Stepping Back from The Edge, Landing Under The Knife

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Rock Bottom:
The view was certainly good from up here, even though it’s not the type of high-angle view I’m accustomed to, I had to give it that. You could see all three hallmarks of Houston from these parapets, and I took a minute to survey them all. The downtown, medical district, and even the stacks of the refineries were visible, lit up by the midnight hour in their productive glow. I was a long way up. Looking down from the walkway at the concrete, I knew this place would do the job. But then I’d thought that out long before I ever got in the car and drove out here. Ten floors plus a little extra to land in the concrete pit just below the base of the building. I had come here to die.

The calculation was brutal. Midnight, so there would be fewer witnesses troubled. I didn’t want to make a scene, but this was the only place I could be certain. Ten stories, because I’d already survived a fall from 3 stories up (in a thoroughly un-desired climbing accident). Tripling that with a hard landing zone would make the end quick, relatively painless. Once I tipped over the edge, there was no chance of survival. None.

I stayed up there for perhaps an hour, trying to feel it out. Sometimes I sat on the ledge, looking down, sometimes I stared at those familiar horizons gleaming in the dark. I’m still not 100% sure what tipped the balance in my mind back towards the elevator. Some part of me deep down was fighting to stay alive even though the parasitic thought patterns in my head were pushing hard to storm the castle and achieve their insidious victory over life. I don’t know why I walked away from the precipice while so many others committed. Perhaps it was luck?

I guess you do just have to keep on rowing, even when you don’t know the outcome. That track (Rowing, by Soundgarden) got me through a lot of tough times.

That was my only serious attempt at suicide, the only time I came close to letting the darkness win and actually ending it. I do remember a long, long history of wanting to die and pushing through anyway. In one of my youngest memories, I sat on the couch in my family house and tried to choke myself to death with my bare hands while no one was around. I don't know how old I was, but I was too young to realize I would eventually lose my grip and that this couldn’t actually work. I recounted that story in a counselor’s office not too long after my rooftop ordeal, and he asked why I felt so strongly that I wanted to die…. I’d thought about it a great deal, why did I want to die? The events in my life were not particularly rough, I didn’t have a horrible past, the obstacles before me were possible to overcome, and I knew all of this. I didn’t think I had any good reason whatsoever. I didn't even have a bad reason.

The greatest moment of terror in my life was realizing that there was no reason for my tendencies. If there was no reason, how could I fix it? At that point, I estimated my odds of surviving another year at 50%.

I’ve been around these United States of ours in a wild way this past year, and I've seen that we humans are all frighteningly similar. No matter where I go I find amazing people, people who have survived great hardships of mind, body, or circumstance and, frankly, they all kick ass. Learning to overcome these sufferings makes you a powerful survivor. Even if you’re not out of the woods yet, you're still surviving. I’m going to say right now that I love you all, more than you’ll ever know. The more people I meet, the more convinced I am that these internal struggles are just a part of the human condition, and the most interesting and beautiful humans I’ve ever met seem to have the most vicious fights for survival. I think it’s part of what’s made them so strong. Those with the demons inside have to be or become strong. The alternative is to perish. These people are beautiful in their awareness of others and the world, but perhaps being aware comes with a cost. Not only are you attuned to the good in the world, but also the frightening bits within you. And biology has us hard-wired so that fear makes a loud noise. I think most folks have wished at some point that they didn’t have to deal with life, wished they were never born or wished that something would end it for them. These are just steps along a continuum, and it’s a small slide on the scale to think “I wish I could kill myself” or “I’m GOING to kill myself.” And then it's only one small step for a man actually to do it.

For me, the desire to die was nothing new, it was old-hat and had been around my consciousness as long as I could remember. I don't know a single moment in my life where the ghost of suicidal thinking was completely gone. I had come to think of it as part of me, it didn't scare me anymore. What scared me was the day that I stopped enjoying climbing.

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Turning Around:
I went to four different counselors in total over the years. It’s not that any of them were inadequate, but imagine learning a complex subject from one single teacher. They have a great depth of knowledge, but perhaps they don’t know how to phrase it in just the right way to make it “click” for your learning style. Seeing multiple therapists helped me find the one that clicked. Today, I don’t even remember his name, but he gave me the single most crucial insight of the whole journey. I am not depression, I am not depressed, the depression is OF me, but it is not me. It’s more like a cancer.

