Rock climbing saved my life. I always loved the idea of climbing, ever since I first learned about the sport as a child at camp. Years later, as an adult, I began rock climbing at the encouragement of an inspiring case manager, Tanicia, who said the sport was a fun and exhilarating way to get into shape physically.
In December 2016, just days before my 28th birthday, I bought myself a membership to the local climbing gym, Rocks & Ropes, in Tucson, Ariz. It was not until after I began my rock-climbing journey that I began to see the many benefits it provided for managing my mental well-being.
When I am on the side of a mountain, I feel more grounded, more alive and more connected to the universe. For me, it’s a holy place. This is my church. In my 33 short years on this planet, I have found climbing to be a beautiful metaphor for overcoming the difficulties life throws our way.
Rock Climbing Built My Endurance
In the rock-climbing community, as in everyday life, we refer to the obstacles we’re working through on a climb as “problems.” And even as I encounter problems on my route, and grapple with exhaustion and pain, I don’t give up. I continue pushing through fear and doubt until I finally reach the summit.
As I look down, and take in the scenery around me, I can reflect back on all the problems I overcame, the path I took and the technique I used to get through it. Then, I can feel an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment for all my hard work, knowing that the next time I encounter a similar problem, I'll know what to do to get past it.
I take pride in knowing that no one pushed or pulled me up the mountain. All that hard work was mine. The person on the ground belaying me is merely there to provide me with safety, support and ensure I do not fall, should I stumble. Everything else is up to me. The more I work through my problems, with my friend supporting me on the ground, the stronger I become.
Recovery and Therapy Pose Similar Challenges
Therapy, as I’ve learned on my mental health journey, is a lot like rock climbing. In this metaphor, you (the climber) are the patient, the mountain is your mental health challenge, the "problems" are all the obstacles that stand between you and overcoming the challenge, such as the loss of a job or the death of a loved one or an illness. The summit is mental wellness, and the person belaying you is the therapist.
While your therapist doesn't tell you how to feel or what to think, or what conclusions to come to, they can be there as a constant support to “catch you” should you have any setbacks during your journey. They keep you safe and secure by "holding the rope" so that you do not plummet, and then, you can resume where you left off whenever you are ready. They are "on the ground," ready to spot an easier path or remind you of different techniques you can implement to overcome those problem areas.
Even though you are the one doing all the work, your therapist is an integral part of your team. They spot the problem areas ahead of time and assist in identifying the various tools you can use to get past them. In essence, they help you work through the problems strategically, without actually pulling or pushing you up the side of the "mountain." This support allows you to develop the strength and coping tools needed to persevere toward this summit and all future summits.
Over the years, I have managed to address my mental health challenges using these skills. I am able to explore hobbies and passions — and to face daily challenges — with the foundation I have built through climbing.
Jaden Azariah Trent is a 33-year-old transgender man, who struggles daily with schizoaffective disorder, PTSD, agoraphobia and other serious mental illnesses which were brought on by a traumatic brain injury. When he is not rock climbing, he enjoys writing, drawing, mine and pantomime, reading poetry and playing video games. Jaden is the proud dog daddy to an awesome five-year-old Pitbull/German Shepherd Mix named Echo, who serves as his Emotional Support Companion. Residing in Tucson, Ariz., Jaden lives a quiet life with his amazing live-in aide, Jason, who assists him with managing his day-to-day life. He aspires to be a symbol of hope for those still struggling.