Climbing towards the light by Fiona Allen
Updated: Oct 18, 2019
Fiona Allen, discusses how sport has always freed her mind from daily problems and how climbing is simply life affirming.
CW: mention of suicide attempt and self-
I’m not a sporty sort of person, although sport has always been fundamental to my wellbeing. My dad taught me and my brother to swim when we were 3 or 4 and I joined the swimming club he
was a member of as soon as I was old enough, but I quit soon after because I couldn’t cope with the competitive atmosphere. At primary school I loved cricket, rounders, football etc. I wasn’t very good, and not at all competitive, but I got such a buzz from being physically active and being part of a team, regardless of winning or losing.
I didn’t like stereotypical girl stuff, and girls weren’t allowed to play “boy” sports, so weirdly I thought I was lucky being a boy even though I didn’t want to be one! I tried talking to my parents about how I felt, but I didn’t properly understand it myself, and I got nowhere trying to explain it to them. So, I just kept my feelings to myself.
In 1968, I started in an old fashioned (even for the 60’s) boys grammar school and I hated it. Puberty and dysphoria played havoc with my mental health. But playing cricket, cross country running, swimming and rugby helped free my mind from day to day problems. Rugby was awesome, I couldn’t believe a game existed where the rules let you throw yourself at someone else, with the sole purpose of wrestling them to the ground to get your hands on the ball. It’s just a shame that although I really loved the game, I was crap at it so never got selected to play for the school!
Anyway, I just about scraped through my A levels, and got to university to study electrical engineering. Mental health problems got the better of me, and I did very little physical activity apart from reckless motorcycling, drinking a massive amount of beer and regular self-harming. Ultimately, I decided death was preferable to life and a suicide attempt towards the end of my second year finally lead to me dropping out of uni.
But there was one huge positive that came out of this pretty bleak period – I discovered rock climbing. I’d done a bit of hill walking, and already knew the elation of standing on top of a mountain after slogging uphill for hours, and now here was something even better! It’s an incredible feeling to lead a pitch on a crag, high up on a mountain, accompanied by spectacular views, and ideally in the company of someone else with the same love of mountains.
I’m usually pretty chilled when climbing but it can be scary. The occasional adrenaline rush (and/or mild panic depending on your interpretation of how you feel when you go off route and find yourself attempting a few moves way outside your comfort zone) is simply life affirming. I’ve never been a hard climber, and I no longer have the strength to stay safe on some of the routes I used to do, but there’s always a smile on my face as I take the first step onto some beautiful Welsh granite under a warm summer sun. In fact, I’m smiling now as I write this just thinking about it! (yes, the sun does shine in Wales occasionally)
In 1993 I got married and I told my wife I was trans, but I couldn’t explain exactly what that meant. People have written books about marital trans relationships, for brevity here I’ll just say that our marriage was challenging. I was climbing as often as I could, heading for the mountains whenever I got free from work for a few days. We started a family and I turned into a total workaholic. Climbing, health and fitness took a low priority as I chased money and promotions, and in 2004 I started my own business. All the time I was trying harder than ever to be a man, and I was so good at it that I convinced everyone, often including myself, that I actually was a man !
In 2016 I fell out with my business partner and we closed the ltd company. Stress, anxiety and dysphoria increased, and I was back in a very dark place I hadn’t been in since my 20’s. Both children were nearing the end of their university courses and were starting on their own independent lives (and they were no longer children of course), and I knew I had no choice other than to start transitioning. My wife couldn’t accept me living full time female, so that was the beginning of the end of our marriage and we separated in early 2019. I was still hill walking and regularly meditated to try to stay grounded, and I downloaded the couch to 5k app to get more active and hopefully feel better, and it worked! Since March this year I moved house, changed my name, started hormones, and I’m back to being a self-employed electrician.
I also discovered Trans Can Sport, joining in halfway through training for the Trans Pride 5k fun run. Awesome! A whole bunch of lovely trans people not just sitting around talking but getting out doing something. (No offence intended to trans people who like sitting around talking). Through TCS I’m getting into yoga and Tai Chi, which is helping improve my meditation technique. I’m running as regularly as my slightly arthritic knees will let me, and I’ll soon have a go at bouldering again. Also, I’m looking forward to joining a climbing club to hopefully get back into mountaineering next year, and I’m following my daughters’ example of moving towards a vegetarian diet. Overall, I’m taking my personal health and wellbeing very seriously. It’s taken a VERY long time, but at last, I’m finally allowing myself to be me ��