Most of you are familiar with the idea of a computer virus. Depression is like a mind-virus, a series of repeating processes that disturb the normal operation of an otherwise healthy system. The mechanism of depression is to shrink your world. Depression shrinks your world by eliminating the things that make you happy. Depression wants to eliminate your friends. Depression wants to eliminate your daily functioning. Ultimately, after your world is gone, depression wants to eliminate you. Depression is the mechanism of suicide. Lucky for me, my counselor caught on that I was a somewhat self-aware individual, and accustomed to following my thoughts. I suppose it’s hard to be frightened by your mind if you never notice it. Perhaps if I weren't self-aware, I wouldn't have entered this state, to begin with. But then I wouldn't be writing this article either. The key is to simply notice passing thoughts and to notice when thoughts were coming from my desires, and when the thought was coming from my depression. Did I want to sit around the house all night, or was that the depression trying to eliminate more of my world?

Fuck you depression, I’m going climbing.

And so I went back to climbing, and I began training hard. I threw myself back into climbing like my life depended on it because it did. I knew 100% that I was doing it for me, and not for the depression. All through this time, I maintained my penchant for runout climbing, and for soloing as well. The depression wants to eliminate the things that make me happy, I wasn’t about to let it take that away from me. When you’re 30’ above your bolt and a foot slips, in that moment of surging adrenaline you truly come to know how strong your will to survive is.

For me, climbing is the one time where my mind shuts down. There is no me, no depression, no elation, just the next move, the hold I’m on, the feet I’m using for balance, and the core tension keeping it all together. Soloing has taught me to look inward and observe my thoughts to see when a climb feels right, and when I should back off. For me, soloing furthers that sense of still calmness for me in a way that nothing else can, and I can tell you I’ve never once considered letting go on a route. I would be far too pissed off if my epitaph reads “We told you so” to ever consider that.

You are not alone:
Soloing saved my life. It gave me the power to fight back against my depression and take back what’s rightfully mine, and it gave me the mental tools to look inward and inspect my own mind. But that’s nothing unique to me or soloing, I’m not particularly special, and I’m NOT advocating soloing as a way to overcome depression. But everybody who’s dealt with this has that one thing they gave up to the depressive state that shrunk their world… I know friends who were similarly saved by triathlons, painting, cycling, writing, climbing, swimming, playing guitar, and a myriad of other pursuits. Many of them had far worse trouble to overcome than I did. Shit, even Tommy Caldwell contemplated suicide.

“Free soloing El Cap” is sometimes used as a euphemism for suicide in certain circles because it would mean certain death to attempt (note, this was written before Honnold pulled it off). “Hanging out on the summit in a thunderstorm? You might as well free-solo el cap!” In the aftermath of divorce Tommy considered attempting the feat. Granted, he’s one of the few humans physically capable of such a thing, but even for him it could easily have resulted in a swan-dive. He’s not a soloist. Either he’d succeed and become the first human to free-solo El Capitan, or the emotional pain would end… He sat above the rostrum (a site famous for Peter Croft’s solos) contemplating the idea… And that’s when the Dawn Wall was born. Instead of choosing to be consumed with something that would destroy him, he chose the project that would save him. The Dawn Wall saved Tommy’s life. That’s resilience.

Steph Davis, a high-level soloist, and BASE jumper, went through similar bouts with depression and suicide. After the death of her husband in a BASE accident in Italy, she considered jumping without the parachute… but in the end, she too saw herself separate from the darkness and BASE brought her back to life. She deliberately chose resilience.

Robin Williams fought with it too. It’s not always obvious who is suffering.

I remember a scene in the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” where John Nash was accosted by a hallucination, a symptom of his schizophrenia. He turns to the imagined person and says “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you anymore.” The delusion wasn’t gone, but he was much more able to function by simply choosing not to interact with it. And so it is with me and my depression, that mental cancer is still there. I haven’t exorcized the demon, and judging from my childhood memories, it may always be within me. But now I can recognize those thoughts, I can see when the depression is attempting to influence my behavior, and I don’t talk to it anymore. I just recognize it as an old friend that I can’t engage.

