Climbing Up When You Feel Like it’s all Too Hard

This is a guest post by one of my favourite people, Mr Dave Barnes. Dave was a volunteer with our diabetes groups for many years. He has lived with type 1 diabetes a long time and recently suffered a significant hypo event that landed him unconscious and then into rehab. His stories are remarkable and he has so much to share. Today he is responding to my prompt to him of “climbing up when you feel like it’s all too hard” Thank you Dave for this story.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir

I have climbed the world over, from 4m boulder problems in Sydney, to 600 metre rock faces in Yosemite, to icy alpine peaks in foreign places. People often ask me about climbing.

“Why do you do that Dave, that must have been difficult with diabetes?”

My diabetes was a key player in my climbing life. Almost every vertical decision I made had shades of diabetes in its logic. I decided early in my climbing career that my diabetes was my climbing partner. We were committed to the challenge, together.

Firstly I was attracted to climbing for the calm. In my life I had had some shocking ups and downs – none to do with climbing and repelling, but all to do with blood sugar, food and insulin.

My diabetes life was full at the best of times. Glucose readings, insulin adjustments, highs, plenty of them, you can’t escape it. One lapse of concentration, one carb overlooked would bite and bite hard. Dry mouth, shaky hands; I would get sleepy either way.

To live a diabetes life is to walk a tight rope. A mortgage, peak hour traffic and relationships doubling over on that. Well, sometimes you hit the wall and need an exit. Climbing was mine. Up there in the silence. Nothing but rock and blue sky. Up there my mind could garner perspective again. In negotiating the crux of a climb I could find strength and resilience in myself.

Other climbers were surprised and impressed in my ability to manage my emotions on demanding situations, high on a Sydney Sea Cliff or straddling a cornice on an Alaskan peak. Not me, I understood. I had done all my character building in spades living with diabetes. I was called to make life and death decisions daily. The quality of my life depended on making good ones. I lived with pressure. Climbing was a good place to utilise the character my diabetes life had built in me. Climbing gave me a place to put into practice all the lessons my diabetes life had taught me. Some days were crazy and things did not go to plan but I learnt from those too.

A cliff was one of the few places I could match the pressure of my diabetes life. It made me think clearly, it called me to be responsible for my blood sugar because, if I didn’t, my climbing partner or myself could be in peril.

As a diabetic I had experienced peril enough so I worked hard to stay safe and walk climb within the lines of safety.

That was not always easy.

Climbing triggers adrenaline and that triggers the blood sugar to rise. I was climbing high in more ways than one. So I practiced mindfulness, I drank a lot of water, I tweaked insulin. I developed the skills to go the distance up there to cart the extra weight of my diabetes.

What goes up must come down.

For all of my energy to be free up there I had to return to earth and a job and paying my bills. But when I was in my day job, doing my lunch time finger prick, I knew there was a cliff out there waiting and a climb with my name on it. I knew I had a purpose not just to manage my diabetes but to carry it to places it never dreamed of being. Often we were both surprised we made it home!

Climbing was a great teacher. It taught me to have discipline with diabetes and it taught me how to be the man in my relationship with it. With that, we went climbing and the mountains rarely disappointed either of us.

Sitting on a ledge 100 metres above a forested valley below, I was always grateful to be living such a full life. For a short time I was free of being “just a diabetic”, I was a climber. I was a king of my world and my diabetes was my companion.

At the end of a day I would coil the rope that I and my diabetes had managed, and bank the learning the climbing had taught the both of us, to use as credit on a day when one of us needed the best of the other.

Climbing gave me a partner, my diabetes.

Where in your life have you partnered with your diabetes to reach your goal? Get working, there is a world to explore out there. Climb!