Friday, August 15, 2014

Without a Rope


Y’know that Robin Williams committed suicide earlier this week, right?
I don’t mean to bring you further down.  I really don’t.  My desire is to lift you up, inspire you, and maybe convince you to become a Platinum level financial patron in my fantasy to become a professional writer.  Well, it’s worth a try.
My vague apology aside I can get right to the point of today’s post: malaise.
I’ve been talking (and writing) more and more about climbing lately.  I would not currently consider myself a rock climber right now.  I’m flirting with a triumphant return to the “climbing scene” in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky.  Not really.  The climbing scene anywhere is toxic.  In the Red it has been nearly hostile in the past, and at its best it’s comically stupid.  I don’t want to be part of that anymore.  I like being a fringe lunatic.  I like watching from afar. 
It's hard to fit in when you're on the cutting edge of style
I called this problem Hierarchy after Maslow's scheme.
 
Ah, let’s face it, it’s pretty fun to stir up $#!+ too.
The weather was downright fall-like earlier in the week.  My primal brain took over, dragged me into a hooky state, and propelled me toward sandstone.  I ended up at Tower Rock with my pup, a crash pad, two pairs of climbing shoes, and a chalkbag.  I sure felt like a rock climber/boulderer. 
Time has dulled my senses.  I didn’t think about all of the recent rain.  The rain and temperate rain forest makes the rock damp and slick.  I didn’t consider all of the time that has passed since my upper body has been put into service pulling the rest of my body upward against gravity.  It never occurred to me that despite a few yoga sessions in the past couple of months I am about as flexible as the passenger-side leaf springs of a ’72 Silverado. 
Ah, faux youthful bravado!
My intent was to get on an old standard of mine.  I went back to where it all began.  It was Bob’s fault.  Can’t Pam keep him in line?  Since I was trying to learn to climb by myself through the week he suggested that I go out with my crisp new Red River Gorge guidebook (John Bronaugh’s new first edition Red River Gorge Climbs) and climb the first ten feet of each route I could find.  He was encouraging me to become a boulderer.
 
Fulfilling the mandate on an attempt of Mr Smartypants
 
“And then when you finally get a partner and rope up under a climb you’ll have the first ten feet wired,” he added.
Bob also told me about a bouldering traverse listed in one of Martin Hackworth’s old guidebooks.  It was rated 5.9 and was described as being a sideways traverse between the routes Africa and Arachnid at Tower Rock.  The description seemed to be off.  It took me a couple of years, but even after I photocopied one of Tim’s copies of Stones of Years and confirmed for myself where the traverse was supposed to go, I just couldn’t figure out how Hackworth expected the aspiring boulderer to get from the Anti-Gravity Acrobatics arĂȘte to Arachnid.  At a 5.9 grade that’s not possible.  I’d also managed to add on a few dozen feet or more of traversing before Africa, though I never unlocked a feasible sequence to gain the dihedral crack of Arachnid.
Later on, after I had become a much stronger climber, that traverse and other boulder problems at Tower became mundane and boring for me.  Only when I was trying to introduce a new climber to bouldering did I return to Tower without a rope. 
The traverse seemed like a good place for me to go to begin the long journey back.  It wasn’t that exactly.  It showed me just how far I have to go.  Much like my recent ascent of Big Country with Mark, bouldering at Tower was somewhat humbling and even disheartening.  Much has changed and little of those changes have been in favor of my sensibilities. 
Displaying my "long-hair-is-cool" sensibilities
 
The good overhanging boulder north of Tower proper has been fenced off by the USFS to protect a supposed archaeological site.  It’s a bunch of crap.  That site has been so overused by modern man there’s no way it could have any archaeological significance.  It had been disturbed long before I discovered the bouldering potential there by campfire, feces, and litter.  Total midden chaos.  A fallen tree is currently resting on the cool easy arĂȘte problem I called Sundown—not after the Gordon Lightfoot song but because it was my late-in-the-day cool down—always bathed in golden light when I danced delicately up its only adequate holds.  
I know most of my old haunts are overgrown with dense rainforest, maybe obscured by deadfall, and most certainly grown back over with moss and lichens that once had been scrubbed away. All of my work undone.  All of my art erased.
While trammeling down this path of self-analysis I’ve tried to unpack that part of my history.  When I was at the height of my bouldering prowess I was also in the depths of my pre-ADHD diagnosis depression.  Running to the woods, to the boulders, was my subconscious escape tactic.  It caused tension in my marriage.  Mandy thought I was running from her, but I didn’t know what I was running from except that it wasn’t her that I wanted to be separated from.
What I’ve realized is that being alone only intensifies my depression.  But I am drawn to solitary places and into solitude due to my inherent human nature.  It’s not comorbid with my depression.  My desire for solitude is a valid feeling.  I’m an introvert.  Introversion isn’t directly related to depression and moodiness.  It’s simply what it is.  This duality that compounds my frustrations is hard to untangle.  I’m really only beginning to understand the separate threads of my neuro-atypical self.
Doing battle with my inner Weasel
 
