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A story of overcoming fear

A story of overcoming fear

When you have low self esteem and confidence, it’s not easy to go adventuring.  Today… a story of adventure and overcoming fear from Gemma, a climber from Manchester, UK.  She is open about having had low self-esteem and struggling with confidence in day to day life and in climbing.  This summer she went on a big road trip to climb.  This is her story and what she found out. 

Story of overcoming fear

My husband and I decided to go on a three month climbing trip in Europe.  The plan was to travel and live in our van with climbing guides for where we were aiming to go, but that was as far as the plan went.  Sounds great, you may be thinking.  And it was, but neither of us are the travelling type, and I suffer from anxiety and depression, so before we left I was wondering how I ever decided it was a good idea.  I’m not an adventurer, I’m a nest builder, I love being warm and cosy.  I do enjoy a day of adventuring, but only if I can come home to a hot shower and fluffy blanket at the end of it!

Adventuring is hard when you are a nervous wreck!

The morning of departure arrived and I was a nervous wreck. The other half wasn’t faring much better.  Even leaving the house was a challenge, with OCD going into overdrive.  Everything was turned off, closed, checked, rechecked and checked again.  This was completely ridiculous as friends and neighbours were taking care of the house while we were away, but worrying is what I do!


Worried about camping

Once we were on our way the nerves finally gave way to excitement.  I was concerned about how I was going to cope with not knowing where I was going to sleep from night to night, worried about finding decent wild spots, and whether the Aires would be scary or horrible.  After a five hour drive across Northern Spain, we arrived at our first Aire. It was nothing special, just a car park, but it was peaceful and had a lovely view, so we instantly relaxed and thought, ‘we can do this! It will be fine’. Mostly it was fine.  We had a few incidences of not being able to find somewhere, but it just meant we had a few funny stories to laugh about later.

Climbing Mind Games

So, onto the climbing, the reason we were there.  When it comes to lead climbing I’ve always been at the mercy of my mind.  On a good head day I can lead confidently near the top of my grade. On a bad head day I’m a quivering wreck on even the easiest of climbs! I was determined that I was going to overcome this on this trip.  It started so well, I started leading straight away on the first day, not giving myself time to think and talk myself out of it.  I even took a couple of falls. However, it didn’t happen. I just couldn’t get past it! Six weeks into the trip I was top roping 6b, but struggling to lead 6a, sometimes even failing on 5s.  I was getting so annoyed with myself as I knew these routes were physically possible for me, but I just couldn’t get past my fear.  I had a few good days, and the feeling I got after leading a route that was hard for me was so good that and I felt it was worth pushing myself through this block, no matter how unpleasant.  However, as time went on it was more struggle and less achievement, I was just freezing in fear and backing off everything.  It was getting to the point where I didn’t want to climb as I just didn’t want all this emotional turmoil!  I feel that it is important to challenge yourself in life, and overcoming challenges is what makes us strong.  I didn’t want to admit defeat, but I didn’t want this issue ruining the trip.  This is supposed to be a hobby, a holiday, it’s supposed to be fun!  It was making me miserable and that was not what I wanted. So, I decided to take a different approach. Over the next few days I climbed as a second, and started to enjoy it again.  With the fear taken away I could enjoy the climbing, working out the route, being outdoors, the impressive views, and spending time with my husband doing something that made us both happy.

Gemma enjoying some exposure on a multi pitch route in the Dolomites

Gemma enjoying some exposure on a multi pitch route in the Dolomites

Watch out for the unexpected

Shortly after this we moved into multi pitch territory.  Climbs were much longer, and so therefore we dropped our grades, and the climbs were technically very easy. This is where I had a pleasant surprise!  Despite being too scared to lead hard sport routes it turned out I was ok on really bold but easy trad multipitch!  This was totally unexpected.  At the start of the trip I had said that I was not climbing in the Verdon Gorge, and I was definitely not climbing any mountains when we reached the Dolomites. I did both of those things, with leading, and what’s more I enjoyed it! They are some of my favourite moments from the entire trip. I got a far bigger sense of achievement from climbing those routes than I ever did from sport climbing.  I’ve always struggled with low self esteem, and never imagined myself doing something like that.

Gemma enjoying some exposure on a multi pitch route in the Dolomites

Gemma enjoying some exposure on a multi pitch route in the Dolomites

Overcome your fears of adventuring

If there is anyone out there who wants to go adventuring but feels held back by their worries and fears, I say just go for it! Don’t give yourself time to think, just do it. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, I’ve come back with so much more confidence, I’ve done things I thought were impossible for me.  I’ve also learnt an important lesson, and that is not to beat myself up if I don’t achieve something. While it’s good to overcome fears and challenges, it’s also important to learn when something is ruining your happiness, and just let it go.  It’s not failing if you’ve tried. Failing would be not trying in the first place. You never know, you may find unexpected success elsewhere!

Gemma climbing high above the valley

Gemma climbing high above the valley

Congratulations to Gemma for finding the courage to go on this adventure and thank you for sharing some intimate thoughts and experiences with us.  If you have an adventure or an experience you’d like to share, then email it to us: submissions@womenclimb.co.uk.  


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