Having lived most of my life in flat, featureless areas, clambering up trees and buildings was the closest I’d ever managed to come to climbing, but a few years ago a climbing wall opened in my local area, and me and some friends decided to go along and see what it was all about. To say it didn’t come naturally to me is an understatement - I was absolutely rubbish at it! I hadn’t done much strength training before and I was scared of heights, but for some reason, even though I barely managed to get two metres off the ground and my forearms were burning so much afterwards that I couldn’t hold a pen, I loved it instantly. I began going regularly, and slowly began to improve. Then, when I moved to Sheffield a couple of years later, I discovered more and more opportunities to climb: Sheffield and the surrounding Peak District is one of the best areas for climbing in the country, and it seemed like every other person I met was a climber. 

Climbing combines strength training with problem solving - it’s not just about brutishly pulling your way to the top of something, it’s about developing awareness of how your body can move, and learning to use your strength economically and wisely - it’s a remarkably absorbing hobby and many climbers view climbing as an integral part of their identity. There’s a few different styles of climbing, the main ones being sport, trad and bouldering. Sport and trad climbing both involve ropes and varying amounts of gear for safety, but bouldering doesn’t involve climbing as high, so it’s safe to do using just a crash mat or two to protect you if you do fall.  


I carried on climbing, but I was struggling with my mental health and as my mental state declined my activity levels became lower and lower. Then, to top it all off, I got an injury that meant I had to stop all activity for 2 months. During that period my mental state declined to the worst it had ever been: all elements of life felt like an insurmountable struggle and things began to feel quite hopeless. I ended up having to leave work and admit to myself that recovery wouldn’t be easy or fast, but it would have to be a priority if things were to improve. I had been recommended mindfulness to help with my anxiety, but I found my thoughts were too loud for me to be able to effectively meditate and soon gave up - after all, focusing on the present moment isn’t very appealing if the present moment feels too unpleasant to cope with.  

I’d had quite a busy and stressful job before all this, and I wasn’t used to having so much time alone with my thoughts, so in the first couple of weeks off work I realised I’d need to find things to do. It was difficult, as I didn’t want to be around other people, and because nothing was bringing me joy it was difficult to motivate myself to do anything. But my injury had healed, so I decided I might as well try returning to climbing, as I knew it was something I had enjoyed in the past. Because of my struggles around other people I chose to go bouldering. I can’t say if I enjoyed it or not, but I felt good for having done it. So I decided to go again. And again. And again. And slowly, I noticed something changing within me. Life was still really difficult, but I noticed that when I was climbing, my anxieties melted away until all that was left was me, my body and the problem I was working on. When you climb you need complete awareness of what you’re doing and there’s no room for worrying about other things: somehow, in my attempts to escape the chaos of my mind I had discovered mindfulness, and I had found a place where my mind could be at peace. 

Slowly but surely things began to improve in other parts of my life, I got the support I needed, and things started to get better.
The climbing community is incredibly friendly and welcoming, and I’ve made a lot of friends through it who have helped me along the way. These days, whenever I feel that things are getting on top of me, or I just need some time to switch off and relax, I know that all I need to make the world seem like a better place is my climbing shoes and a bag of chalk.


If you’re interested in getting involved with climbing there are four major climbing centres within Sheffield: Awesome WallsThe FoundryThe Climbing Depot and The Climbing Works, all of which offer shoe hire and induction sessions for beginners. In addition to this, C/A/M: Climb Alongside Mental Health is a charity that aims to make the benefits of climbing accessible to people who struggle with their mental health by working with climbing centres to provide free climbing induction sessions; for information on how to sign up for this, take a look at their website: https://www.climbalongsidementalhealth.org/climbing-initiative