You would think that I'd be thrilled to hear the doctor say that I could start climbing again. Don't get me wrong, I cracked a smile bigger than socially acceptable in a doctor's office. But as soon as I walked out, I felt...bummed.
Now that I had finally earned the green light to ease into some climbing, the reality set in: getting back to climbing is going to be a process.
I'm the type of person who wants it all, immediately.
During the months that I've been out with a herniated disc in my lower back, I've tried to keep my eye on the prize. To keep myself motivated while I worked on physical therapy exercises, dealt with MRIs, and had painful injections in my back, I thought about rock climbing. Getting out their with friends and leading routes I'd never done before, wandering off into the woods with just a crash pad to explore new boulders, clipping into the anchors at the top of a cliff. That is what I fantasized about.
But that isn't what I'm getting with my doctor's clearance to get back to climbing. I'm getting sunny afternoons spent in the gym climbing the same boring V0's over and over again. I'll be spending more time stretching and doing strength exercises than actually on the wall. I'm going to be turning down invites to hit up Donner Summit because I can't do that, yet.
Recovering from an injury like this one feels harder to me than rehabbing a torn ACL or a broken ankle. I'm coming back from years of poor compensation patterns to make up for my imperfect spine--which ultimately led to one herniated disc. It feels less like a fall gone wrong and more like my body rebelling against me. Somehow it feels like this injury was my fault. And somehow it feels permanent.
Now let's stop being melodramatic. The disc herniation can heal (kind of), and my muscles can relearn proper movement. But the fear of re-injuring myself is huge. At times it can scare me so much that I wonder if I'd be better off leaving rock climbing in the past.
But that's not an option I'm willing to take. It's not like I was ever an amazing athlete or competing in the sport, nothing like that. I just love it. It has become a part of me. It doesn't really matter to me that I wasn't yet sending V6's or leading 5.12's. What mattered to me was shooting the shit with my friends at the crag, feeling the accomplishment of climbing newer and harder routes, and just flat out loving the rock and where I am. That's what I miss.
I'm going to get that back. It may take a few months, it may take a year. But I'm going to crush 5.9's like nobody's business until I'm there. My strength will come back. My finger calluses will re-emerge. My creativity for figuring out climbing sequences will feel natural again. That will all come with time, patience, effort and training. It probably won't be the most fun I've ever had climbing, but when I'm finally topping out on those anchors and turning around the check out the view, it will all be worth it.
P.S. - Thanks, Kieth for the rad photo from Donner last season!