I hung up the phone and my heart started to race. At first it felt like excitement but in a moment it became uncomfortable. A minute later I was locked with anxiety, pacing around the house, mind moving a mile a minute. My brain was filled with a horrible image of a team of climbers roped together, tumbling from the mountain. One in the lead, then the other, a horrendous vision.
I had been excited to go to Yosemite just moments before. It had sounded like fun. Then the ideas that had been so exciting and liberating began to feel horrible and terrifying.
It was exactly a year ago that two of my brothers of big wall climbing died on El Capitan. Through some seriously messed up mistakes they fell off the mountain. They were up there doing what I have done dozens of times or more, climbing fast, moving quick, tackling a big route in a day. In fact, that day I was also on El Capitan, alone, climbing as fast as I possibly could. That day I set the solo speed record on The Zodiac.
The effects of the trauma that these events cause to those of us left behind are real and sometimes mysterious. For me they manifest when least expected. One moment I may be excited for a trip or climb that is coming up, and the next I find myself pacing, nervous, anxious, unable to break free from a train of thought. At times it stops me in my tracks. I get stuck at home, unable to get out the door, to leave on a trip or even go to the gym.
I never thought of myself as an anxious person. As a youth I struggled with depression. Sad and fixed on what once was, unable to move forward. Over the years these feelings have changed, spiraled into something new. A locked mental loop about what may come. Anxiety.
Like Jason Isbell sings “Anxiety - How do you always get the best of me? - I'm out here living in a fantasy - I can't enjoy a goddamn thing...It's the weight of the world - But it's nothing at all - Light as a prayer, and then I feel myself fall - You got to give me a minute - Because I'm way down in it - And I can't breathe so I can't speak - I want to be strong and steady, always ready - Now, I feel so small, I feel so weak”.
Climbing once was the ultimate freedom. Traveling where I wanted, scraping by, happy. Over the years it morphed becoming something more, a way of life, a job at times, but always liberating, freeing and wonderful. Then the things I love most in climbing began to kill my friends. Falling from mountains, dying in avalanches, committing suicide.
Climbing has become heavy lately. I still find the light, fun, adventurous spirit that has guided me for nearly 15 years but there are moments between that stop me in my tracks. Moments that leave my heart racing even though I am just at home. Moments filled with memories of friends Ill never see again.
My lesson learned is that time is the only thing that can heal our broken hearts. Only time will set us straight on our paths. So when I find myself stuck, heart pounding like a sledge hammer, overwhelmed by something that may have seemed wonderful moments ago, I try to allow time to have its way. Deep breaths. Moments or minutes, hours, days or weeks, in time the feelings change and the motivations and excitements return.
My appetite for climbing is far from gone. I am still hungry and ambitious but I find myself needing to pay homage to my inner feelings more now than ever before. I find myself needing to follow that voice inside, the one that can one day scream “fuck yeah!” and lead me to my dreams. But in another moment might screech and wail for a full stop. And when it does, I have to listen, and one day, in time, Ill be strong and steady, always ready. But right now, I feel so small, I feel so weak.