I have gained some confidence recently and made the effort to get out for an evening to my local climbing wall last week. It was a real achievement for me as it has been a couple of years since I last went out with friends to do something that i used to take for granted.
I enjoy climbing. The physical nature is great and it has social aspects; you cannot really do it safely on your own and trips to the pub often follow a climbing session, whether indoors or outdoors. The whole experience is fun and challenging.
I have avoided going climbing and contacting the friends I climb with because of a different challenge. Not because of any concern over any risks form climbing or the fear of getting hurt, but the social side.
Anxiety and a panic attack in a small room of 50 people put me off.
My concern over what I would talk about with friends and acquaintances that did not know about depression and what I had been up to was a major worry.
It has been easier not to go at all and i had almost forgot the reason I used to do it so much was it was fun.
Last week I felt positive and decided to go. I need to reconnect with people. Depression and anxiety have been so isolating for me and I have to have some conversation or all I will be left with is my own irrational and negative thinking.
I checked that a couple of people I know would be there and then just turned up. We said a brief hello then I paired up with another old acquaintance. I didn't have to talk much as we took turns alternating climbing and holding the rope for each other. I really enjoyed it and was one of the last to leave.
The pub was the greater challenge. Around a table with about 8 people to chat to was scary and has been unfamiliar to me recently.
In my head I was thinking about isolation, anxiety and all the stuff that keeps me from engaging with others. The need to retire to bed just to get rid of unwelcome thoughts. Endless negativity and catastrophising. Either being emotionally numb or overwhelmed.
What I actually talked about was the weather. Dogs and puppies. How different children are doing at school. Homework. What people climbed last summer.
How i got out climbing with my son but didn't do anything else.
Nothing about my emotional state. Nothing revealing about my condition. Nothing about all the demons that had been fighting me in my head.
I enjoyed a pint and went home. With an invite to do it again this week. "Nice to see you again, lets do it again soon."
My experience of overcoming my challenge and fear of engagement, together with the memory of such simple conversations, reminded me of a communication model I use in training sometimes.
Eric Berne, who came up with Transactional Analysis, said we choose to communicate with people at different levels.
Everyone starts with ritual and cliche. A handshake and "How are you?" No one really expects honesty, just "I'm fine. And you?"
As we get to know people we exchange more facts about work, family, holiday destinations and sport.
Only when we spend more time with people, get to know them and trust a bit more do we exchange opinions and beliefs and what is going on for us emotionally.
We all know to avoid talking about sex, politics, religion and illnesses with strangers. Too intense to start off any conversation.
Except I had forgotten that.
I spend so much time in my own head exploring dilemmas and losing perspective, dealing with overwhelming emotions, struggling with my demons, that I forget I don't have to talk about them with relative strangers or even old friends.
The next time i head out looking for conversation I will be ready to discuss the trivia of live that i have missed, the day to day stuff that most take for granted and exchange at the school gate, over a beer or at the shops.
And I will remember that I will not be exposed and frightened. I will seek engagement and risk conversation
And my demons will be smaller and quieter and drowned out by the voices of other people in my life.
And after sharing other conversations on this site I thought I could risk sharing my little epiphany here too.
I will head off to go climbing tomorrow feeling excited rather than scared and look forward to a chat in the pub.