The worst battles I have currently are with anxiety. Coming that close to death leaves an imprint upon you, and now that imprint is mixed with any feelings of sadness that come across my mind so that they trigger a wave of fear and terror. Sadness? Oh shit, depression is coming back! But now I’m learning to recognize that as just another trigger, just as I would recognize a wave of fear mid-solo as irrelevant to finishing the route, I am beginning to recognize these irrational waves of anxiety as separate from me. I box them up and file them in that same corner with my old friend, and we don’t dance in circles so much. Soon, I won't talk to them either. Sadness, I know, is part of the human condition. It comes and goes, but sometimes it takes longer to depart, and we wonder how long this winter has to last! But spring will come, it always does.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that nothing lasts forever. Eventually spring will come. Depression, suicidal thinking, eating disorders, anxiety, substance addiction… almost everyone I know has had something to deal with because we’re all human. The more I travel around the country, and the more amazing people I’ve met, the more convinced I am that this is a universal battle that we all face to some degree or another. We all lie somewhere on the continuum. Reach out to those around you, you’d be amazed how many can understand what you’re going through. For those of us who battle our own minds: You are beautiful! How amazing is it that you’ve been able to survive something this long that has taken so many wonderful people from us?

You are amazing. You have a beautiful mind. You are not your demons any more than I am. And you are not alone. We are not alone. We are many, and we will be okay. Spring will come, because the only thing constant in this world is change. Tune into that change, and ride the wave. This is life and death. This is war. Don’t let the mind virus win. Give it hell.

But if you can’t do it alone, that’s okay too. In fact, it’s normal.

In his book “Deep Survival,” Laurence Gonzales notice a tendency among those who survive life and death wilderness situations: They are able to see the world around them as it changes, they are not caught up in preconceived notions of how things *should* be, they simply see them as they are and move forward with a plan that fits the new reality. There is no particular way that humans should be, we are so beautifully diverse that practically anything could be considered “normal.” and as the Buddha said: “Suffering is.” Don’t be afraid of sadness, or a certain amount of despair, for those are normal human conditions to have from time to time.

Gonzales estimates the percentage of the population that have this natural born ability to ignore what they think “should” be and survive is only about 20%, but there are countless anecdotes of group survival. All it takes is one member of the group standing up and taking the initiative to inspire the others and buoy them up as well. That’s 80% of people who need a little help to see that they can make it out of the woods, but the point is that they DO make it out!! So for the sake of 80% of those still stuck in the woods, if you’re surviving…. Don’t hide it. Let everyone know, and be that beacon in the night. You might even help me someday.

Saying these things publicly is a bit scary for me, and this is the first time I've done so. It's amazing what people are capable of if they only know that it's possible, and so I feel I have a duty to display my struggles as an example. If it helps even one person, that's well worth making my story public. For that reason, you have my permission and encouragement to share this article anywhere you can. Those of us still in the woods need to know they are not alone. 

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The Void Returns:

You didn’t think that was it, did you? I sure did, but holy hell was I wrong.

Dragging down because of a shit job which sent me into a drinking habit, I eventually found one leg up by getting a better job. But it flung me to a different city and the woman that I loved. We envisioned somehow making it work. Using this stability to build towards reuniting, but the virus in my head couldn’t let that happen.

I won’t go into specifics, but I wounded her terribly. I still can’t really talk about it, and this is the first time I’ve ever really brought it up to people. The shame and self-hatred I feel over it are still too raw, but this story would be disgenuine and bordering on a lie if I didn’t tell this part too. I’m not the guy that beat depression. I don’t get to be that guy.

It was like being in a fugue state. I felt awful, and so I’d drink, and in that space, my inhibitions would drop…. Then one day the haze broke, and she saw me for what I was. And that snapped me to reality. The past four months felt like a bad dream about someone horrible. Except it was really me. Except it wasn’t a dream, it had really happened.

The few I’ve talked to have tried to assure me that they didn’t feel it was that horrible in the grand scheme of things, but the simple truth is that I deeply harmed someone that I loved. Someone who didn’t deserve that at all. While I heard their reassurances, the fact is that I’d behaved in a way that was wildly outside my moral standards as a human, and far outside the image, I had of my self.