There were many days I would remove myself from everything and go into my forest world where I made the rules and where I could imagine a more perfect life for myself.  Because of my proprioceptive-seeking compulsions I would take along my crash pad and either hunt new boulders to clean and climb or revisit projects or old favorites to savor.  As time went on I began more often experience days absent of any kind of enjoyment in my chosen recreational activity.  Most often the curious malady manifested like this:
I would decide to go bouldering and maybe not have a clear idea of where I wanted to go.  I might drive to a couple of different locations before finally deciding to get out of the car and haul my stuff into the woods.  Maybe I’d drop my stuff under a problem, put on my shoes, fiddle with the holds for a bit, and then in apathy pack up and go without having tried very hard to climb.  Then maybe I’d drive to another area looking for inspiration or motivation.  The process would repeat.  A few times I visited three or more locations trying to overturn some spiritual rock and unleash the desire to do what I had gone into the woods aiming to do.
Some days I would return home feeling worse than when I left without having climbed at all.  My apathy disgusted me.  I never guessed that it was a sure symptom of depression.  There were days when I had no reason to be in a bad mood or have dark emotions.  My own misconception of what depression was veiled it from me for so long.
Allie Brosh’s powerful posts about depression on her blog/comic Hyperbole and a Half helped me to understand that what I was going through on almost a daily basis was more than just “being down.” 
At first, I'd try to explain that it's not really negativity or sadness anymore, it's more just this detached, meaningless fog where you can't feel anything about anything — even the things you love, even fun things — and you're horribly bored and lonely, but since you've lost your ability to connect with any of the things that would normally make you feel less bored and lonely, you're stuck in the boring, lonely, meaningless void without anything to distract you from how boring, lonely, and meaningless it is.  
While many times I was able to glean some satisfaction from my escapist activities for the most part they have always left me wanting more.  I’m never satisfied in my pursuits.  When I’ve wracked my body to the point of exhaustion and fall into a heap I still don’t feel as if I’ve done what I wanted to do.  I have endless lists of accomplishments that mean nothing once completed.  I give up on the lists when the feelings of success don’t follow my intermittent progress.
Maybe none of this is making sense to you.  There are too many details about all of this to share.  It would be too long and too complex to try and convey what my compulsive processes are like. 
When I recently went to Tower Rock with my climbing gear I got back on what had once been an easy boulder traverse for me.  The lower rock, where my feet scrabbled for tiny footholds, was green and damps and slick.  I managed to keep climbing.  My soft pink skin resisted bearing down on the dark coarse rock.  Pain kept me from aggressively flinging myself along the holds toward the end of the traverse.  After a couple of limp-wristed attempts to figure out the old sequence of moves I gave up.  I climbed up on top of a nearby boulder, removed my climbing shoes and stared out into the dense canopy over Sal Branch.  Those old feelings of despair and apathy were choking me again.  With the return to bouldering came the crashing return of that lumbering monster of escapist depression.  There’s not a lonelier place to be. 
 
I sat there for a while.  I begged God for deliverance from those feelings.  And finally I climbed down off the boulder to pack up.  In the back of my mind I kept thinking maybe I would swing by Left Flank on my way home.  It was that same tactic from years ago.  Nothing at Tower had eased my spiritual cramping and yet I believed that a similar visit to another cliffline would be just the tonic I needed.
There are layers to my frustration and depression.  On one hand there are the superficial, almost mindless reactions to my environment.  When I’m not getting the stimulation I need I want to escape from the moment I’m in and race to another in an energy-wasting sprint to nowhere.  But then I see what I’m doing.  I’m so much more self-aware than I ever have been, and yet I can’t mitigate these impacts to myself because to fight my impulsiveness takes more energy than I have.   
My life is more complex than it ever has been.  I’ve built up too many castles in the air without foundations.  It’s taking all of my energy to keep them afloat.  It’s taking too much of my attention to maintain my life lists.  I have too much in the midden heap of my life and can’t find the things that matter.  I only want the things that matter.  I’ve never valued extraneous things.  And yet I keep collecting them as if I do. 
I, I, I, I…
That’s not how I want to be writing. Again with the singular, the royal, the inner. 
Sometimes I’m funny.  It’s something I’ve had to work at my entire life.  I’ve always wanted to be funny and witty, but it’s never come easy for me.  Sometimes I pull it off, and one of the mysterious things about my depression and how it affects my attempts at humor is that when I’m in the deepest blackest hole I find myself also spouting off with the most razor sharp wit.  Every once in a while it feels like if I don’t find humor in my situation, or somehow create some laughter or mirth, that I will go crazy in the darkness.
I wonder if what was going on with Robin Williams was the same kind of desperate attempt to balance out the chaos and turmoil of a troubled soul with what he really wanted to be.  I can only speculate as I know nothing of his personal life or how he was in his private moments.  He seems very human to me now though.  In death he has portrayed himself as just another one of us struggling for meaning and peace. 

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