Monday, January 5, 2015

Friday, November 7, 2014

The end of an epoch (or at least this blog)

Well, not quite, but it seems like my various blogs (all two of them) seem to correspond with different epochs in my life.

I started this blog to document my thoughts and feelings as I moved to a new area to embark on a new path, and share my struggles as a young woman with a Spinal Cord Injury, addressing issues like sex, dating, depression, identity. When I arrived in Boston, I was on a set academic/professional path (medicine) and climbing was not in the picture at all. Discovering that I could still climb again has been a joyous and frustrating journey. I found that as I got back into climbing again, doubts about my chosen professional path surfaced and grew. When I decided to quit my old job at Google, volunteer in Guatemala and then embark on the pre-med post-bac program in Cambridge, I made this decision based on the belief that I would not be very ambulatory/mobile again, not be able to do much in the way of physical activity, and therefore, what I did professionally had to be all-consuming and my life's work. Naturally, medicine fit this bill quite well. I had wanted something good to come out of what was otherwise a really shitty thing, and I wanted to transform my experiences as a patient and use my analytical abilities to help others.

As I got more into climbing, I realized that climbing, being outside, traveling were all, still, really big parts of my life and that I could still derive immense fulfillment from this aspect of my life. Fulfilling this part of me that needed to be expressed did not seem compatible with the lifestyle of a medical student for the next 8-10 years. I also did not fancy the economic and romantic opportunity costs, which seemed especially high for someone in their 30's.

I struggled with worries that I would experience a tremendous feeling of failure if I abandoned this path. I also thought about the immense changes I had effected in my life to do all this: quit a good job, leave friends, beautiful weather and scenery and a place I loved, good Mexican food...for, the Northeast. But then, I reminded myself of the sunk-cost fallacy; these were not reasons for me to lose even more time toiling away at something I wasn't sure I was completely passionate and committed to.

In the spring, I made the decision not to sit the MCAT examination and apply to medical school. I needed to figure out next steps and also make a bit of money to support myself, after having eaten through my savings the last few years as I was a student. I put the job of finding my next job/pursuit on hold, while I trained for Paraclimbing Nationals and the World Paraclimbing Championships. After I returned from Spain, the job hunt began in earnest. Things were magnified even more by my injuries and being super-down about what I was doing with my life if I wasn't training for climbing.

I mulled over a number of options, including more schooling but in the PsyD/PhD in Psychology route; but, in the end, practical financial realities won over and I decided I needed to find paid employment. I have always had an interest in issues related to energy; thus, I accepted a position at a Cambridge energy economics consulting firm. Check them out:

I've just finished my second week at this company. Oh, I had to use a pic from Paraclimbing Nationals as my official company website headshot for the time-being, while I wait for a photographer to take "proper" photos:

I think it is hilarious that every one is dressed up (somewhat; casual is definitely the usual dress-code unless we are meeting clients offsite, giving testimony etc etc) whereas I'm looking in the other direction, covered in chalk.

I am going to cease posting to this blog and move over to another site. I've registered a domain name, but need to find the time to get that website together/going. I will certainly make an announcement when my new site is up and running.

The pursuit of happiness (or, rather, meaning)

Clearly, I have put a lot of thought into the concept of happiness. I have always struggled with a certain darkness and spent most of my late teens and 20's battling debilitating depression.

Ironically, one of the things that came out of my accident and subsequent experiences, is that, for the first time in my adult life, I no longer took anti-depressants. This is the result of a number of things. Perhaps it is partly age, experience (experience = making lots of mistakes) and maybe evolving out of all my growing pains/angst; part of it is that, for the first time in my life, I had to tolerate a really shitty situation. In the past, if I hadn't been happy with things (e.g. an academic path, a job, a relationship) I could just move to something else. In this situation, I had nowhere to run to and was forced to endure.

I read Frankl's short but powerful text, "Man's Search for Meaning" a year or two after my accident. Frankl articulated what I had always struggled with, and perhaps one of the root causes of my depression. This article does a good job of summarizing themes that have dominated my life. I know I am no hedonist, and that simply experiencing pleasure, does not make me happy.

One question I still struggle with is whether happiness is a choice or not. Sometimes biological factors seem to be very strong; yet, why is it that quite a lot of people can find happiness amidst pretty poor circumstances and others, manage to grab failure from the jaws of relatively good circumstances?