I couldn’t live with it. I started contemplating suicide. Maybe jumping off of a cell tower. But it was damn cold in the winter, maybe I’d slip off 40 feet up and just be really fucked up and have trespassing charges on top of it. Maybe I could walk way out there, somewhere, and just jump in a freezing lake. Somewhere far enough where I had no chance of making it back. Just slowly go numb and fall asleep.

Some part of me realized what was going on, and that I needed to relieve the pressure somehow. What was really going on, was that my morality had become twisted. I have a high standard towards treating people well, and having broken that… my brain screamed that I needed punishment. Sometimes I’d lay on the floor while min mind chanted “I want to die I want to die I want to die” for what seemed like hours. And it may very well have been. I wouldn’t know, I was fucking hammered from the whiskey.

So I saw the mechanism, and chose a way to punish myself a little bit, just to shut up the voice of death. I began cutting and burning myself. Scraping really, I didn’t want to leave any permanent marks. If someone saw it, they might try to get me help and ruin the whole plan.

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This was where I realized I was in deep shit. This wasn’t anywhere normal, or even the twisted normal that was the entirety of my life up to this point. I didn’t have the mojo or motivation to navigate the world of insurance to find a therapist or doctor from my sad nest on the floor of my apartment, so I reached out to Better Help, a text-therapy service and explained my situation, and they responded that I needed to see someone in person, desperately, immediately. That’s the honest case when you’re a real threat to your own safety.

That was a huge wakeup call, like “holy shit, I’m REALLY in deep.”

Calling doctors from the insurance company’s website, I kept coming empty-handed. The list was outdated. They were either no longer accepting new patients, or they no longer accepted my insurance. Lacking the ability to navigate the system myself, I went to a regular doctor and explained my situation. They got me in touch with a social worker who gave me the names of some good doctors nearby, and I went down to a therapist first.

We went over strategy after strategy, and I always knew what they were, and that they were a good idea. She asked why I couldn’t do it, and I said “I don’t know, I just don’t have the motivation to actually try. I can’t make myself do any of these things.” She responded “Well… I’m not saying there’s nothing we can do, but at this point… where you know so well what work needs to be done, but you can’t actually do any of it… that’s the classic sign that we’re in need of medical intervention, not just therapy.” In this session was the first time that I’d ever realized thoughts such as “I hate myself” or “I wish I was dead” were in any way abnormal. You should have SEEEN my face! Such absolute consternation! I stared at my therapist like a cow staring at a new gate! What magic is this! It can’t possibly be real!

I hate to use the word normal. Perhaps I should say healthy. Those thoughts aren’t present in healthy people. That meant I’d never been healthy, I’d never beaten it. I had fallen into the classic trap of mistaking “better” for well, because “better” had been so much better that I couldn’t believe there was anything better beyond it. This was because I didn’t understand how deep my hole was to begin with

The only “normal” so to speak, is being able to rest within yourself and who you are. To feel content. I’ve never had that longer than minutes or hours. The longest hours were when soloing circuits with a freed mind.

When I checked in to the doctor… I hadn’t been able to go to work for three days beforehand. In the lobby, the depression monster in my head was screaming at me to run, and I was essentially twitching in my chair fighting the urge to flee like an addict running into withdrawal symptoms. I was addicted to my pain. It was familiar, and familiarity is comfortable.

We humans can grow accustomed to anything. How’d it feel the first time you drove a car? Probably terrifying right? And now it’s just Tuesday. That capacity to grow comfortable allows us to learn new skills, to grow as humans, to put men on the moon, and become great. But it’s a double-edged sword. It also gives us the ability to grow accustomed to abusive relationships. This is what gives us the ability to become accustomed to minds which abuse us as well. It’s the source of both the greatness and horror of humanity. But it’s always possible to turn back.

My doctor was appalled that no one had told me all those years ago that this would be a life long condition. Given that my youngest memories are tainted with self-hatred and a desire to die, and that now this lacks any clear reason, it’s just there… I would never be rid of it. Some folk’s depression has a clear and present reason, so clearing up that reason brings them out of the darkness… but mine comes from a fundamental belief that I’m a piece of shit.

