Climbing mountains: Dangerous or extreme health?

View from Half Dome

This is the view from the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, summer 2014. There was ash and smoke in the air from nearby forest fires. Photo by Robyn Graham

Would climbing a mountain ultimately be the detrimental choice of exercise because of its associated dangers? Falling to death, death by lighting, dehydration, exhaustion, sunburn, sprains, fire ants, spider bites, poison oak rash and encounters with large wildlife are a some of the dangers. Mostly falling to death is what climbing a mountain has to offer, especially in the case of climbing Half Dome in Yosemite.

I climbed Yosemite’s Half Dome in Summer 2014. It was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done and most dangerous. While it was immensely rewarding and quite the thrill to look down 8,000 ft, I wonder, did the health benefits outweigh the risks? I suppose it did for that trip because I came out unscathed and with really buff legs. Even if the risks outweigh the benefits it doesn’t matter now because I’m craving to climb another mountain: to have another challenge, or another experience that will push me mentally and physically.

I got to document my climb with my friend’s GoPro camera. See for yourself and determine if you think Half Dome is extreme health or insanity. Is the beauty of Half Dome worth its sheer cliffs and precarious cable poles?


Music and Mood

Psychological health is considered a type of health, right? Yes, it most definitely is.

I listen to music more than not in my waking hours, so I know certain music makes me feel a certain way. It’s a given that music affects mood. For example, sorry-sac music will make me feel like a sorry-sac eventually. For me, it takes about a day of continuous listening for this to occur – sorry Jason Molina and Elliot Smith!

When I need to reply to emails, write, or research something complicated, listening to classical Frederic Chopin or jazzy Coleman Hawkins will clear my mind and help me focus on the task. I find this to be most useful music for working because the lack of lyrics. Surprisingly, not everyone listens to lyrics, but I do. I can’t help but picture what is being sung in my ear.

Now, I find that if I listen to happy music too much, it will cease making me happy and make me sour, so there is a balance to music and mood. I think this has to do with the replay value of the song and also me realising that not everything in life is happy. When this cognitive dissonance sets in I get sour and change the song.

Playing music makes me feel uplifted. It also helps activate my brain when I try and learn a new song on the guitar. I can feel my brain cells prickle when I try remember what I’ve practiced.

Silence is golden too. My friends have to remind me to chill out and not listen to anything for a while. Specific types of non-music are better than others. Nature sounds are the best. Gimmie some frogs chirps with wind in the trees, mix that with fresh air and you got a positive mood to last the day.

I wish that music had a stronger and more direct effect though. Wouldn’t that be great if music could help me overcome the flu faster? Or stop nerve pain in my arms? But alas! Music can only improve or depress my mood. It remains in the psychological realm, not the physical.

So what have I learned about music and mood?

-Too much of a good song (happy or sad) is a bad thing
-Music has the ability to change my mood
-Melody has stronger effect than lyrics on my mood
-Silence is a good thing too
-Being in nature and listening to nature is mood improving

How to take a break without actually taking a break

An important aspect of health is to take breaks at work. This is easier said than done. I realized after working customer service jobs where there is no system for taking a break that you have to improvise, or go crazy from being so tired. Note, this list is not ideal, the real thing is ideal. The real thing is where you get to leave your workstation, sit down, look at your phone, and shove food in your face.

One job in particular made me appreciate my ten minute every three hours and my thirty minute every five-and-a-half hours because the manager made us take our breaks at those marks. They were legally obligated to. My other jobs have not been so progressive. If you have a job where your manager doesn’t care about your well-being and leaves breaks dependent on the rushes, then follow these tips:

1. Take short breaks of 1 min or less. Grab them when you can throughout your shift and it will eventually add up to ten minutes.

Ex. Peek at your phone out of sight of cameras, customers, and managers. Be sneaky about it.

Ex. Eat a spoonful of mess-up food from the kitchen before it disappears.

Side story: I’ve seen waiters eat left overs from their customers, I do not endorse this. One time I said: “You know, they could have herpes.” The waiter ate the sherbert anyway and shrugged “I like to live on the edge!” Oh my god, my co-workers are dumb.

2. Take long bathroom breaks, lock yourself in the stall. Don’t forget your phone!

Side story: I’m pretty sure I caught my co-worker doing this when I needed his help. I couldn’t argue against him going to the bathroom though so I dropped it. I know he was probably playing stupid games on his phone while I was busting my ass during a rush. What was I supposed to say? No bodily functions allowed during rushes! That would sound abusive. (Hint: the bigger picture is that jobs that don’t incorporate a system for breaks is abusive).

3. Lean, squat, or sit on a counter when the manager isn’t looking. Try and relieve that pressure from your feet!

Lost and found: Joy in cooking

What to eat and how to make food still eludes me. I’ve been stuck making the same thing over and over again, namely mac and cheese with meatballs. I can bake and I can make breakfast, and that’s about it. Oh yeah, and I can do sandwiches pretty well, but everyone can. Dinner, however, remains mystery.

