In many ways my creativity and my anxiety are inseparable. For anyone who has experienced the swirling terror of a panic attack, and felt the sensation of their mind seemingly beyond control it can feel like riding a horse that’s been spooked.
My panic is usually (but not always) characterised by a head full of “what-ifs” and the resultant sense of horror that stems from situations that I fear would be unbearable to live through.
I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.
– Mark Twain
These “what-ifs” are terrifying, uncomfortable, improbable, imaginative, creative, each a startling odyssey- entirely in my mind.
The creativity which can feel like a burden when unbridled, can also be harnessed to allow me to contemplate and mentally manipulate huge challenges. Pondering NHS logistics, reviewing international political crises, cooking up ideas to engage even the toughest children I work with, visualising possible ways to get up the climbing wall, or, sometimes, seeing a misty treeline transform into a metaphor for the challenges and demands of daily life.
Fears and worries can feel like a crushing bombardment, threatening to overwhelm. When they pass I have been practicing thinking of it like a stomach cramp or a cold; a bad day for my brain. I find it helpful to look at the wonders that can come from the exact same brain, remembering that there’s light and dark, good and bad in all things; usually more light than dark, usually more good than bad.
I’m learning everyday, with discipline and with grace, to be kind to my mind on its bad days and to choose things that fuel good brain health – be it food, challenging myself, resting, reaching out, or sometimes just hiding, sometimes unexpected things help, sometimes unexpected things are too much.
Climbing has become an essential part of my physical life and mental health. Everytime I do something I had believed that I could not, I expand my confidence, my view of who I am and what I am capable of. This is Growth Mindset thinking in practice, that is moving from a belief your abilities are fixed to learning you can evolve and develop, growing new skills.
Some days the idea of falling from 10ft in the air for ‘absolutely no reason’ is beyond my anxious brain to best and I stay low, traversing sideways, frustrated. I try to counter it with the belief that if the amazing mental strength I have gained from climbing feels like “no reason” then my brain MUST be on the wonk. I push it as far as I can and chalk it up 1-0 to a bad day, but tomorrow is a new day and I will try again.
Other days I find a focus on the strain in my fingers or feet, like a tiny mindfulness exercise, allowing myself to become completely consumed. I set my creative brain to solve the problem; plan training and build strength until I can visualise overcoming something that was physically not possible weeks beforehand. Turning “I can’t” into, “I haven’t yet….”
Then there are the days when you move, graceful, strong and determined, moving up through the grades, trampling failures by hitting routes again and again, laughing off slips, cheering on friends, learning new limits and working out ways around them….
These are the days when my creativity drives my successes and I hope climbing can be a model for the rest of my daily life.