Today we welcome my good friend Dave Barringer to the blog. He unpacks the problem of going solo when it comes to our mental and emotional health, and gives us six powerful coping mechanisms that propel us toward wellbeing. Enjoy ~ John
“Dave, have you seen the documentary, ‘Free Solo’?”
I’ll be honest, I get this question A LOT when people find out I rock climb. It is perhaps the most popular rock climbing documentary in the world (personally, I prefer “The Dawn Wall”). “Free Solo” is an Oscar-winning film that has helped escalate the popularity of climbing as well as take it mainstream. Take a watch, allow it to stress you out, then get inspired and visit your local climbing gym.
Usually the next question I get is “Is that what you do? Do you free solo (solo climb)?”
I’ll give you the short answer: No.
Amongst the diverse types of rock climbing, it’s the one that most won’t touch because of how dangerous it is. “Free soloing” is rock climbing above 30’ without gear. No ropes. No harnesses. No partner. Zero margin for error. You succeed or you fall to catastrophic consequences. It is so dangerous that less than 1% of active climbers do it.
So yeah . . . I don’t do it.
Why talk about this during Mental Health Awareness month? It’s because it is a picture of how so many people attack their mental health. They “free solo” it. They navigate the challenge of it alone and/or while being ill-equipped. Though I celebrate the greater awareness of mental health in our culture, there is still something ingrained in us that says we have to go it alone. So we isolate ourselves, hanging onto our collective selves by our emotional fingertips, hoping we can make it.
My friends, there’s a better way.
I credit my wife Anne for getting me into this sport. Simply said: she gave me a sanctuary. Historically, the word “sanctuary” comes from the Latin word sanctuarium meaning “a sacred place” or “place of refuge and protection.” And that’s exactly what it’s been. Climbing is not only a place of recreation but restoration. It’s sacred to me as it’s offered an outlet and fun; hope and relief.
Anne knows that I battle with inner darkness. I find myself grateful and very fortunate to have a spouse that not only recognizes the struggle but shows the willingness to be involved in my mental and emotional health. Anne knew I needed an outlet. She hooked me up with a boxing coach (as that was a dream of mine), but the atmosphere was toxic for me mentally. So she started researching and asked around for ideas. So for Christmas that year she gave me a 10-visit punch card to the local rock climbing gym. I really didn’t realize how much it would transform my life on every level, specifically, mentally and emotionally.
Too often, I find that people don’t have healthy coping skills. As a Christ-follower, it seems that we, the Church, cope by attacking everything spiritually. Though important, we continue to miss the mark, failing to remember that we humans are body, soul, spirit (Mark 12:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Therefore, we need a multidisciplinary approach to our well-being that addresses every part of us: spiritual, physical, and yes, mental/emotional.
So here in my sanctuary, I want to give you some coping mechanisms to help you get healthier mentally.
1. Make space; find a sanctuary, a sacred place of refuge
You have to be intentional about creating a place of sanctuary for your mental health. For some, it’s gardening. For others, it’s biking or running. My wife’s sanctuary is a fiction novel in a silent home. You need an activity that is a break away that is disconnected from the monotony of life in order for our soul to catch its breath.
2. Properly equip yourself
In climbing, the proper equipment creates a more enjoyable experience. Most people struggle through their mental health because they haven’t gotten the tools necessary to help them through. Read. Listen to podcasts. Do the research. If you want to be equipped properly, you need to be intentional about it.
3. Don’t climb alone
Why? I don’t climb alone. It’s dangerous and negligent. Belay partners will save your life. Get a therapist. Find some friendships. Develop connections. Remember, the Enemy works in isolation; God works in community. You need others. Others need you.
4. It’s okay to rest
I can spend 2 hours at a gym or out at the crag and only climb a fraction of that time. Why? First, my body can’t handle the non-stop activity. Second, it gives me a chance to pause, watch others, and learn from them. The best climbers know how to rest their fingers and their tendons. They know their limits. If you’ll recognize and embrace your limits, you’ll see every limitation as a gift God has given to you to take a breath and learn from Him.
5. Falling doesn’t have to be fatal
If you’re going to climb, you have to come to grips with the fact that you will inevitably fall. But that’s okay. With the right equipment, with a belay partner, and the willingness to continue to try, each fall doesn’t have to be fatal. In fact, each fall you have can be a learning point to know how to re-navigate what you have been working so diligently on. I love this quote from my favorite climber, Tommy Caldwell.
“My natural abilities weren’t necessarily brute power and strength. They were more about the ability to endure and not give up.”
6. Talk about it
When we walk away from the gym or crag, it’s never a silent trip. We talk about what was difficult, what was challenging, and what we can do better the next time we climb. Part of mental health is processing what you just went through (or are still going through). And I know no better place to process my journey than inviting God into that space in my life. The beauty of God is not just the realization of His majesty but that He brings that presence into our pain. Our pain doesn’t push God away. He is drawn to it. All we have to do is invite Him into it and He’ll answer. The presence of God is there not just to forgive us of our sin but to process our pain. Talk to Him. He’ll listen. He’ll answer.
Don’t give up on your mental health. You don’t need to free solo it. The summit is worth the work; the victory is worth the fight.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
Cheering for you,