Facing my Fears

I’m gutted. Due to my ridiculous treadmill injury, I’ve had to miss out on three climbing sessions this week. I thought it’d be fun to look back at how I felt when I first started indoor climbing about 2½ years ago. Here’s what I blogged about climbing when it was one of my new activities:

‘There I stood, numb with fear. I was suddenly very aware of the daunting task ahead of me. A strange man came up and clipped an odd looking metal contraption to the front of the harness that I was wearing. I was wearing a harness! What was I thinking?
It had seemed such a good idea when I’d booked. But now, as I stood at the bottom of the obstacle-ridden, incredibly high wall in front of me, it dawned on me that maybe indoor rock climbing wasn’t for me.
This wasn’t my first experience of climbing. My brother had taken me climbing outdoors a couple of times when I was a child. Unfortunately, the outings hadn’t gone well. The problem is, I don’t like being pushed to do things until I’m ready to do them, and my brother doesn’t have much patience with me. The combination of the two resulted in lots of shouting (him), a helmet thrown on the floor (me) and no suggestion of the two of us going climbing together ever again.
So what made me want to try climbing again? A few years ago, Boulders Climbing Centre opened in Cardiff. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I always try to tackle my phobias head-on, and one of my phobias is heights. The local press had been running lots of articles about the new climbing centre, and it occurred to me that if there was ever going to be any way for me to learn to climb properly, this would be it. When a local radio station advertised an introductory offer of a climbing taster session for £1, I spontaneously picked up the phone and booked.
When I found myself stood at the bottom of the climbing wall, all roped-up and ready to go, I wish that I hadn’t been so spontaneous. I think I made it about half way up the wall on my first climb and then, paralysed with fear, I asked to be belayed back down. The hardest part wasn’t the climbing itself, although once you move on to harder routes you definitely need to learn some proper technique. Like with most sports, the difficult thing is getting over the mental blocks. You have to argue with that little voice in your head that’s telling you that what you are doing isn’t natural for a human. In climbing, it’s overcoming your instinct and letting go of the wall once you reach the top. Your mind is telling you that if you let go you’ll fall, even though the instructor had logically explained to you that the equipment makes that impossible. I’m a keen skier, and one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received to improve my skiing is to trust my equipment. This is something that I bear in mind when I’m taking part in any sport, and it’s what I was quietly whispering to myself when I had to let go of that wall. Needless to say, I did let go and I didn’t fall.
I’m now a Gold member at Boulders and I go climbing there a couple of times a week. Not only is it a fun way to exercise, but I’ve made new friends (after all, you can’t climb on your own) and it’s filled a gap in my life where skiing used to be. There’s not much skiing in South Wales, but there sure are a lot of places to climb. What I wasn’t expecting was the mental stimulation that I get from climbing. Tackling new, more difficult routes requires real thought and problem solving. The Boulders team make it impossible for you to come up with an excuse not to climb. They offer courses for every age and level, coaching, social climbing for those who don’t have a climbing partner, a play area to keep the younger members of the family entertained and the Boulders Café to refuel in.’

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Convincing myself is the hardest part

‘Try something new’ is a common theme through my blogs. I’m constantly encouraging people to attempt different activities and make manageable, positive changes in their life. So I must be the most super-extrovert, confident person in the world, right?

Wrong. When I try something new, I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world. I get nervous at the thought of doing something that I don’t already know how to do, I worry about meeting new people, and I generally just convince myself that I’ll mess up and everyone will laugh at me. To be fair, that has happened to me, although thankfully very rarely.

The thing with me is, though, that deep down inside I really want to be that super-exrtrovert, confident person. So I make myself take the plunge. I ignore all my own excuses, and force myself to go to that new exercise class or sign up for night school.

This week, I forced myself to go to climbing club. For the past couple of years I’ve pretty much climbed with the same partner. We met on a climbing course and discovered we liked each others company, plus we were able to climb at times that suited the both of us. This happy union continued until this summer, when my climbing partner dropped the bombshell that she was moving to London. Although I was happy for her, I was also petrified at the thought of having to find a new partner to climb with. The only other option would be to quit, but I really like climbing so I don’t want to do that.

Instead, I’ve been using guerrilla tactics to solve my problem. I put a notice up on the ‘Looking for a climbing partner?’ notice board at my local climbing centre, I’m phoning other people on the board and I’ve started going to climbing club.

I won’t lie, I was bricking it the first time I went up to the social secretary on duty and asked if anyone else was climbing the same level as me. Rather than laugh and point, though, he welcomed be with a handshake and introduced me to Phil, who I spent the next couple of hours having a laugh and climbing with. It really pushed me in my climbing too, and I ended up climbing at a much higher grade than I usually would.

Today a got a message from another climber who saw my advert on the notice board. We’ve arranged to meet up tomorrow at the wall. I am, of course, really nervous. Somewhere inside my head, though, my little rational voice is fighting to be heard, and it’s saying that it’ll be OK.