Although I did a bit of bouldering as a student, I didn’t take up climbing again until 2010, and I wish I’d come back to it sooner – it has turned out to be so good for me and my inner aspie in so many ways:

I can sew (apparently unusual for an aspie), and I can parallel park in the tiniest space, but I’m incapable of negotiating a doorway without sustaining injury; I have bruises on every limb, and no idea where they came from. When I climb, I’m forever scuffing my knuckles and elbows on the wall – which, by its nature, is abrasive – and it’s rare for me to get home without having drawn blood; but the desire to improve my balance and technical skill is the perfect motivator for accurate movement, and I find it incredibly rewarding to climb well.

There are few situations where being obsessive is a useful and socially acceptable asset, but belaying (basically: holding the other end of the rope) is one of them. Safe belaying requires you to do the same things, the same way, over and over again (from taking in the rope, to locking the carabina). Ultimately, your climbing partner’s life depends on you getting these details right. Knowing that my autistic traits are, for once, working to everyone’s advantage is rewarding too.

There’s a lot of noise in my world: about 40% of it comes from outside, and can be drowned out with iPod + earphones; the remaining 60% comprises mostly random (sometimes obsessive) and frenetic thinking – inside my head, all the time – and is almost impossible to still (even when I’m asleep). At the club where I climb there is usually music to cover external noise, and the internal noise can be tamed by the need to pay close attention to what I am doing: it might sound trivial, but you need to know not just where all your hands and feet are at any given moment (sometimes to within millimeters), but where they need to be in two seconds’ time, and five seconds’ time… and so on – otherwise you’re off! I find it impossible to think about anything else when I’m climbing, and so the noise stops; regardless of how hard my muscles have to work, I can rest.

Hauling your body off the ground can take a lot of energy and, when you’re hanging by your fingers, a lot of strength too; so climbing provides a good workout for both the cardiovascular system, and almost every muscle in your body! And, unlike some other sports, it’s not boring.

I can be around people without needing to be sociable. Apart from sorting out practicalities with my belaying mate, I don’t have to interact with others if I don’t want to; I can just do my own thing (climb the wall), and no one else has to care. (Yeah, it hurts when everyone – except me – is invited back somewhere at the end, but I’m used to that.)

Team Work
I did a 24h climbathon last weekend (a great excuse to drink lots of coffee), and between us we scaled 43,320m (that’s 150,000′ or 27 vertical miles) – the equivalent of seven of the world’s biggest mountains (the highest from each continent) stacked on top of one another. For once, not being a team player did not get in the way of contributing to a team effort. I liked that.

Anyone Can Climb
My youngest (who could climb out of her cot before she could walk) started wall climbing at the age of three, and is still loving it two years later. There are easy climbs and hard climbs. There are clubs and courses, and one-off tasters. Find your nearest UK climbing wall here!

Living the Nightmare

I am almost always trying to achieve something in dreams, and other people are ‘getting in my way’, usually physically (physically blocking me), or bureaucratically (I’m sorry, madam, you can’t do that), or a combination of the two.

Dreamworld expectations are always realistic and reasonable – like I just need to get through a barrier to retrieve my rucksack (I never know how I come to be on the wrong side of the barrier), and my rucksack has all my stuff in it, including my car keys, and I have to get the kids from school, so I just need my bag… but the man won’t see that. The man will tell me I have to buy a ticket to get through the barrier, and the conversation will go like this:

Me: But I already have a ticket.
Him: I need to see it then.
Me: It’s in my rucksack, just over there.
Him: I don’t know that.
Me: Well if you’ll just let me get my bag, I’ll show you.
Him: You can’t come through without a ticket.
Me: But I have a ticket – how d’you think my bag got there in the first place?
Him: Your friend might have put it there.
Me: But I’m here on my own.
Him: I don’t know that. You’ll have to buy a ticket to come through the barrier.
Me: But my money’s in my rucksack too. I just need my rucksack.
Him: If you can’t buy a ticket, you can’t come through the barrier.
…and so on.

And then I’m trying to find someone to lend me the money to buy another ticket, and everyone’s looking at me like I’m deranged. And no one will help, because they think I’m a freak, but I’m just trying to get my rucksack, so I can get my car keys and pick up my kids, and I can’t even phone the school to let them know I’ll be late, because my mobile’s in my bag too, then suddenly I have a phone in my hand, but I don’t know the number, then I see it’s a smartphone, so I try looking it up on the internet, but there’s no data signal, and AAAAAARRRGGGHHH

That’s when I lose it. Big time. My worst nightmare: a meltdown in public. I scream and shout and cry and collapse on the floor, banging my fists and pulling my hair. Everyone looks at me saying, “there, we knew you were a freak…”

I get this dream, in various guises, maybe twice a week, and I always wake up with a sense of failure and loss and isolation that stays with me all day. Other people with Asperger’s syndrome might relate, and understand why this scenario haunts my dreams: in reality, it’s never that far away, and particularly when dealing with real-life jobsworths (such as our friend above), the nightmare sits on my shoulder daring me to lose control. The last time I got close to this, there really was a barrier – 2m high, and the guy wouldn’t let me though – so I climbed over it, literally*. And boy was he pissed. And boy was I smug.

One day I hope my dreams will catch up with my growing real-world confidence, and I can wake up feeling like a sucesssful freak instead.

*Being on my way home from the climbing wall, where far more technical climbs of 8m are the norm, his little 2m job was a synch. If only it always worked like that!