I have written before about my struggles with exercise and body weight. Unfortunately, I must report that my love affair with weightlifting did not last; I lifted for three months and then quit. My reasons for quitting are complicated and layered: I started feeling lonely going to the gym by myself all the time, I started lifting the barbell and felt too nervous to continue without a spotter, and the anxiety surrounding my body weight returned in full, potent force. I stagnated, physically, for the rest of 2016 and all of 2017. I gained more weight; by the end of 2017, I was consistently 145 lbs, and I was deeply unhappy about it.
2018 was a success, though: By strictly following the keto diet, I lost the extra weight, coming back down to 125 lbs. I maintained that weight for almost a year by counting calories, and after a brief interlude trying out intuitive eating, I am still counting calories today. I like knowing exactly what I am putting in my body, because I am prone to both undereating and overeating. By using the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, I feel both accountable and responsible. I feel in control.
Despite feeling like I have been on the right track in terms of healthy eating, I continued to struggle with exercise. I did not engage in any kind of rigorous physical activity for nearly three years. We even bought an inexpensive stationary bike, which I used for a short while, but cardio is my bane, so it sits in our apartment now, gathering dust. It’s a wonder I managed to climb 500 steps in Iceland while touring Skógafoss!
In a recent blog post, I recounted snowboarding for the first time. It was a difficult workout, but I had fun doing it. Snowboarding felt more like playing than actual exercise; it was a truly wonderful experience. Hiking in Iceland was also fun despite the weather and the distance (we walked 40 miles in 5 days and hiked the equivalent of 90 flights of stairs). Eventually, I realized I enjoyed both experiences so much because Dan was with me. Socializing and having fun with him made the physical challenges easier to bear.
That’s why, when Dan mentioned he used to go rock climbing and enjoyed it, I jumped on the chance for us to go climbing together. A couple friends of mine had gotten into bouldering recently; I had watched their videos on social media and had an idea of what bouldering actually entails. I learned about a climbing gym 10 minutes away from our apartment that offers beginner classes. Dan and I signed up for the introduction to bouldering class, even though he has climbed before, and on the first day of June, we went together.
The first lesson…
I can say one thing with confidence: the climbing community is very welcoming. Our instructor for the intro class was kind and supportive, yet he encouraged us to challenge ourselves. The very first time I was on the wall to practice falling, I felt the panic attack coming. (I have a phobia of heights.) He suggested climbing down a bit more before attempting the fall, which cut off my panic attack and allowed me to continue the lesson without further incident. I was able to climb and complete several routes, called “problems,” that were meant for beginners, as well as a couple harder ones. Dan and I cheered for each other, which helped encourage me to keep climbing. I left the lesson feeling excited and interested by this new hobby.
Because of my lack of regular exercise, I tend to suffer brutal recovery days following intense physical activity. After I took my first aerial acrobatics lesson, my arms and shoulders were useless. A couple of years ago, I took an introductory lesson to Muay Thai on a whim and could barely walk for five days afterward. While I could walk in the days after snowboarding, I experienced painful muscle spasms in my legs for two days. The day after our bouldering class was no different. I was in so much pain that Dan had to take care for me for the first few hours of our Sunday morning.
Sometimes, the pain is discouraging, like after Muay Thai. But sometimes it isn’t. I spent the day after our bouldering lesson resting and contemplating whether I might continue to climb as a hobby. I reasoned that going once a week sounds doable. My friends go to their gyms more frequently, but I told myself I was only interested in it for the exercise. I told myself I was going to focus primarily on doing yoga every weekday after work, because I had fallen out of practice (again!) after picking it back up in February. After all, I wasn’t even sure I enjoyed bouldering.
…and the days following it
The most unexpected thing happened the next day. I spent the entire day obsessively looking up more information about bouldering and rock climbing. I read articles for beginners about different handholds, footholds, and movement techniques. I searched for local groups for women and people of color (and women of color!). I couldn’t stop thinking about it that day, and the next day, too. And the next day, actually. I went back to the climbing gym after a few days to sign up for a 1-month summer membership since it would be cheaper than paying for a day pass plus shoe rentals every time. I told myself I would see how I feel after the month ended, and I would not buy any gear until then, just in case I end up losing motivation, like I do with most other forms of exercise.
Three weeks later, I bought my own pair of climbing shoes, after having spent nearly $40 in shoe rental fees. I also bought chalk and a chalk bag. I was climbing twice a week; once, I climbed three times a week with only one rest day in between gym visits. (I found out this is not ideal for me; I need at least two rest days between climbs.) I continued to practice yoga after work, like I intended, but I also found myself comparing bouldering to yoga and preferring bouldering as a form of exercise. Yoga has become a way to de-stress at home, but in the climbing gym, I can challenge myself and improve my physical fitness.
I still struggled to admit I was actually having fun. I was suspicious about my own feelings because I have been in this situation before: I try a new physical activity, I get excited about it and hope it becomes a lifelong hobby, and then I quit after a short time for some reason or another. Look at weightlifting. Look at aerial acrobatics. Look at yoga.
But I know how important it is to be honest with ourselves. I experience nothing short of elation when I climb to a top of (or “send”) a problem. Even when I don’t succeed, when all I manage is some progress, I still feel proud of myself because it shows I’m getting stronger and developing my skills. When strangers cheer me on, I feel empowered; when friends cheer me on, I feel joy.
I was having fun bouldering. My 1-month summer membership ended, and I immediately switched it to the recurring regular membership. I am happy to announce that I have actually passed the 3-month mark and I’m still obsessed with climbing. I’ve begun thinking in the long term: end-of-the-year goals, climbing with my out-of-state friends when we next visit each other, and hoping that my honeymoon involves a climbing wall of some kind (which is apparently a thing on some cruise ships). I am less suspicious of my own feelings than I was a few weeks ago, but I’m still a little anxious about my own commitment to the hobby. Because I want to keep climbing. Instead of growing to hate it, I want to love it for a long time.