Coming up to the eve of my 31st birthday and I can’t help but look over the last decade of my life and wonder, how did I end up here

The Celtic tiger was my youth, we were promised a life of magic. Jobs were plentiful, wages were high and for my 20s I could do whatever I wanted. It was an employees market, I could easily leave my job and know I would find another. In this decade of prosperity I partied and travelled and bought anything I wanted.

I had been brought up in a household that eschewed the traditional materialistic needs, with parents that taught us to follow our dreams. I am one of three siblings who are independent, adventurous and excitable. We left school and went into university to do what are now affectionately called *Celtic Tiger Degrees*. Art, music and theatre were our choices, we followed our hearts and our dreams.

In a country where education was almost free and part time jobs abounded we were joined by thousands of others who would later join me and my sister in getting retrained for something slightly more workplace oriented. I left a job where my employer had offered to double my salary and returned to study in UCC.

In the four years I was in university the recession took hold, what was at first a mild annoyance and topic of conversation soon became a looming presence that poked at us through our university shield at each new budget.

But everything was going to be ok, my life was filled with abundance and gratitude, I chose how I spent my days and was surrounded by all my friends. And then I started climbing.

Climbing, within a month or two became the centre around which I organised my life. It was the last semester of my final year and I started to get distracted. I chose to go away to the Gap of Dunloe climbing instead of staying at home studying, I handed in my dissertation early to climb in Wales.

In the end I cancelled my masters degree and decided to work in climbing. Although the recession had hit, my core belief in following my dreams stayed strong. And for a while that was all I needed, but as the protection of university life disappeared along with all of my friends as they jetted off to study and work, I became lost. Bills became more expensive, food prices and electricity prices rose, I got injured and couldn’t climb.

This year, after climbing for about 2 years, plauged by injury and frustration I reached the heady realm of the *statistically average climber*. The joy I feel while climbing well reaches into all areas of my life, the sadness when I don’t does the same.

In the last decade I learned so much about life, but in the last year I have learned to worry. This constant worry of paying bills, of wondering for the first time in my life, where the future is going. And this worry has permeated every part of my life.

I am coming into my 31st year, the new year is coming and I have a choice to make. I can give up on my dreams and try and make money, or I can follow my dreams and learn not to worry.

I don’t know yet how to process this. Both psyche and hope, dismay and desire, feeling part of and separate from.

I have just returned from the female climbing symposium in Liverpool (pictures to come).

I imagine for male climbers it is quite normal to walk into a wall with lots of male climbers climbing at lots of different levels…but I was blown away. Girls, girly girls with make up and nail varnish and long hair, crushing. Climbing hard and psyched. I have never seen so much down in one place, I am pretty sure that the Climbing Hangar had the highest percentage of down per person in the world! Every girl and lady looked like a climber, the place was like an add for E9 and moon pants, hardcore girls with chalk bags and shoes hanging from hips and hands and from the back of bags.

On friday we had visited the wall for a bouldering session, Roofs and slabs and overhangs, crimps and slopers and sidepulls. Routes that I didn’t even understand and routes that were easy and technical. It is hard to be there and know that there is nothing like it to come home to.

It is hard to process, the talks were interesting, the coaching was fun but the information that I am processing is the climbing ladies. So many of them.

Role Models and Legends gave talks along side the practical and exciting. Lucy Creamer and Fran Brown both casually dismissed great trials and difficulties with compassion for themselves and understanding of the bigger picture. A great sense of optimism, drive and hope permeated the room.

From my little area of the world, the little corner at the end of Ireland there is something beginning…I hope. The girls in England are used to the scene, the psyche, the normality of women climbing, they are ready to push harder. In cork it is rare, indoors there are a handful of female climbers, when I am out at crags the ratio seems to be 20:1.

I am, by nature a type of pessimist. I believe everything is possible but in the midst of reality I lose hope. As I sat there, listening, I was wrapped in thought. A  noisy paradox, who thinks out loud, who looks to the women around her for some answer. Loving the wall, the size and scope of it, the openess and relaxed atmosphere, the normality of climbing hard…trying to find a way to return to cork and train, alone on a monday morning watching the sun rise and lighting up the 45degree board in the co-op.

We divided into two groups, the relaxed group and the pushing it group…it felt strange to be in the relaxed group, fun almost…but there was always a niggle inside me…why wasn’t I pushing it.

We set up a top rope to warm up, by the second route I can feel my fingers twinge, the tendons not quite 100% yet. It only hurts on right handed side pulls, it seems like every route has them, so I climb one route, I try a few more, I go back to the first route and climb it in runners.

The climbing is easy, my brain glitches every time I move though, even on top rope it is like it wants to remind me what went wrong, the hitting the ground, the lying there looking up trying to move my toes. My brain wants me to stop climbing, but something deeper wants me to push it.

It has been months since I have been on mountains and it shows.  A stream crossing has beaten me, I am happy and disappointed.

We leave early, it is cold and we have had fun. Back in the car the other group talk about pushing it, myself and James hold hands, we know what each other is thinking.

No more comfortable, no more waiting. Next time, push it…

Raisin Hell

November 24, 2011

Tomorrow I get to go back to the wall, only for an hour, only top-roping……………

ONLY

But that *ONLY* got me so happy that I sang walking down the street when I left my physio

And that *ONLY* got me giggling to myself as I went for a walk in the dark, in the rain in my mountain hardware monkey man jacket…my first walk other than to the shop to buy food, in about two months.

Tonight I have showered and cut my nails short. I washed myself almost like it was prayer, a prayer that everything would be ok. I ignored the little niggle in my neck, hoping it is just nervous pain.

I have packed my bag and laid out my clothes. My tape for my toes and my scissors to cut it with, my harness and my shoes. My carabiner and belay plate, my chalk bag, my ‘climb-on’.

My clothes are laid out, god I hope they fit still, two months of sitting, eating, waiting for the all clear.

A string top for base, a thin strap top for over it, a baggy tshirt with a washed out moto on the front saying ‘raisin hell’ with a picture of a funky raisin under it. My old, second hand, bobbly, ripped tracksuit trousers.

And I am not even climbing till after lunch tomorrow.

I don’t imagine I will sleep much tonight