I’ve been following one cookbook. It was gifted to me by my cousin who is a elementary school garden teacher. She shops at farmers markets and reads Michael Pollen books. The one she gifted me, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, is a good reference and has helped me navigate a few successful dinners.

Photo by Robyn Graham

My copy of “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman goes back at least three owners: From Katy to Charlie to me! Photo by Robyn Graham

Why only a few dinners you ask? I’ve had the book for over a year, so you’d think I’d be a pro by now. The thing is, that every time I bust out a dinner it feels like a big production. To put it in BECA student terms, it felt like putting on a show and that is quite exhausting.

You have to read the recipe, adjust the measurements, go to the big Safeway, wait in the big Safeway lines, make small talk with people you know at the store, then pay the big bucks for all those wholesome ingredients and accidental organic produce you bought. And that’s just the pre-prep work!

One of my successful attempts at making a well-balanced and tasty dinner: Beef stew. It was a big production.

One of my successful attempts at making a well-balanced and tasty dinner: Beef stew. It was a big production. Photo by Robyn Graham

Where is the joy in cooking? I’ve seen it and I know it exists, but lately I’ve only found the annoyances in cooking.

I’ll blame it on my parents. The few cooking skills I have I learned from my Aunts and my grandmothers. My dad can BBQ and my mom has 4 meals she rotates throughout the year. She’s a busy business woman without the time or the energy to cook. There are three recipes that I wish my grandmother was still around to make:

  1. Chicken Soup (Really it should be called Healing Soup)
  2. Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing
  3. Coconut-creme cake.

I’ve tried recreating her chicken soup and it’s just not the same. She used to make it from scratch. Like as far scratch as you can go without raising and killing the chicken yourself. She would make her own broth by soaking the chicken bones in the juices. This magic chicken soup always cured me and my family’s winter colds. It would help us get other the flu faster and was a major comfort during the rainy season. Just talking about the soup makes my heart well up- I miss the soup as much as I miss her.

I figure the solution to my dinner problem is to keep trying and cook by season. I re-found the joy in cooking this autumn by experimenting with butternut squash and sweet pumpkins. Only 2 out of the 5 pies and bars I made were edible. The three mess-ups served as learning curves and stress-baking. Baking under stress, by the way, usually does not turn out tasty. I find the best results are when you cook with love and patience.

Recipe for Joyful Cooking:

1 pocketful of cash

2 recipes (one original, one lactose alternative)

A handful of time

A dash of caffeine

3 heaping spoonfuls of patience

1 clean kitchen

Friends to share with (optional)

Wine or beer


Take your handful of time, split it in half. Set aside the other half. With one part of your time take your pocketful of cash, dash of caffeine, and chosen recipes to the market. Use the cash to buy ingredients listed on your mouthwatering recipe. I recommend double checking the recipe before leaving the market.

When finished, take your other half of time and distribute evenly over your clean kitchen. Save leftover time for later. Administer wine or beer with the 3 heaping spoonfuls of patience over your chosen recipe, but be careful not to use too much alcohol. Too much is the recipe for Drunk Cooking and the taste is not as flavorful. Use the remainder of time to clean the kitchen and eat your delicious concoction with friends over more wine or beer. Enjoy!

I’m not a bitch, that’s just the lack of nicotine talking

I swear! I’m totally a nice person. That growl I just made was my cigarette deprivation talking, not me! — Me, a smoke filled year ago

I’m nicer now that I stopped smoking cigarettes and e-cigs. I’m at least more even-tempered and have less anxiety.

I would growl when my nicotine gratification was delayed, like stuck in line at a market. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms (no cigarettes all day) were distinctly different from the growls. They manifested themselves quietly with cold sweats, shaky hands, loss of concentration, and feeling light in the head.

Thankfully, the growls and withdrawal symptoms are temporary.

Here I am conquering a trail near Stinson Beach, CA. The redwood trees smell so good!

Here I am conquering a trail near Stinson Beach, CA. The redwood trees smell so good! Photo by Robyn Graham

Not Immune to Visual Triggers

I’m going to spend the next paragraphs talking about smoking, but I’m NOT going to post any pictures of them. Why? Because those would be too much of a trigger.

Seeing someone enjoy a smoke or even seeing a ‘cancer-stick’ makes me want one. Visual triggers are too dangerous for me and possibly for anyone who might read this.

So, instead of posting relevant stock photos of cigarette butts being significantly ashed out, I will post pictures of landscapes, an active healthy lunged person, and other images that show how a non-smoker enjoys life.

A Living Addiction

The most important thing I learned about smoking is that nicotine is enormously addictive. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s addicting, we all know it is and I’ve always known. But feeling the addiction, living it, is so different! And I didn’t realize or believe I was under its control until 9 years into it.

My perception changed from them being a product of leisure to one of incarceration. I had to smoke. It was necessary to function properly. I didn’t really have a say in the matter either besides whether to pay cash or credit, or which color lighter to use.