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Some folks say I’m soloing to fulfill a narcissistic mindset in search of praise… but really, you can’t stoke my ego. It’s physically impossible, because five minutes after you try, I’ll remember that time I fucked something up 20 years ago as a kid, and suddenly be overwhelmed by self-hatred, anxiety, and a desire to withdraw. The other day… someone asked a question on instagram, and the wording sounded antagonistic. You know how it’s notoriously hard to read people’s tone on the internet? I responded harshly, and the guy responded very politely, and… I realized that I’d just been a total fucking asshole. I’ve been replaying the offense over and over and over in my head for days now. I just can’t let it go. My brain keeps saying “I hate myself,” as I try to swerve the thought into “I hate feeling this way about myself.” Sometimes I realize what’s happening mid thought, and I can swerve it like that… and the replay has slowed down now, but it’s not totally gone. It never is.

“I hate myself”
“I hate …. Feeling this way”
And finally… “It’s okay, you’re working on it, you can let it go”

And then I repeat that last part instead, and wait for the pain to loosen its hook a bit, for the feeling to dissipate. It’s like rehearsing for one of my free solos, but one that’s forced on me instead of one that I’d ever choose. This move sucks, but I have no choice but to repeat it and practice it in my own way until it no longer feels heinous, and I can navigate through it without despair. Otherwise it’ll be the death of me.

Except it’s not just that one thought, it’s death by a thousand paper cuts. I have to fight those urges every single day. There is a Zen practice or notion, perhaps just a zen question. Is that a thing? Anyhow, how many times have you stepped through a doorway today? You have no idea, do you? You weren’t even present when it happened. Imagine trying to note that, and how easy it would be to loose count and miss some. That’s what this is like, but with thoughts of self-hatred. I have to try to notice all of them and remind myself that they aren’t true.

Each of those thoughts is a radioactive element with it’s own half-life. It’s never gone, but it decays over time to become something less toxic and less invasive. As I practice with these thoughts, each one intrudes less and less frequently, until…. Recently, in the past couple months, on some days I’ve actually been content. You have nooo idea how weird that feels! Except for those of you who do, of course.

A couple of years ago, in Asheville on a climbing trip, I saw the most poignant bumper sticker in history. It said, “Don’t believe everything that you think.” Brains generate thoughts, endlessly. It’s what they do, and some of those thoughts are absolute bullshit. Don’t listen to them, they’re coming from you, but they’re not truly pertinent to you, no matter how sure your brain thinks they are.

The skills I’ve learned from soloing and in fighting these tendencies and noticing my psychological doorways have made me more resilient to the punches of life. That’s why all the survivors I’ve met are such deep and wholesome people. As David Goggin’s says “A fine sword is not crafted at room temperature. It is forged through fire and flame and beaten with a hammer.” So it is with these experiences of despair. To live through them is to craft a self which really understands the breadth and depth of human capacity in ways that you couldn’t have otherwise.

Some deal with more than others. The band Icon From Hire has a particularly salient lyric from their song “Under The Knife” which says “I know other people had it worse, but that didn’t make me better.” Never feel shame for how small you think your trials are. There are no small trials.

At my life-saving doctor’s visit a year ago, we found that my story is more complex than “just” depression. I have bipolar II. It’s a condition comprised of extremely severe depression alternating with low-intensity manic episodes. I went into a rapid cycling episode lasting for months after moving across the country. Depression would rapidly give way to mania and then back again like a pendulum that just won’t stop. I had no idea what mania was at the time.

Essentially I’d get depressed out of my mind, and then start engaging in *some* sort of behavior to try and lift myself up. I was erratic and out of control.

It’s like having two shoulder angels, but they both suck. One says “man, this here looks like a bad idea… LETS DO THE SHIT OUT OF IT!” and the other says “hey, this looks like a good idea LETS DEFINITELY NOT DO IT!”

This is how I wound up hurting someone so badly. I was blind to the consequences of my action as my mind flipped from one extreme to the other, just trying to extricate itself from the fogging haze which had become my life.

But you’d never know, because when you saw me I was usually manic. It comes across as being ADD with an extra helping of “over the top” in social situations. Yeah. Explains a whole lot doesn’t it? It’s like… oh… no fucking shit he’s manic! They had to tell him that!? LOL. Some of my good friends were like “wait, you didn’t know? I could’ve told you that YEARS ago!!!”

