So, my very first blog post. I never thought I would ever blog but here we are, it is surely not the only thing in my life that made a complete 180 this past year. I thought it would be nice to share my personal story as my first post.
Let’s start with some introductions, my name is Willem (or Will if you don’t have much time). A product of 1996, I grew up in a small village called Nederweert-Eind, the Netherlands, my mother moved closer to the big city when I was around 10. I don’t remember much of my childhood and think it is probably pretty irrelevant nonetheless. From a pretty early age though, adventure has been a part of my life. My dad took us hiking in Norway and the Ardennes every year or so from when I was about 8. I have always liked hiking, being surrounded by nature and exploring beautiful places.
When I was around 18 years old, I entered a really strange chapter in my life. I had just completed a study in international business, a study that I was pretty sure didn’t really fit well with me. I took a year off school to decide which bachelor to start on, nothing I looked at ever seemed interesting at all to me. So I decided to just do the same study at a higher level. This way I wouldn’t have to do much learning I thought, and school isn’t supposed to be so interesting right? It is just preperation for a job. I had never really been all that interested in anything, I thought: “I’ll just fake it till I make it”.
So I moved to a new city with a good friend of mine. Very early on it became clear that I still wasn’t all that interested in anything school taught me. I skipped a lot of classes and just enjoyed living by myself, not having to do anything. I was living without any plans for the future and indulged in whatever made time go by faster for me. I always played up my excitement for what I was doing to people around me to prevent them from worrying, to a point where it was hard for me to distinguish between what I actually wanted to do, and what I was doing to keep up the facade of happiness.
Looking back, it doesn’t take a genius to notice that this period of my life was terrible for my mental health. Every day I would lay in bed feeling terrible about having wasted another day. Wondering if I would ever find something I could truly enjoy. At the same time, I would never talk about my mental health to anyone. I was extremely ashamed of it and assumed that I was just a lazy fucker. Nothing interested me, all the things I did felt fake and forced. I was depressed, but didn’t talk to anybody about it. People close to me wouldn’t, and probably couldn’t, notice it. I was always cheerful and never open about my feelings. It was easier to lie. Of course I didn’t tell many people that I was constantly looking for excuses to go back to my isolation.
Isolation and mental health
I created some terrible habits during my 3 years in Breda, I isolated myself as much as I could and spend outragous amounts of time gaming, eating, watching movies and random youtube videos. I had already produced a pretty fat gut before I came to Breda, but my time there definitively kicked it up a notch or 2. Before I knew it, the scale said 115 kg. I didn’t care about how I looked, I had a girlfriend that was supportive to a fault for everything I did and that was all that mattered. I had convinced myself I was healthy enough and would get very defensive about this at points.
I lived my life like this for 3 years, neglecting my health. From time to time I tried to get active, explore a new hobby or basically find my “identity” but it never worked. I would get into something for a few days/weeks trying to force myself to find enjoyment in it, but it never worked. Nothing satisfied me, this gave me a strange attitude to life where I thought it was better to fake happiness rather than pursue it. I didn’t think about the future and felt like I had no purpose.
In 2018, in a moment of clarity I made the first baby steps to losing weight. It was the only year I ever made a (very silent) new years resolution. I will probably make another post about my journey with weightloss soon. Suffice for now to say I worked my way back to around 95kg in half a year. At the time I thought this was enough, at least there were 2 digits on the scale instead of 3.
In July that year I went on a hike with my brother and my dad to the Dolomites, the memory of this hike will always stay with me. I pushed myself as hard as I could to keep up with my dad, I was sweating like a pig and constantly kicking myself for not being able to keep up. At the same time, I was realizing how much I love the mountains. We did a few via ferrata’s in the dolomites, and I remember seeing those as the best part of the trip. A way to add some excitement to the mix. After bailing out days before the planned end, I vowed to myself to keep working on my fitness.
A couple months later and I was in the best shape I had ever been in. The weird thing was though, I didn’t feel more confident, or any less depressed. I felt like the same person, only with less mass. In May, we went for another hike in Scotland, the west highland way, a 150 km long trail from Glasgow to fort William. We walked for 6 days on this trail and wanted to close it off by scaling Ben Nevis. I wanted this badly, I felt I had to do this to prove myself.
I tried to push through it and make for the top but had to once again bail out halfway through. This was kind of a last straw for me, I realised on my way back down how much it bothered me that I usually didn’t finish things. The only thing I was proud of was my weightloss. Even though it didn’t instantly fix all my problems. These hikes had become symbolistic to my life. Why do I keep trying to force an identity on myself? I set myself up for failure by letting others be the biggest influence in my life decisions
A thought that started entering my head more and more was to pursue a career in health, to help people in their journey for a more healthy lifestyle. The problem was, I found losing weight to be extremely boring. A time of cutting calories and cardio training only made bearable by my enthusiastic boxing buddy. While I was pondering this, I had told nobody about my serious doubts about the study I was in. The idea of quitting a study felt very wrong to me, all that money, time, (I would say effort too but that ain’t true) wasted.
Making my way down that mountain, I passed a group of climbers. “Now there’s something I could enjoy the shit out of” I thought. We had gone to a small climbing gym on the trail where we did some bouldering and I loved it. This second encounter with climbing piqued my interest. Adding an outdoor element into the mix is a surefire way to get me on board. I couldn’t really start climbing yet though, as I was pretty broke. When I got back home I started consuming climber media like an animal. It only took about an hour after watching free solo for me to start spending money I didn’t have to go climbing.
So I signed up to a bouldering hall, from the moment I first stepped into the gym, I knew my life would change. It was perfect for me, I loved the movement of it, the physical challenge and great community. For the first time in my life it felt like I had found something to be passionate about. I came home after my first climbing session and cried tears of happiness. I found my antidote.
My gateway drug to fitness and adventure
The following months I would climb as much as my schedule and body permitted. After the first month, I had gotten to a point where I would climb pretty much every day. Taking a rest day was agony, it felt great to push my limits like this, and I did for a few months. I was extremely motivated by the thought of testing my climbing skills on real rock, every night I dreamt about touring around in a campervan, just climbing.
During this, I noticed a clear change in mindset for me. Climbing had given me a passion, something I always kind of disregarded as a hoax, certainly I’d never felt close to it. I felt like a completely different person, Finding this passion gave me a goal in life, it gave me a reason to work on myself physically and mentally. This was around the time I first started reaching out for help with my mental health. Years of neglecting this part of my health made me very insecure in my abilities, feelings of self doubt and blame were a constant. First I just talked more openly to friends, the further I looked into it the more I realised I needed some professional help. I started seeing a therapist, I want to quickly take this time to say that I 100% recommend this. There still is sort of a stigma around mental health, especially for men I think, which is complete bullshit. While I believe climbing has given me the motivation and certain realisations to deal with my mental issues, this alone is not enough.
I found out that it wasn’t only about becoming a better climber for me, my personal progress in the sport was just a nice added bonus. Where usually I would only care about personal gain, climbing spoke to me in a much broader sense. I love taking people climbing for their first time, hyping up the sport and living the lifestyle, this went way further. I just wanted to show this amazing sport to as many people as I could. This is when I started seriously considering pursuing a carreer within climbing. I didn’t (and still don’t) know exactly what, but I’m sure I will find something. As long as I get to be involved with the community, I am happy. Money is irrelevant when you do what you love.
Thank you so much for reading this, please let me know wether or not you find this type of content interesting. I would love to tell more stories about how climbing impacted people’s lives in the future.
Do you have a story you would like to share? Or any feedback for me? Do you simply want to chat or climb? Please feel free to contact me.
Now go send some shit