Spending much more time indoors than usual has caused me to reflect on the effects that rock climbing has had on my life. It occurred to me that climbing is the only partner I've ever had that broke me time and time again, and was always there for me to build me back up. If you're not a climber, you may relate to this with your own sport or drug of choice. My climbing drug is the worst best thing that ever happened to me.

Just like any drug, climbing comes with its own side effects. And just like the most addictive drugs on the black market, climbing has both devilish and angelic qualities. No matter how it breaks me, physically or mentally (or both at the same time), I always go back for more.

Goats in tree

I tried other drugs, such as running, cycling, swimming, yoga, slacklining... well, that's it. That's all I've tried. None of those come close to replacing my need to climb. To understand my attraction to the climbing substance, I sat down to write the side effects that come with it.

Side effects from climbing may include:

Having a social life

Introverts or extroverts, we all need people in our lives. For extroverts, socializing isn't usually a problem. But for introverts, climbing is our savior! Through climbing, we easily meet new people when we move to a new place or if we happen to be passing through in need of a belay. Interestingly, introverts naturally turn into extroverts when they need someone to hold their life in their hands.

People standing around two large grey boulders
Large crowds around the Peabody Boulders in the Buttermilks

Side note:
If you are an introvert's regular climbing partner, here's an ego-boost for you: You are the chosen one! This is well-explained in this letter from introverts. If you climbed once with an introvert and s/he never contacted you again, you might also be the chosen one. You may have to be the one who initiates contact up to three times before your introvert asks you out in return. This is because introverts only initiate contact with people they have vetted, people they trust, and people that give them a confidence and energy boost. It takes a few tries to form such a relationship. If you have to initiate contact more than three times, you are not the chosen one. Accept it and walk away.  

Becoming a better you

Climbing generally makes you think that you're a better person. First and foremost, it boosts your immune system. It's exercise, after all, and it's done in natural, non-artificial sunlight. Even indoor climbing has a positive effect on you.

In conjuncture with your physical health, climbing also boosts your mental health, starting with your self-confidence. A boost in self-confidence is extremely important for your success in just about anything. It promotes a virtuous cycle that helps you concentrate, improves your coordination, relaxes you, makes you a better problem solver, motivates you, and over all makes you happier.

In short, you're more pleasant to be around (or at least that's what you think, which is good enough). For introverts especially, let's face it, being stuck with yourself all day really sucks. So if you can become more pleasant to be around, then that's great!

Red sandstone monolith
Angels Landing, Zion National Park - a devil in disguise?

A few studies have now confirmed that bouldering has positive effects on our mental health. An article from Climbing Magazine suggests that climbing is now being prescribed to treat mental health disorders such as depression. It's also used with at-risk youth and those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The most significant finding, however, which is yet to be officially studied, is that climbers fight less with their significant others when they climb regularly. I already have two responses confirming this.

With such strong evidence of the positive effects of climbing on one's soul, who can argue that climbing isn't a guardian angel for us all?

Answer: The devil. The devil can argue that. See the remaining side effects.

Obsession

The devil assures that your obsessive personality will haunt you in climbing. It haunts you when you cannot figure out the beta to a problem. And it haunts you even more when you have all the beta but can't piece it together. In both cases, you lose sleep over it trying to work it out in your head. You know you have to take a step back, move to something else, boost your confidence with other problems, but you're so obsessed with this one problem that you simply cannot let it go. Don't believe me? Just read about Alex Honnold's approach. He isn't that different from the rest of us. Also, here's a post teaching you how to be obsessive, in case you're not a natural at it.

Grey rock protrusion
Devil's Tower - an angel in disguise? Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

Inability to hold conversations with non-climbers

If you're an introvert, your only social life is climbing. You don't know anyone else outside of your climbing circle. At work, you only socialize with other climbers. Your non-climbing coworkers are certain you're a sociopath.

If you're an extrovert, it isn't much better. You socialize with everyone, but all you talk about is climbing. In case you're wondering, that's the reason your coworkers avoid you.

Is this a bad thing? Here's an example of a climber who only talks about climbing. What do you think?

Dependency

If you abstain from climbing, get ready for feelings of impending doom. Studies show that withdrawal symptoms from climbing are real. Common withdrawal symptoms include the inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia), craving to climb, and having negative thoughts. Here's my own personal sob story about abstaining from climbing during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Overuse injuries

Humans are susceptible to injury. We all know that. I won't go into detail about blunt injuries, such as twisting an ankle while hiking to the crag or breaking a toe from a hard catch. These injuries suck, but you at least know when they happen, and you know how. Overuse injuries, on the other hand, creep up on you slowly and manifest themselves when you least expect it. For example, tearing cartilage in your wrist on your 7th climb of the day, after a rest day, a textbook warm-up, and a couple of proud sends.

Touching rock with white tape around ring finger
Taped finger - Photo by Cade Prior on Unsplash

If you're under 30, you have no idea what I'm talking about. Your bruises disappear overnight and you can just walk off your twisted ankle. The word gobie hasn't entered your vocabulary yet. You may sometimes wake up with a strange pain in your finger, but then you just climb it off. After all, you take care of your body, you know how to listen to it, you feed it well. Blah blah blah.

You can't do that when you're 30. That pain is here to stay. For the under 30-year-old introverts who are reading this, I know that you still don't understand and you don't believe this will happen to you. Let me explain this little chronic pain in a different way. For the extroverts, just skip this section. You won't get it. So introverts: Imagine one morning you wake up to the sound of the doorbell. You open the door to find your cousin Marvin. He needs a place to stay. Just for a night or two. You're a good person. You let Marvin in. Marvin tells you that his roommates kicked him out because he talks too much. Marvin keeps talking. Marvin stays a week. Marvin stays a month. Marvin is still talking. Marvin will NEVER LEAVE.

Listen, am I a bit bitter that you're under 30 and injury-free? Yeah. Am I a bit jealous that you're under 30 and I'm not? Yeah. Am I gonna take you down with me to the pits of my despair? HELL YEAH! (see, this is the devil talking, I told you)

Conclusion

If you're a climber, the devil already owns you. The good news is that the guardian angel sometimes pulls through, and those times are worth waiting for! You may be able to help the guardian angel win more battles by following these tips from the Climbing Doctor on how to climb injury-free.

If your partner is thinking about getting into climbing too, show them this article. If s/he is still interested, show them this article. If the interest is still there, here's one for you about coping.

If you're not a climber, consider yourself warned. As one of my belay partners often says, no doubt channeling the devil, "the worst day out climbing is better than any day indoors."