A few weeks ago in returning to my car from a hike, I noticed two men just getting out of their vehicle and preparing their equipment to apparently hike. They were putting on their backs large rectangular shaped backpacks—something I’d never witnessed before. I asked them about this strange-looking equipment. They were crash pads, they told me. They were into the sport of bouldering—scaling to the top of the big boulders. Instead of using ropes and harnessed like rock climbers, they simply place a large soft pad below them. The pads are about three feet by six feet by six inches thick and can be folded into thirds to create large but relatively light backpacks with arm loops attached to one surface.
The next day on another hike into the area with visiting family, we bumped into a group of young men performing bouldering. We watched one of them put on his special bouldering shoes and easily scale a boulder that was straight-up—with his crash pad below, of course. He found small nooks in the rock for his hands and feet that we hadn’t noticed before. It was amazing! We joked with him that we wanted to examine his hand to see if he had the barbed hairs that Spiderman grew on his fingertips in the movies.
I did a little research on bouldering—not because I want to do the sport myself, but because I find it intriguing and enjoyable to watch. Mountain hiking (not technical climbing!) offers me enough adventure and danger from heights for my tastes.
The small valley with many boulders I hike through is called Moe’s Valley by bouldering enthusiasts. Apparently it is quite famous for its many good boulders. Its name is a knockoff of Joe’s Valley, another great bouldering site that’s near Orangeville in central Utah.
Bouldering has its own jargon. The glossary that I found on the Internet describes multiple techniques to successfully climb up a problem. They include,” barndooring” that means allowing one side of the body to swing like a door to another place, and “flagging,” that means dangling a leg to improve balance. The intended path up a boulder is called a “problem.” A single large boulder may have several challenging “problems.”
My research has caused me to think about the techniques I’ve used in scaling my problems with mental illness. Unlike bouldering enthusiasts, I haven’t chosen my “problems,” and they haven’t been fun to deal with. It’s been hard, frustrating, and even gut wrenching. It’s taken years to get to a better place, and I’m still climbing upward. As I write this piece, I notice that my forearms and hands are tight from the general anxiety disorder that I continue to experience—though my condition is much better now than it used to be.
My techniques have included receiving psychotherapy from skilled and caring mental health professionals, taking psychotropic drugs prescribed by my doctor, talking things through with supportive family members and close friends, attending NAMI classes, writing (Wow!—I’m using this technique right now! Thanks for helping to motivate me to do this, dear reader!), and seeking help from God through prayer.
That recent day when we watched the young man with the bouldering shoes and crash pad “solve” the “problem,” he posed for us in a Rocky Balboa victory stance on top of the boulder. We could feel his triumph and we spontaneously applauded him. I feel this same kind of triumph when I ponder on my victories with mental health challenges. People don’t applaud me, but this doesn’t matter. Getting to a better plateau of happiness and peace makes all the strain, toil, and effort worth it!
There are other aspects of my triumph that go way above my own positive feelings and happiness. My progress has positively impacted other people, also—especially my family members. My dear wife and children tell me I’m a better husband and father for them. Further, the parents of the young men for whom I served as Scoutmaster for several years told me I had a positive influence on their son’s lives. I’ve received feedback that my book and my presentations have had major life-changing impacts on some. Hopefully, I inadvertently hurt others less than I used to. I’m in a better position to understand and do God’s will—to fulfill my mission, my purpose while on this earth.
I do not glory in myself about these things. Rather, I feel thankful to God, to my family, and to others around me that I had the opportunity and the support to climb big boulders. And there are more ahead.