Anxious, introverted, shy - How Climbing Allowed Me to Break Through and Find My Truest Self

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Anxiety - Intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

Introvert - Prefers time alone in order to recharge their inner being. Interacting with people and attention to multiple sources of stimuli tends to draw down an introverts energy causing them to eventually withdraw to spend time alone to re- energize

Shy - Being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company in the company of other people.

All of the above describe me, Christina. I am also a 39 year old single mother, avid hiker, climber and aspiring mountaineer.

Spring of 2016, I started hiking in hopes that it would help with my anxiety and quickly fell in love with being outside. I had only one friend who would hike with me but as her other priorities took precedence she was unable to escape into the mountains. I was at a loss, so I began using social media as a way to make new hiking friends. Some worked out and some didn't - honestly, it kind of felt like online dating.

February 2017, I learned how to rock climb at a gym with one of my guy friends. It was apparent early on that men and women climb differently. I wanted to climb higher grades but I couldn’t just muscle through like most of my guy friends. I needed to find other women to climb with, to learn from, but I had no idea how to make friends as an adult? Especially, when I suffer from anxiety, shyness and I’m an introvert? The anxiety of making new friends was so overwhelming that I didn’t, I just continued to learn from my guy friends.  

One day they took me to climb outside and I fell in love immediately! In that instant I knew I needed to buy my own gear and find some ladies who loved to climb. But still, that question came about in my head again, how do I make friends?

2018 I set high goals for myself. I was going to make new friends in the outdoor community, I was going to start mountaineering, and I was going to learn how to be a strong rock climber. I had this fire burning inside me and it burned brighter and stronger than what was actually happening in my everyday life - family, friends, work, single mom balance. One day I was scrolling through Facebook and I saw an event for She Moves Mountains’ Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat. I was on board immediately.  Heck, I've been practicing yoga for 6 years and I fell in love with rock climbing, this clinic had my name written all over it! I asked all of my friends if they would want to join me, but received the "yeah, but it’s too expensive" or "I'm interested" but no follow through. So I said to myself, don't wait for others, this is your dream and your goals... GO AFTER IT. I signed up. Not only for the retreat, but for the Peaks of Life Mt. Rainer all women’s climb, and for the Alpine Ascents all women's 6 day mountaineering course. Go big or Go home right?! I was going to crush goals and make friends.

June 1st 2018, I started my drive to Smith Rock for the She Moves Mountains Rock Climbing and Yoga Retreat. It was my first road trip by myself. I arrived late to the opening campfire where there was an overwhelming number of women. Much to my relief, everyone came on their own. We sat around and introduced ourselves, sharing our occupation, why we signed up for the retreat and what we are hoping to get out of the weekend. Lizzy started us off, sharing about adventures and struggles with depression, rock climbing and its therapeutic nature. So many women with great careers, ER doctors, Nurses, Physician Assistants,  Veterinarians, and more. I started to feel anxious. How could I, Christina, Dental assistant of 17 years have anything in common with all of these wonderful, smart women. I didn’t feel good enough. We all went to bed, and I slept OK. I woke up feeling extremely emotional and I decided to call the guy I was dating after everyone in my room left and cried on the phone. I finally got myself together and went downstairs to have some coffee. I ran into a grumpy morning Lizzy and I learned that I wasn't the only one who needed coffee before interactions with other humans. That small moment helped calm me. We drove to Smith Rock and broke into our groups, I was still the quiet one. I was nervous that the women would get "clickish", leaving me out. The scars of high school bullying causing even more anxiety.

Once we got on the rock my anxiety began to dissipate. We all became equal, we all became each others cheerleaders, most importantly, we all were supporting one another. I quickly fell in love with the climbing at Smith Rock. This place stole my heart on day one. After climbing we all met up for some evening yoga in the grass.

Dinner was fun, we ate, we drank, and we all told stories about our day. I once again became emotional talking about my first day. Geez, I'm such a cry baby!

