Margo Talbot is a writer and climber who lives in the southern interior of British Columbia. She has competed in a number of climbing competitions, including the ESPN X‑Games and the Ouray International Ice Festival. A sponsored athlete with Outdoor Research, she also guides for Chicks with Picks and runs an adventure guiding company for women, The Glitter Girls. She recently gave a presentation on how ice climbing empowered her to heal herself from a lifetime of drug addiction and suicidal depression.
The Clymb: As an accomplished ice climbing instructor and mentor who struggled with depression and addiction for years, you’re working hard to use climbing to help people heal themselves. How do you see ice climbing as a metaphor for living a healthy life?
Margo Talbot: For one, not all ice is created equal. When you try to swing your axe into a chunk of chandelier ice, it’s really hard to get a solid purchase you can trust. Navigating life with the effects of childhood trauma or suicidal depression is similar to navigating chandelier ice — you never feel like you have a solid foundation beneath you. The best thing you can do is help yourself develop in ways you never did as a child.
Also, ice climbers are nothing without the right tools. We bring the axes, crampons, rope and screws we need to protect ourselves from a ground fall–the equivalent of rock bottom. The best thing people suffering from mental health or depression can do for themselves is get themselves the support system they need to keep themselves from taking repeated ‘groundfalls’. Rock bottom can be a perfect turnaround point for some people but for others it’s a slippery slope into oblivion.
Lastly, ice climbing brings you into the present moment. It’s an exercise in mindfulness and a moving mediation. Depression is defined as being caught up in the pain of the past and anxiety is fear of future events. The obvious antidote to both of these is being in the preset moment. That’s hard to do with unresolved trauma inside of your body, but the best thing to do is to try not to numb the pain, instead be present with the pain and move through to the other side. To heal yourself.
The Clymb: What is the most important life lesson you’ve gained from ice climbing?
Margo Talbot: Climbing taught me to trust myself and trust life. With the right tools and techniques, you’ll find that you can progress your life upward one move at a time. You can’t know every part of a route, you just trust that you’ll have the skill and the tools to reach your desired goal.
The Clymb: During your battle with drugs and depression you describe life as “… monochromatic, devoid of colour or brightness. There was no beauty in the world, only pain and suffering. I felt this inside myself, and I saw it reflected everywhere in the word.” How did you eventually learn to heal yourself?
Margo Talbot: I saw the connection between the pain that was stored inside of me and the thoughts and feelings I was harboring as a result of this. I decided that at a certain point I was the one who was perpetuating the pain, because the causes for it had been removed from the time I left home. This reversal in my thinking, that rather than the pain coming from the outside in was now being transmitted from the inside out, was a key step in moving forward. I decided that I needed to own my life up to that point, and everything in it, in order to begin the healing process. As long as I saw myself a victim of the circumstances of my life, I was going to feel powerless to do anything about it. This shift in my thinking would be crucial to moving beyond my painful past, to go from standing at the base of the climb to stepping onto the ice and venturing upward.
At the age of 37, I topped out of my climb out of depression. It’s a miracle to me to wake up depression and anxiety free everyday. I wouldn’t will depression on my worst enemy but I will say that I learned more from that state than I could without it and that’s because looking back over experiences that are labeled a disease by our culture, all I see is the architectural beauty of the blueprint of my own psyche. Everything that happened to me was tailor made for my own healing journey and I learned that we are all equipped with the tools to heal our emotional trauma if we can stop the distraction.
The Clymb: As a respected author, speaker and climbing advocate, you’re quickly gaining notoriety as a female role model in a male dominated sport. Did you have any women role models when you were learning to climb?
Margo Talbot: One month before I got busted I was leafing through a climbing magazine and I found this incredible image of a woman climber named Kitty Calhoun. I looked up to her a lot as a climber and a woman. During my first two years of ice climbing, I didn’t run into many women ice climbers and I always wondered if there was a way to lure more women into the sport. I heard about a gal in Colorado named Kim Reynolds who ran Chicks with Picks. She heard about some of the work I was doing with all female clinics and called me to see if I would come teach some clinics for her. When I showed up I realized that I was teaching right alongside my idol, Kitty Calhoun. That was twenty years ago and I am happy to say that some of the strongest relationships I’ve formed to this day are with the women I met through Chicks with Picks.
The Clymb: Did you ever tell Kitty she was such an important role model for you?
Margo Talbot: I always wanted to go up to Kitty and tell her my story about her being my role model before I was thrown in jail and the drugs and everything but I never did because my past used to be a maze of carefully hidden secrets. But then in the Fall of 2009 I began writing my book, All that Glitters. Many people have asked me why I decided to write the book when I could have kept my past a secret. I wanted to give a voice to my depression because it was something I lived with so intimately for so many decades that it actually feels like a best friend. I wanted to help remove the stigmas we have in our culture towards mental illness, suicidal tendencies and drug addiction. But most of all, I wanted people to know that there is hope. That even in the depths of darkness, humans have come through seemingly impossible situations.