So now, not only am I afraid when I feel sadness… but I’m also afraid when I feel stoked. Is this really just the benign experience of excitement, or am I cycling into mania? Sometimes I’m an asshole, but I don’t mean it. Mania has just blinded me to what’s socially acceptable, and what’s hurtful or just shitty. Do me a favor and call me out if I step over the line. I have loads of signals that depression is out of control. Like sleeping in too much, the return of the thought “I hate myself” skipping showers or brushing my teeth.. these are the canaries in the coal mine as they say. But mania?

I know that I go off the rails, but I’m never aware WHEN I’m going off the rails. If you’re listening to this, feel free to call me out and let me know. I don’t even care if you do it in front of people. It’s something I need to hear about so I can weigh how my symptoms are tracking over time. Recently I was an asshole to a friend and recognizing it was part of what led to a conversation with my doctor where we adjusted my medication as we realized my symptoms were swinging again

The real difference between stoke and mania is whether you’re having a positive effect or a negative one.

Being diagnosed with bipolar gave me a lot of trepidation. It’s still a slang term for “crazy,” and… well… I’ve got enough fucking people calling me crazy as it is!

I know what you’re thinking: How does this affect his climbing?

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Well, that’s part of why I have the process. When it comes to climbing, I wanna be Mr. Spock. It’s all a logical process rather than an emotional one while performing the preflight inspection, and the preflight preparations all happen when I’m in that zen flow state which I achieve on the rock, and all of that is a gigantic shield from the cycles of my mind. It’s where I feel total equanimity and peace. Its where I’m on the level.

Actually… Maybe I need to make life decisions mid solo from now on just to make sure I’m on the level?

Just today on a podcast, I heard of a condition called Amplified Pain. Amplified Pain Musculoskeletal Syndrome is a condition where the degree of pain is much more intense than would be expected, in some it is so severe that a simple warm breeze will feel like being burned in the campfire

One of the very few strategies which work for this involves intense physical therapy for weeks which sounds worse than the Navy SEALs hell week. They ask the patients to go through as much pain as they can for 6-9hrs per day. Its simple things, like swimming laps in a pool that’s warmed up to body temperature. Things like jumping and touching post-it notes on the wall. Even the simplest actions cause them outrageous pain

Normally, when they feel the pain in life, the response is to turn away from it. So in a way, they’ve patterned their pain to grow. When pain wells up to the task of walking, which is non-threatening, and then they stop walking… they've told their brain that “yes, you’re right! This is threatening!” thus confirming and entrenching the pattern. So it grows. And expands.

Through this training, by leaning into the pain, they’re sending the signal to their brains that “no, this is not threatening, you are wrong.” Rather than talk through the pain levels, the coaches ask them if it felt “easy, medium, or hard” and check in with “how are you feeling now” to keep them in tune with their emotional state and how it interacts with their sensation of pain

Over time, their brains let go of the pain.

Maybe that’s the key, we have to let go of our pain?

Even though it’s the most familiar force in the universe.

David Goggins notes that hard things are where we grow. He made a deliberate choice to seek out hard things and do them, even when his mind screams not to. He’s the only person who’s been through hell week in all three branches of the armed forces. He’s used hard things to temper his mind and strengthen his will to overcome. A sword is forged in fire and flames. In a way, difficulties are a gift. They’re our forge.

I’ve been hitting the snooze button every day for 1-3 hours for the past two weeks. We adjusted my sleeping meds believing that I was tired in the morning from poor sleep. Which was true, but later I realized that I wasn’t feeling tired in the morning, I was feeling incapable of raising the will to get moving. I was depressed again. We adjusted my mood stabilizers, and that helped. I could actually get up and walk to the alarm clock…. Only to hit snooze and face plant again.

Waking up feels fucking hard, so I’ve been kind to myself saying “just meet yourself where you are, you just need to recharge.” It hasn’t been working. It’s been getting worse. I’ve been reaffirming my mind’s belief that getting started in the morning is difficult. And so it’s gotten progressively more difficult

I scattered my work phone, personal phone, iPad, and alarm clock at four locations around my room. I’ll make a circuit, snooze them all, then fall in bed again.

I’m going to make little signs on notebook paper that say “Do Hard Things” and place each of those items beneath it. It’s like my dad always told me “Muscle soreness isn’t really pain, it’s the feeling of being stronger tomorrow,” and ever since then, I’ve loved the sensation of sore muscles, and the difficulty of training. Pain can be therapeutic, and hard things are how we inoculate ourselves to even harder things in the future. The key lies not in the sensation of pain, but in how you frame it.

