It would have been 72 days, but I fell off the wagon for a week in February. I went through withdrawal symptoms, but I’m not sure which were actual symptoms from quitting climbing cold turkey and which came from the flu. According to WebMD, general withdrawal symptoms could include anxiety, shaky hands, headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, sweating, confusion, racing heart, and fever. Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check from my climbing withdrawals.
In a way, I’m glad I got the flu to help me quit climbing. Otherwise, I would defy quarantine orders, no doubt. If I were physically capable, I would hike out a long way to get to some obscure line of crack just to feel its sweet sweet caress. Don’t get me wrong, I know that climbing is inherently risky, and hiking out to a place with poor rock quality is even more risky, but staying home for someone like me may be the biggest risk I could ever take!
Climbing is a mental escape
Let me explain: I’m an introverted one-task-oriented person. I can only focus on one thing at a time. For the past 10 years, that thing has been climbing. Even when I hurt five of my fingers and both of my wrists from overuse, I didn’t stop climbing. I followed exercises from my physical therapist, lowered the climbing grade, and worked on climbing slab (unsuccessfully). You see, introverts search for ways to escape from the world in order to recharge their battery. For many introverts, that means curling up on the couch with a good book. For my partner, it’s vegging out in front of the TV. But for me, it’s climbing. Climbing, and more specifically outdoor climbing, is my mental escape.
Do you know what happens to introverts when you take away their only escape? Anxiety, shaky hands, headache, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, sweating, confusion, racing heart, fever. And on top of that, grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression. I admit that I may be exaggerating here, since I did have these symptoms in conjunction with a flu, but withdrawals symptoms from climbing are real!
Signs of climbing withdrawals noted in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions:
- Anhedonia - inability to feel pleasure from anything but climbing
- Craving - the necessity to climb
- Negative affect - frustration, anger, overall bad mood
Climbing withdrawals and relapse
I had the flu for 2 weeks in February. It seemed like 2 months! I stayed home during that time, moving between the bed and the couch, and a few times, when I had energy, I forced myself to the backyard. One morning I woke up crying, unable to control the tears. My world was crumbling. Everything was going wrong. My partner was going to leave me, my job was a disaster, I’ve lost all sense of creativity, and I definitely had no wits about me. I kept telling myself how lucky I am to have a backyard, and a job, and a partner who has never seen me cry and is now wrapping me with more blankets trying to tell me jokes that are really stupidly funny yet I still couldn’t control those tears! We went outside for a walk that day. It’s amazing what an hour of sunlight can do to your mood.
I went on hour-long walks in the neighborhood over the next three days, feeling an improvement in mood everyday. I texted my climbing partners and told them I’m ready to go out again. I was still weak but boy was I motivated! By the end of the week, I sent a few of my projects! Then the first case of coronavirus was reported in the United States (not me). As a result, it was requested that climbers abstain from the activity until further notice.
Having just gone through the worst of the climbing withdrawals, I knew what to expect. As a result, I sat down to think about ways to mitigate the symptoms. This time, I was prepared for the fight!
Fighting the withdrawal symptoms
As an introvert who recharges by climbing, I had to find alternative approaches to keep the inevitable withdrawal symptoms at bay. From my experience in the previous weeks, I learned two things: 1) This pause from climbing is only temporary; and 2) I need at least one hour of outdoor physical activity per day. On the first day of self-isolation, I went out for a walk. It was nice. On the second day, I dusted off the hangboard that we never use and pulled out my prescribed exercises from the physical therapist.
On the third day, I realized a third important lesson: I need to work towards an achievable goal in order to stay sane. My goal: Return to climbing in the same shape I left it. My walks turned into jogs. My hangboard routine now includes abs workouts. I somehow managed to keep my day job at reduced hours, so I have a little more time during the day to spend on running and hanging.
It’s been 42 days now, but it feels like two weeks. I’m grateful, especially now, for being an introvert. This makes staying at home a cherished experience and helps me focus on my goal to stave off withdrawal symptoms. My partner, also an introvert, understands and relates to my need to work toward an end goal. Though we are under the same roof, we have found different ways to recharge and to stay motivated during these trying times.
We don’t need to look for another escape. We just need to find a temporary alternative.
Withdrawal symptoms from climbing are real, but I truly believe that there are ways that we can mitigate them. We may not feel the climber's high for a while, but we can at least take pleasure in the small things around the house. We may still crave the touch of a rock, but we can at least keep our urges to a minimum using a hangboard. And we may not be the biggest optimists, but we won't let negativity affect us so easily. Here’s the reason I’m writing all of this: We don’t need to look for an alternative to climbing. We just need to find a temporary fix.
This post was meant to be light and sarcastic in nature. It turned into a serious issue that I think many introverted climbers can relate to. For lighter pieces, check out the effects that climbing has over our lives. For extroverts, here are some more tips I came up with for surviving your own home.