A year ago I was living in France with my partner, but when it all fell spectacularly apart I had to pack my life into a couple of suitcases and move back to the UK. I left so much behind me, both literally and emotionally that piecing myself back together seemed like a mountainous challenge. All those plans I’d made for my future had crumbled away into nothing. I had to move in with my parents while I got back on my feet, and start the long task of building my life up from scratch again. I’d never felt so low.
I was incredibly lucky to have such brilliant family and friends around me, but despite their kindness I could feel myself slipping into depression. I was determined to pull myself back up, and keeping myself busy helped- but it wasn’t enough. I was good at putting on a brave face, but it felt like no matter what I did, those dark thoughts and feelings would creep up on me and the cracks would start to show. I was always having to take myself into a toilet cubicle or a quiet room to cry.
That was when I took myself climbing. I’d done a little indoor climbing before living in France, and I thought it would be a good distraction. I could never have imagined how big an impact it would have, though! The first time I went to my local climbing gym at White Spider in Greater London, I was by myself and just did a little bouldering. I was nervous about climbing on my own, or looking silly- but within ten minutes I’d met three new people who invited me to climb with them, and we’re now great friends! Since then it’s just kept snowballing. There’s an amazing community feel at my climbing gym, and most other gyms I’ve been to. I’m now happy going by myself, I know there’s always someone there I can climb with.
The climbing gym has become my number one safe space when things are getting to me. There’s always someone to have a chat to, or to puzzle out a route with. I went there knowing no one, and nine months later I’m on first name terms with all the regulars and count many of them as my friends. One of my new friends taught me how to lead climb for the first time recently, which was such a buzz!
It’s not just about meeting new people, though. Having that space to get away from everything and just zone out was amazing. There’s something incredibly gratifying about working on a problem and just immersing yourself in puzzling out how to stick a tricky move. All your other problems take a back seat while you’re climbing. It’s just you, and the wall. It’s not like going for a run or hitting the gym where I find my thoughts can still take over. Climbing forces you to be present and in the moment, cutting out all the outside noise from everyday life.
If I’m ever having a bad day, I know that I can go the climbing gym and I’ll always leave feeling like I’ve achieved something. For me, a big challenge with depression is escaping that feeling of impotence, that feeling of having no control over what’s going on with my life. Climbing empowered me to overcome that, and I know it’s helped other friends of mine too with their own struggles.
I’m in such a good place now, both mentally and physically since taking up climbing. It’s given me something to work towards, and it’s been gratifying being able to tackle increasingly difficult problems as I get stronger. Seeing that progress is great- and physically being able to see changes in my body has been a good boost, too. I think as a woman there’s a lot of pressure to look a certain way. It’s great to be able to appreciate my body for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.
Up until this point, I’ve only ever climbed indoors, but this summer my goal is to get out on the rocks for real with some of my new friends. I’m still working out what it is I want to do now I’m back in the UK for good, but that doesn’t feel so overwhelming anymore. Climbing has given me focus and shown me what I’m capable of when I put my mind to it.
Sometimes getting my life back on track still feels like a mountainous challenge, but that’s okay. Mountains can be climbed.