The girls in that podcast with Amplified Pain Syndrome, as they went through physical therapy, they would at times be shaking bodily, crying, or even vomiting due to the agony their minds created. And yet through it all, the emotions they felt about the pain were overall positive, because they knew this wasn’t just pain, it was the feeling of being stronger tomorrow.

I’m going to lean into the discomfort and the difficulty. Maybe that’ll repattern my mind? Just like I repatterned it after dying in Yosemite to get my climbing life back. Maybe this is the key to getting the rest of my life back and keeping it that way? This is my new mantra “Do Hard Things,” and I’m going to practice it every time the depression monster rears his ugly head. I’ve had the notion of “Do Hard Things” with regards to training my body, and this has been my anchor through years of struggle. But now maybe it’s going to become more. Now it can be the foundation of building a healthy mind.

I’ll always have to remain vigilant, but maybe this is a powerful tool I can use in that process? If it’s worked for others, that means it can work for me too.

So what do we do with all of this? Some folks would rather we didn’t talk about it at all, for fear of some sort of copycat syndrome. Some say the same about free soloing and speed climbing. With any subject which is alarming, it immediately becomes polarized between vilification and idolization. Neither are healthy.

Copycat effect is a lie. Simply talking about things does not cause folks to repeat them. I was just a child when I first started thinking about suicide, and we have kids as young as eight years old on the news killing themselves. I wasn’t young enough to know what suicide was, but I knew what dead was, and I reckoned that was better than the suffering I felt.

As always, the middle way is the best. What does it take to survive? With soloing and speed climbing and dangerous pursuits, vilification and glorification achieve the same goal through separate means: that achieved goal is promoting and encouraging. Glorification for the obvious reasons, but vilification through spite achieves the same goal. You think this is horrible? And you judge me for this? Well fuck. You. I’ll show you all!

But talking about what it takes to stay alive, discussing “The Process,” that’s what really makes people safe. Or at least as safe as we can be in this inherently dangerous thing called life.

With some, it’s just a matter of I can’t stand being here anymore, I want to go,” as it was with me at a young age. It can morph into a sort of spite, for others. “They want to think of me like that? Well I’ll show them! They’re going to feel REAL bad once I’m gone!” As it did for me during junior high. Ostracizing through fear of some sort of “copycat effect”isn’t healthy, that’s why they’re suffering already.

Going over the top with extreme pity isn’t necessarily healthy either. I know that I sure don’t want to be known as “depression boy” and have that become the defining characteristic of my interactions. Just a never ending stream of “are you okay?” That too makes one feel ostracized and “other.”

Again, it’s about what it takes to stay alive. That’s just acceptance. Sometimes we’re all feeling rough, advice can feel extremely frustrating. I’ve already been thinking long and hard about how to improve my situation, the pity gets old. Humans have different needs at different times. Seems like you feel like hell today. Wanna talk about it, or would you rather have a distraction? Okay, would you rather bounce ideas off me for advice, or do you just need to vent?

While I mentioned a moment ago that I don’t want to be “depression boy,” and have that define my existence, I’m quite okay with anybody reaching out to me if you need that moment to acknowledge that you’re not alone. I’ve got a wide and diverse life so I’m not worried about any one facet defining me. I’m weird AF, and I embrace every last corner of that!

I don’t have answers, nobody does. If we did, I wouldn’t be writing this. I’m going to close this episode out with a track from Icon for Hire called “Under The Knife.” Hopefully I don’t receive a cease and desist letter, but the sort of things I’ve covered here are exactly why they wrote this track. A lot of their work has been helpful to me, as they’ve made me feel less “other,” like “hey, other folks are dealing with this too, and there’s noting bad about being one of us. We’re doing the best we can.” Welcome to the club.

Ariel starts off with the lyric “This is the song I’m too scared to write,” as I was too scared to write this article to begin with, and then felt the same fear all over again when I knew I’d someday have to adjust it for my new diagnosis. But some of you may need it, so here it is. You’re not fucked up, you’re just human and healing. As best you can. You’re not alone, and neither am I.

Austin HowellComment