“The healthy wear a crown that only the sick can see."
During the summer of my junior year in college, I worked in Atlanta and did a lot of rock climbing. There was this massive rock climbing gym called Stone Summit, and it had every bell and whistle you could imagine. People lead climbed upside down on the ceiling (great for ab strength), practiced bouldering, and did speed climbing, all under one roof.
I regularly went with a number of older friends I met through another meetup, and when we weren't belaying each other, we would go over to the bouldering section and boulder. One day I checked other parts of the gym while they continued to boulder, and discovered a second floor where people without partners could climb. You strapped yourself into this thing called an autobelayer, and when you wanted to come down from the wall, you simply let go from the wall, and the autobelayer would lower you down gently.
I was practicing this one route over and over again by myself on this particular wall one day, when I noticed something rather peculiar.
On this one run, I forgot to strap myself into the autobelayer.
I was at least one story up from the ground, and unlike the bouldering site, this particular climbing area didn't have the really nice, soft mats where you can fall on (because you strapped yourself in, right?) – and there was a short balcony off to the side where you can see the rest of the gym, so in my mind's eye I was at least two stories up from where I was supposed to be. If I fell down, I would at least sprain my ankle, and quite possibly break something that isn't supposed to break.
The funny thing is, I wasn't afraid. This isn't a r/iamverybadass vibe I'm going for; I really just wasn't afraid. In fact I was surprised at how calm I remained. It might be because I had practiced this route to death, or that the route just wasn't very hard, or that I had climbed four or five stories up on the other walls and I just got used to being high up. But I just climbed back down and didn't say anything to anybody. I don't think anybody else even noticed.
I thought of this recently while at work, or really my brain just hit me with this like a bolt out of the blue. These days, I suffer a great deal from impostor syndrome, with a constant feeling I'm being left further and further behind my peers. There are people two or three years older than me, or younger than me, worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, all self-made – and I'm sitting here counting my pennies hoping I won't get robbed from again. I worry about the time I spend every day and whether whatever I spent time on was worth it, and whether I will regret it. I wonder what the world will be like in a few decades and wonder whether I am ready for it, and if I'm not, why I'm acting relatively nonchalant about it. When I get the chance to step back and look, it's pretty crazy – I have a decent job, a good manager, and I live in one of the only cities in North America to be covered with active anti-aircraft missile batteries. What exactly do I have to worry about?
After thinking about, I realized a common theme tied together many of my happiest memories: they came about in moments of crises. There was one thing that I was worried about in the moment – a singularly detestable boss, a plan that needed to be executed. If that crisis wasn't addressed, I would suffer greatly; I would stay alone at a company I hated, or an organization would fail. Nothing else mattered in that moment; if I solved the crisis, I would genuinely feel like I did something meaningful with that time.
I think this is why when there isn't a crisis, I want to create crises for myself. I like being on the high, because the highs are memorable and the lows, however destructive, are forgotten about. I oftentimes set myself up for failure, since the crisis – and the high – comes right before the failure. That's what makes it exciting!
Alas, it's a drug, and like all drugs, there's a price to pay. The high comes because I use up my reserve strength to keep myself together – when it runs out, I generally fall into pieces, because there's no strength left. Hey buddy, it's cool now, you can let go. Like a freakin’ siren call, except this one is coming from inside you, so you can't turn it off. The tragedy is it's true. I have to let go because crises exhaust as crises do, and with great highs come great lows. You can't have something so valuable and so sinful without paying for it.
I think if I understand this aspect of myself, I can treat it better. You can't fight an enemy you don't acknowledge exists, much less recognize the gravity of. Yes, crises exist, and some of them are so well tailored to our individual and collective apathies that we cannot muster the strength to fight it (the rat race, or global warming). But these are rare, and the solution is usually a marathon of sorts than a sprint. Other crises exist only in the mind, and when shared, or discovered, they can be purged of. Truths like “people aren't against you, they are for themselves”, or “you'll worry less about what people think of you when you realize how seldom they do” help keep things in perspective, a mildly effective mental balm.
In my mind, I find myself stuck to a wall, no autobelayer, and having to trust that if I let go, I won't sprain my ankle. Letting go of the wall is hard. Up until this point, sticking to it is the only thing you've ever known. But a better future lays elsewhere.
Right now I think I'm convinced letting go is the best option. Now if only I can pry my fingers away…