Burn Out

I knew it was a high gravity day the moment I woke up. There was a dense fog clouding my ability to function properly. You know what I’m talking about? It’s that not fully awake feeling–similar to how you feel after staying up all night cramming for a test. It’s also finals week, and I’m juggling work and school, but still unwilling to stop climbing and allow myself the rest I need. The result: restless, irritable and discontent.

It is unusual for me to become so physically exhausted that I become dangerous to myself. What is more likely and most often happens is my mind fatigues and I lose focus and confidence. When my mind grows heavy it becomes harder to defy gravity. When my mind grows heavy everything becomes a painstaking task. Like life, climbing is also a mind game.

A major sign that my head is not in the game is the presence of self-degrading thoughts. This is one of the most counter-productive practices that I can implement into life. Self-degradation can become a toxic habit, a default setting, like gossip, and is equally disgusting and energy consuming. Our best and most reliable ally is ourselves, and how can we expect to get anywhere if we are at war on the inside?

For me, these thoughts stem from high expectations of myself. I find myself feeling obligated to go climbing (or whatever I’m obsessed with), even when I’m tired. It’s not always a bad thing. There is a place for that kind of steadfast and constant effort–as long as it remains fun. But it becomes unhealthy when deceiving thoughts, such as “if I don’t climb I’ll lose my strength and degrade from one week to the next,” enter my mind and influence bad and dangerous habits. That was how I injured my finger.

I think that it is natural to push our limits when we are passionately invested in something. Whether it’s climbing, lifting, cycling, work, a relationship, or whatever our chosen poison is, we can easily stop respecting healthy boundaries that protect us from ourselves. Think about the term everything in moderation. Humans are not all that much different from rats in a Skinner Box, but instead of cocaine being dispensed to us as a reward, we dispense passion. We dispense. Happiness is like candy, and we to learn to moderate our consumption, or we neglect ourselves and our teeth fall out!

I never heed these warnings though, not entirely, but I’ve become much better at becoming accountable for my state of mind and advocating for my limitations in that state. When I’m really struggling and tired I just won’t lead. It’s not worth it. That’s not to say that if I get a bad nights sleep I will not pull my weight. Not all days that I wake up feeling shaky are cause for pause. Some are more and some are less. Sometimes they turn around, and sometimes they just get worse.

The physical injuries I’ve endured through bad judgement in climbing shrink in comparison to the catastrophic states I’ve subjected my life to. There are so many things I could have easily avoided, so many hideous experiences and bad decisions that would have never happened if I just monitored my mental state and was honest with myself.

But, like with so many other things, I guess it all comes down to balance. There are risks associated with progress, and the trick is being able to identify if we are capable of handling what’s in front of us in our current state. If not, is it worth it? Are those heinous long work weeks really going to pay off if to succeed they take a piece of you with them?

I don’t know really, but it’s something that I like to think about. I do know that my happiness is not contingent on how hard I climb or how much money I make, and today was not a very fun day even though it was filled with things that I love to do, and people who I enjoy being around. That’s alarming. I woke up to all the signs but I ignored them, and I pushed myself until I just felt kind of sick and empty.

Who knows… maybe when I emerge from this cocoon of self-pity I’ll be transformed into a beautiful butterfly who can onsight 5.12+ finger cracks! One can only hope, but until then I’ll keep flailing on 5.10+.