Anyway, a topic worthy of an entire blog of it's own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Footage from 2014 USA Paraclimbing Nationals

I came across this video posted on USA Paraclimbing's Facebook page:

I was surprised to be featured as much as I am in this video, as I often think that I am not a particularly "marketable" poster-child for paraclimbers/para-athletes/people with disabilities. It was instructive to see myself climb; I notice that I waste a bit of energy "tugging" on holds to check how secure I am, rather than just dead-pointing and latching on to them. A friend remarked that I climb indoors as if I am climbing outdoors, where I am often testing the rock/hold out. Oh well, it's not necessarily a bad habit, I think. It just means I have to be conscious of the differences climbing on secure plastic holds versus sketchy hollow flakes.

I have not put on a climbing shoe since Spain. I really wanted to give my fingers and foot a fighting chance at healing; so, naturally, I decided, well, if I can't crimp or use my feet, I'll just do lots of pull-up exercises on big jugs. Well, as usual, I over-did things a bit there and acquired a bad case of tennis elbow on my left side. Again, it is funny how these relatively minor injuries still get me incredibly down. The elbow tendinosis has been a real pain actually; lifting even a dinner plate on that side is painful. So, I've been resting, avoiding any lock-off/pulling - which eliminates bouldering (unless it is on slab) because I down-climb when I boulder. 

I was particularly down the last two weeks; and it often elicits the question of whether happiness is a choice or not? Obviously, this is a discussion worthy of a lengthy article/text. I still struggle with the fact that my sources of happiness and rejuvenation lie in relatively few baskets. My current surroundings fail to energize me, like the mountains and geography of the West do. And it often feels like a burden to think that I only feel the most alive when I am pushing it i.e. trying not to die, on a climb outside. It makes me sad to think that perhaps I expect more out of life than the average-Joe, and fall into a deep depression when I am not able to derive pleasure from the mundane. 

I know my perspectives are coloured by my chronic pain issues (neuropathy in the left leg, and all the pain related to the hardware in my spine and pelvis) and the associated insomnia. One sleepless, pain-ridden night this past week was the first time in awhile, where I honestly felt like, I am done. I wasn't sure if I could endure many more years of chronic pain, a life of continued physical decline, and all the stuff related to aging, layered on top of the existing issues.

I am turning 33 tomorrow. Turning 33 is kind of a non-event. With the exception that, for a fleeting year, I am a palindrome. But, like a solar cycle, this happens every 11 years (that actually is the duration of a solar cycle :)) I was hoping to celebrate my birthday in a more exciting way; perhaps climbing 33 pitches outside (had to put my Yosemite trip on hold due to all the injuries), doing 330 pullups, 330 pushups etc. within 33 hours of my birthday. But, the injuries mean I have to put all that stuff on hold till next year. 'Cause, really  it is just silliness. Now, I'm only slightly bummed that I am not doing something gnarly. But, doing the usual lifting/conditioning conditioning/rehab exercises; maybe putzing about and testing things out on super easy climbs indoors; having my Mum cook Asian dishes I miss when I am here (my Mum and I have not lived on the same continent, let alone been in the same time-zone - and on my birthday - for over 17 years); eating a delicious home-made miso-caramel-apple tarte-tartin; hanging out with my sister, niece, nephew (the canine variety) and brother-in-law; and then a lovely dinner at a lovely French restaurant in Boston called Deuxave on Sunday night, isn't so bad.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 7: Farewell Gijon, Hello Madrid

Left Gijon today. The shuttle to Oviedo was shared with many other countries’ climbing teams and it made me feel a little strange. I think these kinds of competitions will be things I dabble in; I am never going to get paid to do this stuff, nor promote myself in a way to get funding to spend 35+ hrs/week training, like some paraclimbers.

We arrived in Madrid and went straight to our hotel, which is an 8 minute walk to the Museo del Prado. Doing something completely different reminds me that there is much more to me and my interests than climbing. I finally got to see Goya’s Black Paintings and El Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, which pleased me greatly. The Museo del Prado’s collection of Spanish and Flemish art is outstanding. I didn’t have any expectations, really, but the density and curation of artwork surprised me. Unfortunately, no photography was permitted.

We ended up enjoying a cool Madrid evening with the setting sun over tapas in Plaza Santa Ana.

I could not sleep, due to various physical pains, but also because I was still processing this whole experience. I feel like I had let the pressures of (self) competition interfere with what climbing at this competition should have been about, which is a celebration of how far I have come since my accident. Instead, I let it be some kind of judgment of myself.