Finally slept well and the morning was even better, NO CRYING! Second day of climbing was phenomenal.

I met so many wonderful women that weekend. I was inspired by my guides Lizzy and Katie to create a rock climbing group in Washington, so women like me, anxious, shy and introverted, could find climbing partners and make new friendships (belaytionships).

After that retreat I began climbing outside regularly, planning meet ups for women, and pushing my climbing. I came back in the fall to She Moves Mountains’ end of season event with the goal of leading a 10a! My guide Sarah chose the climb and my group cheered me on. I cried at the crux (always crying), in disbelief that I actually made the 5.10 move. I made it to the anchors and asked to be lowered. This time crying because of pure joy.

I've met some of the greatest humans through all of these experience. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

If you want to follow along with Christina’s adventures you can find her on Instagram at @christinawalker24

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Wild and Weightless

In September, 2017 She Moves Mountains ran a clinic with an organization called Wild & Weightless with a focus on body image combined with rock climbing at Smith Rock. Sarah, an inspiring and motivated climber of Bend, received a scholarship from She Moves Mountains and Mountain Supply to join for the clinic. She has shared this written piece below about her experience that day with us.

 

"I can't do it!" she cries.

Who is she talking to? To us? To herself? To the hollow space between distant huecos? Another check on my belay device: locked.

"I'm with ya!" I yell, trying to send my focused breath through the taught rope extending from my belay device. Her legs quake and she sends a shiver back down to me. I steady it in my hands. I'm holding her fear, her doubt, her life’s worth of hesitation.

"Breathe," a grounding voice exhales into the October air, and the wall absorbs all echo.

***

An hour previous, fifteen ladies, mostly strangers, approach the dusty crag and circle between sage and juniper. The agenda is to climb some tacky Smith Rock tuff with the guided assistance from She Moves Mountains. Finally! A day at the crag with just the girls! I am especially excited for the day because the organization Wild and Weightless is co-hosting, and there will undoubtedly be some juicy discussion on body image and how the outdoors can be a healing space, particularly from our perspective as women.

I sit on the dry earth with my elbows propped against my bent knees. I find comfort in the warmth of my down jacket and how it conceals the rolls of belly fat that come together underneath it all. I don't like this part of my body: don't like it to be seen, or touched, or thought about. As our guides set up top ropes we share around the circle. I express these painful insecurities. When it all comes cascading out, I have nothing else to say... the silence that lingers behind it is painfully raw.

"Me too," she says. Relief. I am not alone.

Too big, too small, too tall, too much! Our insecurities pour out like ankle deep scree down the mountainside. The collective heart opens so wide that each woman has more to share about their bodies than we have time to explore. I take a moment to look around at all of these ladies: vulnerable—but confident, brave, and humble. Are these not the qualities that we should take with us on the wall every time we climb?

Feeling powerfully exposed, I slip into my harness. A high wind moves the clouds around until the sun burns through and I confidently remove my puffy. I tie my eight, follow through, and go over the safety checks that our guides have just demonstrated for us. Ready to rock climb! Almost.

I close my eyes. When I step onto the wall I am choosing to expose myself to the unpredictable and undiscriminating playground that Mother Nature provides. Taking a deep inhale, I remind myself of the risk I am subjecting myself to both physically and emotionally. A flush of fear pumps hot blood into my fingertips. I may fall, or worse, be too scared to fall. Everyone will be watching me struggle. I'm afraid my weakness will be a circus show of desperation.

While fear is a powerful presence, I break a smile, remembering that love has brought me here. A crest of gratitude overwhelms all my doubts, and with a style refined by grace and patience, I climb.

I climb like I am weightless: like a vine to the sunshine. My movements are motivated by curiosity to explore the obstacles of the rock specific to my own body. There are no comparisons of body size or appearance, just opportunity to create a unique bond between myself and the wall. That bond grows as the ground gets further away. When I look down at the hollowing space between myself and the ladies below I find myself as naked as ever. It's a shameless kind of naked.

