my body needs when not in control. Sometimes it feels like I’ve developed Binge eating disorder. I may have climbed my first 6b about a month ago. Bouldered my first v3 along with that. Following a series of recant injury’s however climbing the crack was near impossible last Friday. My arms are just too weak for it. They never used to be. I can only attribute that to the impeding far growth on my stomach. I can’t deny it to myself. It is there and it is real. There could of course be many other factors attributing to a drop in performance. This could include how I hadn’t eaten lunch and how my shoulder was not actually fully healed. There is also the fact that the recant injuries meant training had been lacking.

So now I’m sitting on the fence. I don’t gain as much enjoyment from climbing as I once did. I swear I’ve gained atleast a stone since the Friday…A lack of workouts and being at my nans. She forces food down my throat and I feel pressured to eat it. Writing about it makes me feel so guilty. I need to be skinny again. I need to lose weight not give in to this.

I guess I can’t quit climbing for another 9 weeks. It would be unfair on my mother. Maybe in those 9 weeks I will find new perspective. When I get home tomorrow I will beable to train again. Maybe if my parents allow me to become a vegan that will make a difference. Or maybe my climbing ability will not get any better and I may still be climbing worse than everyone else but I will have learnt to accept that and stop comparing myself to others. There is a chance that one day I will be-able enjoy climbing once more. Not for the competition and not for the grades but out pure love for the sport. The sense of freedom and challenge. I guess there’s no point in me climbing if it’s to “be the best”. I never started climbing to be the best. I started out of pure enjoyment. The feeling I get when climbing.

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Me bouldering indoors at fort Purbrook about a week after returning from holiday. No pressure, no one to compare myself to. Just me and the wall.

 

Maybe happiness well come and one day I may find my passion once more. Climb for enjoyment not to be good at it and not let my eating disorder allow me to believe anything about how I should lose weight, need to lose weight and how my BMI is way to heavy for a climbers. I need to learn to climb for fun and not competition. Only then will my love and passion return.