Monday, May 16, 2011

Is Rock Climbing an Exercise Disorder?

Hell no it’s not! But I got your attention. I recently got my psychology panties in a bunch when I read an article about the upcoming revision of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) due out in 2013. The DSM is considered the bible reference for diagnosing anything considered a mental disorder and creates lists of diagnostic criteria to determine whether or not your symptoms are a disorder.

On the list for consideration as new disorders is including anger, healthy eating (yes all you vegetarian and/or wheat free folks out there), pms, teenage eccentricity (isn’t that all of us?) and having a high sex drive. Really?! Will any of us be normal after this revision? Also on the list is a push to refine eating disorders to include and single out exercise disorders such as “Compulsive Exercising.” Compulsive Exercising is characterized by scheduling your life around exercise, missing work to exercise, feeling depressed if you don’t exercise, exercising even if you’re hurt, and not taking rest days. Know any climbers who sound like that? Of course you do!

So how many psychiatrists out there would diagnose hard core-unemployed-full time-live out of your van- climbers as “compulsive” and give you a prescription medication for it? I’d be willing to bet there are more than a few. If you add onto that any drive to maintain a healthy weight as any sort of motive for climbing then you will for sure fall under that Exercise Disorder category. This over pathologizing is insane! Just wait until the committees for the DSM hear about soloists and base jumpers. We could call them Compulsive Exercisers with a Risk Perception Disorder.

When the powers that be start trying to refine and define new mental disorders it becomes much more difficult to tell the difference between health and pathology. There is a very fine line between health conscious athletes committed to training vs. the obsessed exerciser with rigid eating and health ideals. That fine line is a very subjective view based upon who is looking.

So what does this mean for you as a climber and a possible consumer of mental health services? How can you tell if you have a “disorder?” By definition a set of symptoms is not considered a mental disorder unless you experience a marked impairment in one or more areas of daily functioning. Meaning your set of symptoms affect your relationships, your ability to care for yourself, your work, school, etc. If you have symptoms of someone’s idea of a mental disorder but you feel fine and are functioning fine in society then what’s the problem?! There isn’t one. Only when climbing unbalances the rest of your daily functioning can it even begin to be considered a source of any problem. As far as I’m concerned climbers are usually the healthiest, both physically and mentally, people I’ve ever met. So just stay in balance folks.

What are your thoughts? Know anyone with a climbing disorder?

References for this post:
Article by the Washington Post
Exercise Bulimia Definition

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Place Attachment to Red Rocks

In the field of Environmental Psychology is a concept called Place Attachment. By definition it essentially means that we become attached to certain places based on what meaning we assign it due to experiences, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, memories, preferences, values, etc. The concept is more complex than my simple definition as it also includes several variables such as the length of time you’ve spent there as well as whether or not a place fulfills your various needs (biological, social, psychological, cultural). All in all, an attachment to a place is also incorporated into your larger sense of yourself. I’m guessing when they created this concept they probably didn’t have climbing areas in mind. I imagine them thinking of a childhood home or the town you grew up in. But we also have a place attachment to places we’ve visited say with our family on summer vacations so perhaps climbing areas are not such a far stretch.

I can definitely say that I have a place attachment to Red Rocks. I mentioned in my last post that it is my most favorite place to climb and now I’m starting to realize that it is because of the meaning I have attributed to it. Researchers in this field are quick to distinguish between meaning vs. preference when creating an attachment. You can have a preference towards a beautiful place but it doesn’t mean you’re attached to it. To have an attachment you need to assign it some meaning.

The meaning that I assign to Red Rocks says a lot about my values and preferences as a climber. Red Rocks has all of my top five basic requirements in an area: hot weather, Sport climbing, Trad climbing, great camping, close to but not in civilization, and excellent rock quality. But those are just requirements for my attachment to even have a chance in forming. Kind of like the requirements you look for in a date before you get attached to them.

It’s also a beautiful place, I have lots of memories here of conquests and failures, memories of good times with great friends and I have lots of memories of how much it has changed, and not changed, in the 15 years I’ve been coming. You could say that Red Rocks has kind of been incorporated into my larger sense of my own identity as a climber. As my attachment has grown so has my attention on the politics of the place. I feel protective of my attachment and contribute to its upkeep.

So where is your place attachment? Why that place versus any other crag? What does your place attachment say about you as a climber and as a person? I’d love to hear your stories about the places you love and why.