I do not like how I let these para-climbing competitions elicit ungracious thoughts in my head, like, comparing levels of disability, or number of competitors/finalists in a given category. I just have to accept that it won’t be a level playing field and it is what it is. I can choose to participate, or not.  I’m thinking I might enter competitions against able-bodied folks, get my ass kicked, but feel good about it.

A friend wrote to me, and I think his words hold some merit:

Wendy, I have been thinking about your happenings and, in a nut shell, my feeling is that you might realize the most satisfaction getting along as a "normal" person rather than defining your life as a champion disabled person. It seems silly that the state of competition is such that people end up arguing how disabled someone is. It also saddens me to see that you would risk permanent injury to your all-important fingers…Most people have problems that impact their day to day lives.  The nature of the problems of course varies..  The challenge seems to me is to adapt to living notwithstanding the problem, not to have the problem defining who you are as a person.”

It is true; I don’t want to be some kind of “champion disabled person”. I feel like the way I inspire people is to put my head down and quietly do my own thing. I have received so many touching messages from friends who have reminded me that my harsh judgment of myself, for finishing 4th in a really strong field at my first international competition reflects that I have the spirit and heart of a champion, regardless of whether I finished 1st or 4th. Every one uniformly agrees that I am being too hard on myself, duh. I thought my accident had made me much more easy-going and kinder to myself; but, as this experience reveals, this is not always the case. I sometimes wonder if my accident has made me more empathic, but perhaps less sympathetic to other people.

Sometimes I think my introspection is a tremendous curse. It makes me ponder and wonder about many things, that I should perhaps just let go of and just let be. On the other hand, I like to think there is tremendous value to all additional memory that goes towards all this processing.

I hope the injuries acquired are lesser than the strength and insight gained.

Thank you for following this brief episode in my life. I am looking forward to the next piece of news to share.

Gijon: Day 7 - Restaurant Auga

After the disappointment of not medalling on Saturday, I felt like I was not worthy of a Michelin star meal, but Scott insisted that we should have at least one really amazing meal on this trip and celebrate a rather lovely week in a rather lovely place. I agreed and we managed to get a lunchtime reservation at Restaurant Auga, located near the marina in Gijon.

Now, I really enjoy good food but I am in no way a food-blogger. But, I’ll go ahead and post pictures from our meal. The pictures are in order of service. I managed to eat every thing; you can fit a lot into a small package.  The food and service were excellent, and the atmosphere was refined but unpretentious. I think this restaurant is bordering/in the 2-star realm.

I certainly can’t eat like this all the time and will need to de-blerch when I get back to the States. I think I have consumed more queso in the last week than I have in the last year. I especially like the slightly dry and crumbly Asturian blue cheese with membrillo.

Gijon - Day 6: Finals Day

I apologize for the delay in posting. I am writing this a few days after the fact and am still processing this whole experience. As always, these things make me (re)evaluate the choices I make, why I choose to prioritize certain things over others, and why things make me feel the way I do.

There was a natural break between the top-4 women in my category and the remaining women; so I’m glad us top four made it to the Finals. I really did not know what to expect in terms of route-setting. I imagined it might be something long and steep, but with fairly large holds. We entered isolation around 3pm, and were not allowed to view the route till 6.45pm. My heart sank as I viewed the route they had given my category. It was probably the most boring route; it went straight up and was simply a how-small-a-hold can you hold on to kind of route. My broken fingers were silently weeping. It also meant I had to pogo up the route a lot, with holds stacked on top of another, as opposed to moving side to side with both legs, possibly. 

On the Finals route - I had trouble controlling the large flesh coloured lie-back hold

Finals Route - smallest holds and probably the most boring

In the end, one hold separated me from 3rd place, and 3 holds separated 4th place (me) and 1st place.  My first instinct/reaction is to apologize for not being able to get the job done and come back with a medal. I guess having the separation between us be so small is a good thing, because I know I am just as strong, if not stronger than these women, and can place/win if I am uninjured. But being so close also makes me think if I only I had it in me to gut out one more hold, or if I had read the large lie-backy hold that I ended up falling on better, I could have placed. In the end, it’s kind of stupid to replay these things in my head. I know this is a learning experience and a stepping-stone towards a medal, if I choose to compete in these indoor comps. I am a bit more familiar with the kinds of holds they use in Europe, which prior to this competition, were completely alien to me. They tend to be smaller, but more positive; deceptive, and harder to pick out what kind of hold it will be from the ground, but perhaps that will come with more experience.

A friend wrote to me, saying that I was still early in my development of my new climbing style; I guess there is some truth to that. I do know there is a ton of room for improvement, which motivates me.