Maybe its time for a “real” holiday?

I’ve not written a blog in quite some time… Why?

Emmmmm… because I’ll admit; it’s hard balancing training, work and travel; then writing about it all at the end of the day (which is again… more work).

Writing has always been something that has come fairly natural to me. I’m not really sure if I’m conventionally “good” at it, but I can put words together in a form that pleases my Mum, which is the most important thing.

Having a fabulous time in Yosemite

When I first started writing, I wrote exactly how I thought. I can remember a friend telling me that he enjoyed my writing because it read so much like the way I spoke. I didn’t know if this was good from a technical writers point of view, but I guess what it told me was that I speak from the heart… or something like that?

So straight to the point, I’ve been suffering a lot lately. I’ve wondered if it has been noticeable to those outside my inner circle of friends and family? I’m generally pretty open and honest about things, but interestingly having looked at what I’ve been posting on social media, from an outside perspective, it might seem like I’m super fit, healthy and having a fabulous time. I guess it’s just the nature of social media – you don’t tend to post the negative things going on in your life.

Last year I had a long stint of fatigue throughout the Summer, which lead to the cancellation of a couple of small trips as well as an inability to go about my daily life. There were some days I struggled to stay awake and others were walking felt like a massive effort. I was genuinely worried about my overall health, but more so about my Yosemite trip in the Autumn, because climbing comes first of course!

Would I be in the right state of mind and body to perform on the Big Walls?

Big Walling can be stressful; especially when your climbing with me

Thankfully, I managed to overcome the fatigue, putting it down to over-working myself. A more restful summer meant that when I arrived in the States, I ended up having a great trip.

Upon my return from the U.S., I was immediately overcome with yet more illness. From mid November through to mid January I suffered endlessly without any sign of improvement. Christmas was spent in bed dying of fever; New Year I was in bed by 10pm. I couldn’t climb; I couldn’t train; I could barely do anything.

I had a trip to Patagonia lined up and I didn’t feel even remotely ready for it. It wasn’t until the second week of January that I started to improve, and by the 11th January (leaving date) I felt just about good enough to hop on a plane to Chile.

Despite a long and pretty hectic journey, I improved by the day and then proceeded to have one of the greatest trips of my life!

Patagonia didn’t dissapoint

Since returning from Patagonia my health took yet another dive for the worse and only now 4 weeks on am I starting to feel myself again.

I will admit that writing this all down now is allowing me to see things from a slightly different perspective. When you live in the moment, it’s not as apparent how hard you push your body and mind.

Of course when I’m ill, I can’t even imagine what it would feel like to be energised and ready to do battle with a 900m Big Wall! I know that I’ve done it before so things must have felt different then, but I can’t really envisage that feeling anymore because in that moment I barely feel capable to walk a flight of stairs.

So why is this happening? Over the last year I’ve had many long discussions with friends and family which has lead me to the conclusion that perhaps I do have some issues with “rest”.

Here’s an example for you: I’m starting to feel more like my old self, so this morning I did some work errands before heading to the gym for a few hours of heavy lifting, pulling, pushing and bashing my body into oblivion. I feel tired now, but it’s a good tired. I’ve been working on my computer the whole day since and my mind is buzzing. When I feel that buzz, it’s kind of addicting. It’s like a burn in the gym, but for the mind, and I just want to keep going! I finish my work and train at the wall for 4 hours. When I get home tonight I will make dinner, then spend an hour or so on the computer to finish the day.

Big Walling can also be restful…

Even as I write it down now its blatantly obvious that my natural approach to each day is to literally never stop!

So now begs the question, why am I like this?

I chose a path in life that had no signposts to guide me. I took the gamble of not going to university because it didn’t feel right. Delving head first into being a professional in the outdoor industry has been a huge learning experience, but I have always loved what I do and have no regrets. I love climbing, I love my work and I want to do it everyday, all day until the end of time! I think if I wasn’t the way I am, then I probably wouldn’t have been able to make as much of a career out of it. It’s certainly no revolutionary idea that hard work pays off – it certainly does. But now I am beginning to see how without factoring in “rest”, it could (and probably will) lead to burnout.

There come these rare moments in my life where it looks as if I have nothing left to do; I guess any normal person would then relax. But in my mind, if I stop, what am I gaining? And so I just look for something else to do. And believe me, I will find something to do; even if it’s by creating something out of thin air; a new idea, project or concept; something that I can just think about to fill that dead useless space most people call “rest”.

I preach rest and relaxation to the people I coach; to my family and to my friends, but I find it harder to implement my own advice than to advise others.

Am I stressed? I would say not. But my friends and family would say otherwise. Stress isn’t always something that you feel in a negative way; I think I am actually a little bit addicted to stress; I kinda like it… But that’s not to say it still can’t have a negative impact on your health.

I feel immensely privileged that my career gives me the time and support required to be able to travel and climb across the globe. To allow this I have had to work very hard and will have to continue to work hard to keep doing it, but very few people really understand what it is that I do. I don’t climb all the time. I would not call myself a “Professional Climber” – nobody has ever paid me to simply climb.

…but mostly it’s really stressful!

How wonderful would that be? Not to worry about anything and just go climbing?

My daily life consists of writing, scripting, connecting, creating, communicating, formulating, negotiating, speaking, training and climbing amongst many more things…

Living in a world of 9-5 jobs and career paths that start from as early as primary school, I grew the idea that I have never had a “real” job. It hasn’t helped being told this to my face. Although it’s generally in jest, constantly hearing that people don’t think you do anything worthy can destroy your own self-image of yourself, which I think to a large part, is probably what’s wrong.

This inevitably has fed the desire to “never-stop” on the basis that stopping is being lazy and makes me unworthy of the privileges I’ve received.

Over many years of not believing that I ever had a “real” job, I have finally come to understand through those closest to me that I might actually have one of the few jobs in the world where you don’t ever actually physically or mentally stop. There is no 5pm finish. There are no bank holidays. And there certainly aint no sick pay.

Fundamentally my problem is that I chose a path in life that I love. It’s a path that I am willing to work hard for everyday. And because of this, I will never stop working.

I don’t have a problem with that, but maybe I do need a holiday?

2 Comments

  • Vicky B

    Robbie…such an insightful price of writing…you’ve obviously spent much time thinking, pondering on this subject long before writing this. Can I commend you for making this public but also for admitting the difficulties you’ve faced to get to this point of realisation. You most certainly have a proper job! Anything that society regards as a ‘bit different’ is often regarded as being a negative…but please be aware that this if often based on envy or misunderstanding. My personal difficulties depression and a personality disorder. Mental health is often misunderstood…cricky, you should see the range of reactions I’ve had when I say I’ve been in a psychiatric ward!!! 😨 but no matter what the personal battle is, it’s the acceptance that is key…from this changes can be made, positive steps can be made. Congratulations on getting to this point. If i can advise, i believe the concepts of Mindfulness would be a help to you. It’s not all colouring books and deep meditation…the core concepts are about living in the moment and finding your own version of internal peace which aids your ability to live your life. Thanks again for being good so open and honest. Robbie…Protect this gift you have in a holistic way and who knows where you’ll go 😊

    • Robbie Phillips

      Hey Vicky,

      Thanks for the lovely comment 🙂 I have made it public and have had a lot of great responses from people suffering the same problems. I think quite a lot of the time people suffer in silence – I know I really only spoke to a couple of family members about it before I wrote the blog, but now I realise that openness and chatting about it is key to overcoming it.

      I have been recommended mindfulness and meditation techniques from a few people. I am definitely going to read into this. Thanks a lot for the recommendation and especially for the kind words 😀

      All the best

      Robbie

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