Note: I’ve always liked to write, but this blog has more or less been focused on traveling and climbing; I write but do not publish more personal posts. I have decided to start to share at least part of these feelings because writing- and specifically publishing to a likely small and obscure (and accidental) audience- has turned into a sort of therapy for me. It seems to justify my feelings, to transform them from shapeless and theoretical, to real.
When I left Seattle in mid-March, a fear dropped in me, hard, like a round stone in a deep pool. I could taste that feeling when what you wanted so much suddenly becomes real, but seemingly irrevocable.
I was fueled by a fiery drive to climb and to climb hard. My body felt healed from an injury, I had been training, and had begun to transform my life into the dream I had been delicately crafting in my head for years. As I pushed into winter, though, certain life events unleashed a deep fatigue that sank its tendrils into me, tightening every day. It was not one thing, in particular, just a dizzying accumulation, tiny whirls gathering around me to a big focal point, building to a callous storm.
A striking and sudden inability to find meaning in my work, confusion about who cared and who really mattered, financial difficulty, all combined to feel like a ruthless razor situated perfectly next to my ambition- one tiny slip and it’s deadly.
It turned into a terrible rhythm I could feel pulsing in my body, starting in November and strengthening throughout all of January, February and March. I tried to keep myself one step ahead of it, but eventually, it wound me up so tight that my energy crashed, and that delicate filter I have in place in my brain, the one that feeds out the bullshit, snapped. I wanted to fling it off with a violent shove, but I ran out of strength.
When I stumbled out into the desert it felt as refreshing and true as a deep breath of fresh air. I felt the grip loosen, but not entirely release.
The climbing goal was to find something hard to try, potentially a longer-term pursuit. I hadn’t projected for a year, and I missed it deeply. I wanted to get intimate with movement, to feel that miasma of frustration and joy, to slow down and take in the micro-beta that was crucial for my particular body.
My mind was set on 5.13+. I managed to dispatch a few, and quickly; the long “project” never came. I climbed some really good routes, was challenged, and had fun. But none of them feel particularly meaningful and at that moment, that’s what I craved, something bigger.
When I dig deep- cut to the core root of what I think it is that makes me tick- I find I am wandering, searching for a sense of identity but unable to land my feet on anything stable. This is because I am not very capable, or proficient, at anything. It’s easy to hide behind these walls of seemingly self-deprecating text and be met with the typical eye-roll from the other side. It’s very difficult to express that I’m not trying to debase myself for superficial reasons. I can’t find the words to show the depth of my certitude- that it goes beyond bouts of self-conscious doubt- that it’s true and wretched and that I don’t know what to do about it.
My job as a Ph.D student, though interesting on many intellectual levels, can be bereft of specific guidelines, very niche, not applied, and lacking in skill-specific tasks common to other Ph.Ds, like hard-core coding. I am neither making an impact nor honing any kind of marketable skill. That’s a toxic realization to come to halfway through a major project. The hobbies and skills I did have when I was younger, that came naturally to me and that I earnestly pursued, have gone away. It’s easy to blame myself for getting here in the first place. To conclude that I was never strong enough to avoid it, never capable of the deep thought process that could have helped me be somewhere else.
Maybe this is party why I want a climbing project. I need boxes to tick, I want a methodological outline of what I need to do to accomplish a goal. I want to prove myself, only to myself. Even if I don’t accomplish anything, I can’t say I didn’t try in a structured way. When you’re projecting the next steps can often be fairly obvious and the process can be quite calculated.
These thoughts struck me one night recently, as clear and as crisp as the cold evening air lingering in my throat- crystal, painful, like a shard of glass reflecting my image back to myself. It was a blunt, precise blow to the chest, so strong I found myself off my feet, sitting down outside on rough gravel. Inherent inability, inherent weakness, inherent ineptitude. That I’ll never be what I want to be. In a way it was somewhat of a relief, to be suddenly so acutely aware of your limits that you can tailor your goals around them. The mystery is stripped away and behind it, I don’t like what I see, but at least I can see it.