I have a pretty backyard. I come out here to enjoy the view, and that’s it. I just go outside and look and listen to the beautiful sights and sounds around me. That is enough of an excuse to go outside, right?

I have a pretty backyard. I come out here to enjoy the view, and that’s it. I just go outside and look and listen to the beautiful sights and sounds around me. That is enough of an excuse to go outside, right? Photo by Robyn Graham

Here’s an analogy of how strong a living addiction is: Marlboro Reds were my compass. When I was out, every path and action lead to the closest convenience store. On my 10 minute breaks at work, I’d head to the smoking curb rain or shine. How repetitive and boring, how confining!

I still crave a smoke sometimes, even after almost a year. I think I’m in the reminiscing phase now. I think fondly of how much I enjoyed the nasty little things. I have to remind myself that it’s the nicotine talking.

It’s probably not the end, but I’m wiser now

I like how I talk as if I’m totally done with it. I will probably relapse. But that’s ok. I’ve made my peace and decided it’s not the end of the world. I don’t need to feel shame.

Shame is bad, because if I’m ashamed then I think I’m hopeless and messed up so bad that there is no point in starting over so I smoke more. It becomes an endless circle of smoke, feel shame, smoke more, feel more shame etc. If and when I do relapse, I will just need to quit again and it shouldn’t be more than that. No shame. Nicotine is one hell of a chemical.

This is my car, with a dog named Oreo in it. She is much better company than a cigarette.

This is my car, with a dog named Oreo in it. She is much better company than a cigarette. Photo by Robyn Graham

Will I annoy my smoking friends?

How should I act around my friends that smoke? Do I push my new ideology on them. Do I turn my nose up at the stinky smoke? Tell them to watch where they smash their butts, and smartly remind them that each puff they take is increasing their dependence on nicotine?

I asked my smoking friends at a party recently. One guy said “No, but you probably should!” I appreciate his honesty. I remember being very annoyed when my previous smoking friends would look at me appalled that I still smoked, however, it was their disgust that added to the mountain of disapproval that eventually lead to me stopping.

I think the best thing to do is tread lightly when offering my thoughts on other peoples addictions. No one is going to outright quit because I say to stop. They are going to stop when they want to stop, but maybe I can give them some good reasons to.

Turns out, I’m not invincible

Age 24. It’s the time when I started to care about my health. It probably was what my friend said earlier that year. She was studying to be a doctor in Hawaii and was home for the holidays. We were smoking in my car.

You know, I learned your lungs stop regenerating and repairing new tissue around age 25, so you are good until then, hahahaha!

She was referring our cigarette habits and replying to my slight concern that I smoked too much. Why, why, why did I start when I was 14 again? Oh yeah, because it was cool. Why, why, why, did I have to fill that stereotype that most people start smoking to be cool? Because that’s how it goes.

But hey! it’s alright, not smoking is ‘in’ now, so I’ll hop on that bandwagon and enjoy its benefits of easy breathing and a clean mouth. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Surprisingly, it took me a heck of a long time to see that there ain’t nothing wrong with taking care of myself by doing less stupid shit to it, smoking included.

My views on health my whole life have been unbalanced, I’m either paranoid that I’m dying or pretending that nothing is wrong when clearly it is. It’s a lot easier to deny something that doesn’t bleed. I have fears of doctor visits, fear of diagnosis, and am stubborn as hell when admitting I’m sick or injured.

Work through the pain.”

“It will go away. ”

“I’m fine.

Those phrases have been my internal dialogue for health scares most of my life until recently, age 24, when my arms completely gave out from nerve irritation (overworking). My low point was feeding myself macaroni with a plastic spoon because that was all I could lift and then later crying over my laptop keys because I physically could not type to finish my college homework. Ouch.

I can no longer lie to myself when I feel arm pain since it leads to complete nerve fallout that can put my arms out for a week. As it turns out, your arms are actually pretty useful for a lot of things, or for, you know, everything!

How do I… health? will be a chronicle of my recent discoveries and new attitudes towards well-being since quitting smoking and paying attention to pain. I want to keep a record of the moments where I stop denying and realise something is wrong. I want to describe and call out abusive attitudes that I see or still employ.

I’ve been duped on health myths many times. For example, thinking that skipping breakfast will keep your weight down, or saying I can stop smoking whenever I want, like easy peasy, are both total bull.

Pointing out denial tactics is not my only motivation for choosing this topic for my electronic media writing class assignment (hi guys!). More and more I see my peers not taking care of themselves. They are smoking cigarettes, doing coke, over-working themselves, not sleeping, starving themselves, and blacking out from alcohol. Why is that? For me, it’s been part culture, part ignorance, part apathy to learn, and part addiction denial.

So, how do I in fact… uh.. health?

What does good health look like to me? It seems to vary for everyone, and sometimes I’m clueless as to what it even means to me! What am I supposed to eat? What is healthy thinking and behavior? Where the healthy role models at? Hmm? I’m a stubborn girl, so I will find out.