My friendship with Sierra began 5 years ago in Salt Lake City while wandering amongst the booths of Outdoor Retailer. I was a young, recently graduated and recently dumped 22-year old that had no idea what I was doing with my upended life when a climbing friend talked me into getting out of town and out of my head by going with him to Outdoor Retailer. Since 'flight' is my go-to response when troubles arise in my life, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity and soon found myself on a 10-hour drive coasting along Highway 15 under the hot Utah sun. It was during the first day of the show when my friend re-introduced me to Sierra (who reminded me when reading this that we actually first met years ago at the gym) and the three of us spent the rest of Outdoor Retailer together.
Fast forward five years since the Salt Palace and I’m still fortunate to have Sierra as one of my closest friends. She’s been there for me through everything good and bad, minor and major. Even though we’re 300 miles apart (or more if you count when she’s traveling for competitions) she’s always been there with a funny meme that she thinks I’ll laugh at too, or words of support when I’m having a hard time, which brings me to this current blog post…
Without getting too deep into the hows and whys of things, I’ve recently found myself once again upended and unsure of what’s in store for me. Like many people, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety off and on for most of my life. However, up until recently, I’ve been able to manage it by surrounding myself with a large and loving community that help keep me distracted when things became overwhelming. When that was no longer enough to drown the depression, I chose to run away to a dream opportunity in Tahoe rather than face the problem head-on. I was convinced I could leave those bad feelings behind me in San Diego and become the strong, confident, badass mountain woman I've always wanted to be.
But I was so very wrong. It wasn’t very long without my support system that I began to crumble. I really did try with everything I had to make Tahoe work, but after only a week I couldn’t stop myself from suddenly bursting out crying in public places like the Post Office. After about a month I stopped trying to force myself to go out and meet people. By month two I was no longer eating, only going to work and then straight to bed. The activities I once loved most, like snowboarding or photography, were no longer enjoyable and I had no interest in pursuing them. I was at rock bottom with no idea how to climb back out, but what was worse was that I no longer cared enough to try anymore. Luckily, my incredible family and friends were there to help me when I couldn’t help myself.
I think Yosemite was when I was most afraid I would never find my way back to my old happy self. When I first returned to San Diego my amazing friends Joseph and Monica invited me to join them for a trip to Yosemite and I felt the smallest flutter of excitement for the first time in a while. I thought that was a positive sign I should fall back into my old self in Yosemite, surrounded by my friends and the granite walls of the Valley. During our four days there we climbed, we hiked, we celebrated Joe’s birthday and ate the most amazing food you could imagine (Joseph is the best cook I know and an absolute wizard with a cast-iron pan and a campfire.), but even surrounded by all that love I somehow still felt empty. On our last evening there we witnessed the sunset bask the entire valley in such a breathtaking alpine glow that it brought all of us to a complete standstill mid-hike. My friends were moved to silence by the magnitude of that moment as we stood completely alone on the Glacier Point Trail with El Cap glowing gold on one side of us and Half Dome reflecting pink on the other. I was moved to silence too, not from the view, but rather the lack of effect it had on me. I stared and stared, just willing myself to feel something, anything, but all I felt was that ceaseless emptiness. I wondered just how broken I was that a magical place such as Yosemite - which has always brought me to my knees in wonder before - could in that shining moment still not pull me out of the darkness.
All throughout that trip I could see just how hard Monica, Joe, Debs, Kelly, and Annalise were trying to help me feel better and I can’t say enough how grateful I am for them and their friendship. Maybe it was the song “Old Pine” that Debs and Joe kept playing on repeat, but by the end of our drive home, I’d realized I was wrong to think that I could just go back to the “old happy me” I was before. There is no moving backward to who I was, only forwards into who I could be. I didn’t really know what that meant or how long it would take but as the chorus of “we grow” faded out I knew I didn’t have to face that scary unknown alone. As Monica’s packed car rolled on through the night I drifted off to sleep grateful for the friends, the weekend, and the chance to figure out how to keep moving forward.
Although Yosemite didn’t fix me overnight like I naively hoped for, it was the catalyst I needed to start moving again. When I got home I made a promise to myself to get out and adventure at least once a month for the rest of the year in hopes that time outdoors with friends could help heal and shape me. In February I threw myself and my climbing bag into my car and made my way east to visit Sierra for some climbing and relaxing in Arizona. I’d never spent time in Arizona outside of family trips to the river in Parker, so Sierra spent the weekend showing me around her hometown and the surrounding areas. Our outdoor climbing destination was Sedona and as the first of the towering red buttes came into view I gasped. I pressed my face to the window as we wound our way through quirky desert town before parking under one of those towering red faces. Sierra, Kyle, and Coleman were my tour guide around The Anvil Boulders that day as we scrambled from problem to problem. I took out my camera from time to time, but for the most part, I was content to simply feel the sandstone under my fingers and the sunshine on my back.
It wasn’t until the quiet moments of reflection on the drive back that I realized… I’d felt it again. I still wasn’t feeling it full force, or even halfway, but I was starting to feel the wonder and awe of that the outdoors bring. Even though it didn’t mean that I was all good again, it was a sign that I’m moving in the right direction of who I can be. So thank you, Sierra, Joseph, and Monica, for not only your friendship, but for helping me towards the right direction and keeping me company along the way. I’m actually feeling excited and happy for Red Rock this weekend.
I don’t have any recent photos to accompany this next part, but this blog wouldn’t be complete without taking the time give thanks to a few more people. I can’t mention everyone by name, but here are just a few additional words of gratitude that are long overdue…
Thank you, Alyssa and Carly, for understanding me completely and loving me unconditionally for the past 15 years...even if lately that has meant letting me show up unannounced and crying on your couch as you feed me cheddar ruffles and jelly beans. You two know me better than anyone and I look forward to growing old with you farts.
Thank you, Jill, for spontaneous late night adventures, answering your phone for me at all hours day or night, being unapologetically honest, and reminding me to stop trying to be what I’m not and instead work towards embracing who I am.
Thank you, Kelsey, for 17 years of friendship and for jumping into freezing pools, wearing prom dresses in the middle of grocery stores, and participating in literally every other photo shoot I've ever done. You've been my model and muse since day one.
I also want to give thanks to Chris, Zach, Sarah, and the rest of the Heavenly/Kirkwood team. South Lake Tahoe did not turn out how I had wanted or planned. I was struggling more than I was willing to admit, but your kindness, friendliness, and comedic relief made my time there worth fighting for as long as I was able to. I still struggle with leaving you all and still wonder everyday what could have been had I stayed, but I know that coming home to get help was the right decision even if it wasn’t the easiest one. You better believe I’ll be taking you up on those camping offers this summer!
And of most of all, thank you to my family. Thank you to my dad who dropped everything and drove me 9 hours through the middle of the night when I didn’t have the strength to do it myself. Thank you to my mom who never stops searching for ways to provide me with the tools and information I need to improve and face my depression head on. Thank you to both of my sisters and my brother in law who listen without judgment and offer sage advice, podcasts, and stories so I know I’m not alone.
Thank you Megan, Jack, Connell, Rosie, Katie, Pink Alex, Paisley, Matt, Matteo, and so so many more of you that I could probably go on forever. Thank you to everyone who has helped me by lending an ear, offering a hug, or just greeting we with a warm “Welcome back!” Even if I have never met you, thank you for taking the time to listen now. I wouldn’t be here or who I am without all of your love and support