Monday, 2 December 2013

Why so serious?

It might look crazy from the outside. Someone goes out on a nice warm Sunday afternoon in December, tries a really cool looking climb, does the hard bits fine, gets tired and nervous on one easy move before a rest, rests on the gear and lowers off. A seemingly insignificant event, but his reaction to this is as follows: firstly swearing and shouting, then upon abseiling to remove the protection (and confirm the situation was as easy as expected and it was his failing not the climb's difficulty), briefly loses his temper and throws several bits of climbing gear around, then collects them all in a cold hard rage. He maintains enough composure to explain and apologise to his climbing partner, who is thankfully human enough to understand the emotional stresses of climbing, and belay him on another route. After this his anger stays seething all the way home, and he even has a couple of rare drinks to try to calm down. Later on it just about subsides to crossness and disappointment but takes another night and day to fully dissipate.

So that was me then and this is me now, trying to make sense of it.

Why so serious? Why does it matter so much? Why such a strong reaction to something so trivial as failing on a climb? After all it's not like I broke my legs, or crashed my car, or came back to find my flat broken in to, or had a family member diagnosed with cancer, or had a helicopter drop on my head when I was out for a casual Friday night drink... Why so angry?

(Although when I was lying in hospital with multiple DVTs due to an unknown cause, swollen legs and a massively spiking CRT, and scarcely able to walk to the toilet, I wasn't angry at all, just resigned.)

Some people understand, some people don't. Sometimes I don't feel I understand, but all I know, contrary to how it might seem to some people, the feeling is completely natural and totally genuine. It's not made up for effect or exaggerated for drama. It's not chosen or contrived. It is real and it is how I really feel. No amount of "why should you be angry?" / "it's only a climb" / "aren't you overreacting?" / "think how lucky you are" will change that. No amount of realising it's counter-productive and not wanting to be so angry will magically switch it off. If I had a Control Emotions switch I wouldn't be human.

So it matters, it is serious, it is a genuine response.


Because climbing is a brilliant and fantastic activity that I am passionate about, so I invest a lot in emotionally because that's how it works for me. For some people it's just a hobby, just a bit of fun, just....whatever. For me it is that, but it is more - and it engages me BECAUSE it is more. It's serious because this much fun is a serious business, this is what really matters! The downside to the emotional investment - the inspiration, the dedication, the passion, the excitement, the satisfaction, the engagement, the fun, the physical expression - is that if I betray or sabotage that, I can be as upset with myself as I am excited with myself when I do it well.

Most of the anger is that the route I failed on was very good, it would have been a very nice, interesting, enjoyable, exciting, stimulating experience to climb it all. It was a precious and positive experience that I engaged with and then chose to throw away due to giving in to my own inadequacies. I had something great and then ruined it for myself - and in the area, that is a limited resource. If it had been something less inspiring, more trivial, more common (there aren't so many good climbs at that standard in that style that are accessible to me), less special as an experience of pleasure, then I could walk away a lot calmer. But abseiling down I could see just how much pleasure I would have got from continuing and completing the climb. Throwing away a really good climbing experience....that is why I was angry.

The other most of the anger (yes, there was THAT much) is that it was my own lack of determination that let me down. The route is not a very hard route, and besides I had done the hard bits. If I fail on something because it is genuinely hard, because I get beaten fair and square, because I am just not good enough, then I could walk away a lot calmer. On this route I was good enough, but for a moment I chose not to be, I chose to give in to the pressures of pump and nervousness instead of fighting through them, even when I was so close to just doing it.

The one thing I can perhaps take from this experience is a reminder that it does matter to me, that it is serious fun, and that I will get really pissed off if I mess it up for myself. Maybe because I haven't done much of that this autumn, I've got complacement and forgotten how pissed off I can get. So next time keeping the consequences of failure in mind might give me that little bit of an edge when my positive desire for success and enjoyment gets blunted.

Hope this makes sense. Posting now because I'm fed up of trying to write/edit it!


No comments: