PTSD and crowds: Saturday at the climbing gym

With PTSD, handling crowds is a big problem – too many avenues of approach, too many people to monitor, too many variables and potential threats, everything’s moving too fast, where’s the door, there’s too much noise, the anxiety spikes…  Yes, that would all describe my earlier attempt at climbing today.  Saturday at the climbing gym is extremely busy and there are lots of little kids, immature big “kids”, and activity buzzing all around.  There’s too much of everything!  Except me climbing, that is.  McKenzie was there and encouraged me to at least put my climbing shoes on by untying, one at a time, my street shoes.  I put my Skwamas on, put my Misty Mountain harness on, tightened it up, and sat down to watch a group of seven or eight 7-10 year-old girls take turns on the two auto-belays on the main floor.  I was overwhelmed with anxiety.  I could’ve asked for a turn, but they were taking turns and it was working well for them, so I just watched from the bench I was sitting on.  I sat there and watched for close to an hour.  I took my climbing shoes off and put my street shoes on so that I could go into the bathroom, but still had my harness on.  McKenzie came over and said, “I’m proud of you.  See?  You put your [climbing] shoes on, you’ve got your harness on…  Proud of you!  Do you need a hug for a minute?”  She gave me a nice, long, firm hug.  I told her PTSD was really hard.  She said, “I know.  But I’m proud of you.  You put your shoes and your harness on.”  I appreciated that so much.

I took off my harness after going to the restroom and sat down on one of the “chairs” – Black Diamond crash pads on wooden frames – to wait for the anxiety to abate.  Scott’s wife came and sat down next to me.  “Are you…resting?”  We both laughed.  I told her that I have PTSD and my doctor had said that if I got into a crowd and started to feel the anxiety that I needed to stay there in that environment until the anxiety began to subside to help me manage it better.  It turns out that Scott’s dad is a WWII Vet and has nightmares and PTSD even at the age of 94!  I was talking to her about how PTSD had affected my life and she said, “Well, I’ve always thought you are really normal, so…”  I hugged her and told her that was the best compliment I could ever hear.  Scott came up and taught me the special handshake.  I’m going to have to work on it a little bit, but I’ll get it.  Scott and his wife are so cool!

I decided to go have lunch at Staggering Ox.  A group of military fellows who had been climbing while I was sitting in my harness and shoes watching were there eating, too.  There are a lot of Middle East War Vets out today, I began to notice as I went on to the post office and home.  I wonder what’s going on?

I do plan on climbing later with AJ, if he wants to go and climb.  If he doesn’t call, then I might go back to the gym myself and get some climbing of some sort in.  I had told Scott’s wife that climbing was truly a miracle for my PTSD management and she told me that Scott and Jim and Heath have all told her that I just love to climb.  I think it’s great that they notice, because that is the truth of the matter for sure!!!

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