I would like to talk for a minute about falling. For those of you who have been following along at home, I've been writing for the past couple weeks about my experiences with both climbing and depression. And tater tots, but that's less relevant. Please consider this a trigger warning with regards to those issues.
There is a saying in the climbing world that is no such thing as falling, there is only letting go. I call bullshit, because I can't tell you how many times I've taken a tumble when my feet apparently chose to let go without conference calling my brain, or because the flake of rock I was gripping chose to let go while I continued holding it. But I understand the metaphor. I am picturing myself on a specific route. It's an overhang, and I have to pull myself up over the ledge before I have anywhere to put my feet. My left hand clings to a light bulb shaped rock that is, to use a technical term, "a slippery ass motherfucker." My right hand grips a rough pocket, sandpapery sharp enough to cut through my weathered callouses and the paste of chalk and sweat coating my palms. My strength saps out like sweat down my back. I weigh my options. If I try to make the move, I may fall. If I hold here any longer, I will definitely fall. Defeated, I slink downwards back to what I perceive to be a safe place.
As we learned last week, asking for help has not been my most successful strategy, but there's a friend on staff who has always been my personal climbing guru, and so we set up a date to do fall drills. This friend I once described as a "leprechaun sasquatch," but that doesn't get to the heart of him. He's an elemental flame that has morphed into human form, I am sure of it. Bright and feisty, flickering with energy and light, constantly moving. The massive red beard may also be playing into this fireball image I've created. But above all else he radiates warmth. He makes me feel safe, and that is not a thing that can be said for the rest of the world these days.
We start an easy climb. I will scamper on up to a given point and then just let go. The scampering goes well. His constant easy chatter helps. It's the "just letting go" that's not going.
He asks: what are you thinking right now?
— I was calculating the possible angle of the fall, pondering the tensile strength of the rope, and assessing for any potential obstacles.
— I was writing a sonnet to commemorate the occasion, but can't let go until I think of a rhyme for harness.
— I was thinking of ordering a pizza.
What I am actually thinking:
It's not my most poetic, I'll admit.
So we change the plan and he is chattering away. Books he's read about mental strength, strategies about breathing, possibly ordering a pizza (wait, that one sounds familiar), techniques for safe falls, he swings off random holds as he walks, bounces and rolls his shoulders as he gets excited for the topic, scrunches his nose up like a little kid, always moving, always giving off warmth and noise.
I am quiet, frustrated, my hands slightly shaking.
For the new plan, I will climb a hard route until I do not have a choice and fall more organically. The part where I start hyperventilating almost immediately is, admittedly, a problem.
What are you thinking, he asks.
The answer is still: ahhfuck (with lots of extra vowels)
We try again and now I'm making rookie mistakes, slipping and sloppy. Back down again.
He is silent and still. I sink into the static of the mat, still tied to the rope and my sense of defeat. He calls me by name and pauses again. It is the quiet more than anything that gets my attention.
I promise you I will always catch you, he says. No matter what happens, I will never let you hit the ground.
So here I am again on that overhang (technical term: nemesis*). If I try to push higher, I might fall. If I hang on any longer, I will definitely fall. No matter what happens, I will never let you hit the ground. I swing for the move. I fall. He catches me. And I am rewarded by a rush of adrenaline and my first real laugh in weeks.
When I go home to shower, I realize there are stains across my bathroom and I am not sure if they are blood or wine**. I am going to reach out for some genuine real help, and it's terrifying because I'm afraid I'm going to fall again. But I can't hold on any longer. There is no falling, there is only choosing to let go.
I hope someone catches me.
* Arch nemesis: that is another climbing pun. You are welcome.
** Oh heeeeey GT. Holla atcha squalor.