Essay: Are You Still A Climber If You're Not Psyched On It Right Now?

As climbers, we often have high expectations for ourselves. We expect­ to perform at a high level every time we rope up. We expect to never be afraid—to fall, to fail, to take a risk. We expect every day of getting out to do what we love—rock climbing–to be fun. And maybe it’s unfortunate that there also seems to be an expectation to be psyched 100 percent of the time. Our community is built around psyche. We talk about beta at dinner; we drive hours late into the night to get to the crag for the weekend; we plan our vacations and holidays around bolts and cams. So, how do we handle it when we’re not psyched?  

Expectations aren’t reality. We aren’t at the top of our game every time we head out to the crag. There are days we get scared. There are others when we don’t have fun or simply don’t want to try hard. We’d rather­ lay­ around and binge-watch­ Game of Thrones or walk around a farmer’s market on a beautiful Saturday. ­Admitting this to ourselves or to others can be hard.

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Lack of psych can­ drag on due to work obligations, family drama, injury, or a million other reasons generally referred to as life. It’s easy to feel like we’ve lost part of our identity when we haven’t chalked up in months. ­The feeling can be exacerbated when we hear our fellow community members say things about other people like, “He’s not a climber anymore,” or “She hasn’t climbed in months.” This comparison of psych levels comes up a lot. Exclamations like, “She’s the most psyched climber I know!” float throughout conversations in our community and can create a vibe of exclusion.

But just because we aren’t psyched, doesn’t mean we aren’t climber­s. ­When we­ each own­ our own relationship with climbing, ­our identity is ours to shape. Being honest with ourselves about what we are feeling and why allows us to remove the judgement from the ebb and flow of our emotions. Feelings don’t change who we are. Psych is optional. Much like good weather, it’s something to be hoped for, not expected. And not forcing ourselves to climb when we’re not psyched can leave room for gratitude in the times that we are.

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Also, it doesn’t matter if someone else is more psyched than us. It has no bearing on whether or not we are psyched ourselves. We should recognize this while remembering that sometimes another person’s psyche can lift us back to a place where we can find our own. And speaking up when we hear someone comparing psyche brings it out into the open and removes the shame that can come along with it.

I’m finding it helps to talk to my friends or climbing partners about how I feel. Often, I discover they’ve had similar moments (or months!) of feeling the same way. This also lets my partners know they’re allowed to have those days, too. Climbing is challenging. It’s supposed to be­. That’s part of the reason so many of us are drawn to it. Acknowledging this helps us grow both as climbers and as people. Embracing that difficulty means embracing all the emotions that come along with it.

Good or bad. Psyched or not.