Sweat leaking through the chalk on my fingertips, I become aware of what real physical insecurity feels like. All of my weight is intricately balancing on the tips of my toes and fingers. Any slip of the foot or lack of judgment could eject me off this rock. Or the rock itself could pop off. My mind's eye skips to a scene where my foothold tears off its conglomerate to rage into the uncertain arms of gravity alongside all the weight of my blood, muscle, skin, and bone.

I snap back to reality. My anxiety shifts from how my body looks to how it can provide me the strength I need to move up this wall.

A high foot would do here, I think to myself - I may have even said it out loud. At 5'2'' I am always looking for the convenience of small crimps and high feet. But I see nothing. I begin a desperate exploration of previously chalked holds. Squeezing a sharp, thin pinch in my left hand, I paw for relief on my right. My elbows chicken wing, I'm losing my grip. Searching helplessly for a way out, I'm losing control.

I look down at my last bolt—it’s a safe fall but still not a comfortable one. I start weighing my options, of which there are only two: I can fall, or I can take an insecure stab at the jug rail just out of reach. One thing I can't do is stay here, paralyzed by fear, taken by the terror of my own making. I want so badly to have control over my body and every move I make on the wall, but climbing is far more cryptic than that.

I am going to have to trust - that no matter what I look like I will be loved, that if I gain ten pounds I will still be invited and respected. I can only have so much control over my appearance, my diet, what my friends think about me, who I will fall in love with. The magic is in the mystery. I am going to have to go for it and trust the hold is good.

"C'mon!" she calls out, and I punch through the pollution of panic inside me, driving up and out toward the unknown.                                                                                        

This is the moment when a woman comes out of her comfort zone: out of her house, out of her family, out of her mascara, her jewelry, her impossible spanx... There is no confinement for the wild and nasty woman who gives herself openly to the wonder of the mountain. The wall becomes the public sphere for the naked shape to form movement through curious and intimate adventure: the kind of adventure that reestablishes our bodies as a part of the whole, not one that is peeled away to be refined, disguised, and judged. 

"Hell yeah, Sarah!" I hear them celebrating, "Stuck it, girl!"

"Yeeeeehaw!" I explode with laughter and liberation and assess the situation. At this point I'm well above my last bolt—a scary distance, actually. But all the fear has rinsed out of me and I climb the rest of the route liberated from anxiety. I reach the anchors bursting with love. Relaxing into the secure seat of my harness, I know that I am so much more - so much more than a little sister, somebody's ex girlfriend, or a number on the scale. These are the moments that make everything worthwhile. I have power and purpose and they can be realized through all my doubt and insecurities.

***

As I hold the belay for a woman I only met this morning, I feel as though I have known her my whole life. She is my sister, my mother, my teacher, my child. I know the greener pastures she dreams of and the walls she's built in front of them.

"I can't do it!" she calls out again. I sense she is giving up but the ladies beside me won't have it. I watch as the steady flow of emotional support restores her power, "You can do this! Keep climbing!" they resound.

Resituating her feet ever so slightly, she's able to reach just a little bit higher, taking just a little more for herself on her journey to be the woman the universe wants her to become. The woman who she wants to become. From fear, through support, she finds the ability to trust the uncertain and move bravely upward and outward.

I am reminded that I am not alone in my fear. The wall I have built to protect the fear in me has only closed me off from opportunities of growth, and today I am tearing that wall down. I want to be vulnerable. I want to challenge fear, climb higher, and feel my body shiver for the thrill of life.

Watching the other ladies climb, I know they want this too. For themselves, but also for each other. There is a beautiful community of women ready to claim the outdoors and support one another along the way. She Moves Mountains is creating an incredible doorway for adventurous women to do just that.

***

Our community is a beautiful network to help guide and support us on our life adventures. I want to give a special thanks to Mountain Supply of Bend, OR for enabling me to attend this event and experience the power of the work that She Moves Mountains and Wild and Weightless have been building. Thank you.