Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two steps forward, one step back

Imagine you are scared of spiders. Not hard to imagine really, it's a pretty common phobia. Mostly you don't encounter them too often, and when you do you scream with fear and panic and are completely incapacitated until some helpful individual disposes of the offender. Then the adrenaline rush slowly settles and you are able to get back to what you were doing, if a bit exhausted from the experience.

Then imagine that you want to get from one place to another, but to get there you have to pass through a route inhabited by big hairy spiders. At every turn there is a spider that if you look at it will crawl all over you, maybe settle on your hand and just sit there. You know these spiders won't hurt you because they aren't actually venomous, and if you don't look at them, but just concentrate on the path you are following, then they won't even attempt to crawl over you either. Now you really want to get to your destination, because the views and experiences along this path are just amazing. Just don't look at the spiders, or they'll crawl all over you. But if you take the initiative and touch them first them something magical happens.

Some of the paths to your destination have less spiders along the way, but the paths with the best views and experiences have lots of them. Some paths are crawling with so many spiders that you just have to plough through them, and every time you hit a spider it magically turns into a beautiful rainbow and the experience is just amazing!! Arriving at your destination having touched the spiders and created multiple rainbows, you feel exhilarated!!

But, and here's the big but, you have to conquer that fear. Because you can't even start on that path when you know that at the first corner is the biggest, ugliest, hairiest spider you have ever seen. And if you avoid looking at it, there's yet another one at the next corner. And, oh my god, there's one crawling across the road in front of you. Go on, just go for it and make your first rainbow!! Make lots of them!!

This is a pretty good analogy for my mental state whilst skiing, because at times I can be at the top of a steep slope and be completely incapable of making that first initiation, or continuing it with another. I have the skills to ski well, in most terrain, but at times my body completely gives up. It reverts back to a child like persona of crippling incapacity that the logical me is fighting to suppress. Which makes me so angry and frustrated at myself. Which doesn't help.

Over the last 3 weeks of skiing I have had some magical moments when everything worked, the fear was totally gone and I linked turn after turn off piste and on and arrived at the bottom with a grin from ear to ear yelling "yahoo!!" to all around. At other times I was close to tears, pushing the fear down enough to just get going, fighting walls of panic whilst traversing steep slopes, then totally losing control and falling in an angry heap. Yes it's all in my head, I know I can do it. "Just face the danger". What a mind fuck!!

I'm yet to meet a ski instructor who learnt to ski as an adult, so although they can be supportive and encouraging, they can't be empathetic to the level of crippling panic that overwhelms me at times. Learning as a child, before that nasty demon fear enters your psyche, is the way to go. Bad luck if you don't grow up in a ski resort or your parents aren't rich enough to give you that opportunity.

The trouble is that this sort of fear is mindless. Phobias are completely illogical, but it is possible to overcome them through both graduated exposure and psychological management. I'm trying the former by skiing at a technically difficult mountain, getting lessons, and trying to get enough hours on snow that my body can start doing the right movements without me having to think too much. I could go and ski at Cardrona, which has flatter, wider terrain, but that would be giving in to the demon, and that just isn't going to happen. Sure I'll do a few days over there to ride with friends, but in the end, it's the steeps of Treble Cone that I need to conquer.

To use a windsurfing analogy, I'm at the gybing plateau, where you have all the skills to do a carving gybe, but you just can't put them together. The speed through the turn evades you, you don't know what to do with the sail, you can't get the timing right and you keep falling into the water. Then you start to get it. One or two here and there, then more consistently. With time on the water you start to get 30%, then 50% then 80%. Then suddenly, you are no longer thinking about how to do it, you just do it, and now you are thinking where to turn, not how to turn. You are now totally in tune with your board and sail and can now go anywhere.

At times I have been tempted to give it up and take up snow boarding (apparently less of a mind fuck than skiing) but I'm not someone to just give up so that totally isn't going to happen. Recommendations have included listening to music whilst skiing, and smoking a good thick spliff. I don't think I'll be taking the latter option, mainly because my history under the influence of weed isn't pretty. I can't even make a peanut butter sandwich, imagine how incapable I would be on a big slippery slope with a couple of planks strapped to my feet? I've tried the music option, but am still working on the right playlist. Work in progress.

As for the psychological management, there's a couple of techniques I can use, involving relaxation/meditation techniques. I think I should be a bit more persistent with these. Not so easy in a busy hostel, but there's always a quiet spot by the lake somewhere.

In the meantime, I progress slowly but surely, with a day here and there when I regress dreadfully. I have to stop beating myself up about these, and just accept that if I persist, I will overcome the fear, and the steeps, bumps and icy patches and one day crest that plateau where skiing comes naturally. Each day it's a bit better, and more and more I am overcoming the panic, touching the spiders, and making rainbows!

No comments:

Post a Comment