Head space and how you stand in your own way


There I am, standing in front of a route, ready to climb. I’ve tried this route a couple of times, so I know what to expect, but this time I’m going to send it. I just can’t think about failure; I talk it through before I start. Off I go, a little unfocused as I climb the first moves, because I know exactly where the crux is. Thinking too far ahead, I fight my way through the first few moves…

With sweaty hands I shake my arms out again before tackling the crux. I try to control my breathing and keep my thoughts positive. The longer I try resting my arms, the more I start to look around. “How far below me is my last draw? How far is it to the next bolt? Oh, great… the crux, where I normally fall, is right in the middle!”

I quickly accept the fact that the fall might be big. Nevertheless, I pull myself together and start climbing. But my mind is playing games.

“The next hold is really bad! You might fall!”, comes the call from your partner.

“And the next one too, if you make it there, you’ll fall for sure!” – don’t you just love mid-route beta!

The pump in my arms is getting worse, I clasp onto every hold, forget to breathe regularly and feel like I’m free soloing a 1000 meter wall.

“If I let go now, then I’ll fall so badly that I’ll break myself, or I’ll die, or both! At the very least it’ll hurt!”, I think as I reach the bad hold and become paralyzed by my mind. I know I can’t stick the next move, so I’m clinging to this bad hold like crazy.

My climbing partner calls to me from below: “What are you doing on that useless flake? Just keep climbing!”

I only hear it in the distance, because right now, I am free soloing my mental 1000 meter wall and just trying everything not to die. But after a few moments, the solution is clear to me: Just climb! Where I come up, I come down too.

“What the hell are you doing now?”, he shouts again from below. “Just let go!”

Tears are now pouring down my cheeks because my body thinks it’s in mortal danger and on top of all that it’s a really hard grade for me!

When I finally clip the chains, I cling to them and my pulse gradually returns to normal. I just want to get back down.

Finally I’m standing on the ground in front of the route and I no longer understand the world. “I can actually climb, but what was that all about?”

The word panic-attack sounds violent, but it describes the feeling I had on that route. I completely let go of my mind, assumed the worst and lost control. The fact that I wasn’t having fun was self-explanatory.

So, there has to be a solution. Head space issues adé – as of today we only work with reason. Realistically, I wasn’t in mortal danger nor did I break anything! If I step back and look at the situation from afar, everything is much clearer. The only thing that helps is to remember that the next time I’m in such a bad place, I can breathe through it and remind myself that I’m strong enough to hold the bad holds and even if I do fall, everything will be fine, because my climbing partner is watching my every move.

Head space issues will not disappear overnight, but you can control by thinking positively. The good thing is that next time this happens, I have an argument for myself.

Head space
Photo: Christoph Deinet unsplash.com

Fear is there to save you from danger. Panic only paralyzes you. So you should allow fear, but not be controlled by it. If you make peace with fear, you are already well on the way to overcoming head space issues.

Until next time, when I’m hanging with sweaty fingers below the crux and wanting to cry…

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