In May of 2017, Juliane Fritz awoke with a start and a pounding headache. It was like the world was collapsing in on itself, the seismic pressure squeezing her skull from grey matter to diamond.
She’d had migraines all her life, but nothing like this. Her pain killers, the only therapy she’d ever tried, were useless. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think; all she could do was lay in bed to wait out the pain. The attacks came and went over the next three months.
When Juliane was a child the doctors couldn’t make heads or tails of her migraines. Nothing seemed to work and they had no answers. She had resigned herself to a life of pain. “I just felt that because it had been there all the time, it was a part of my life and there was nothing I could do. It was a feeling of ‘this belongs to me, I have to suffer,’” she explains.
Juliane’s engaging personality shines through the speaker, her steady speech and animated answers rise in a chittering wave that is often punctuated by a self-conscious chuckle. Her upbeat and level-headed persona makes it hard to fathom the dark period she had in her life.
As the months wore on each attack was a new worst. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “I needed to do something,” she says, a tone of defeat rings in her voice.
She decided to seek support from a place she had always been hesitant about.
Day 1: Walk into Berta Block Boulderhalle down the street. Intimidated. Start on the children’s wall. Fail.
Juliane was dedicated to her work. She’d always been good at radio production and took pride in the final product. She was conscientious, dedicated and a perfectionist. At times she would get carried away, feeling stressed and worn down. She never questioned why she worked so hard. Why would she?
Those three months were a wake up call, and out of desperation she started getting new forms of support from psychiatrists to physical therapists to osteopaths. She was uneasy about it, she recalls, “I always thought, psychiatrists, ‘oh I don’t need that, that’s stupid.’” There was a resistance and a harboring of pain, but something began to happen:
“Slowly I started to learn about me, about how my body works, how my mind works, that maybe the way I had been working for all these years I had been doing too much, working too hard. It was always, ‘I am in this world to make other feel good, but not me.’ And I really have to change the way I operate with myself.”
She started to see a connection between her mind and body, and then the osteopath suggested physical movement as a way to help with the headaches. “I have headaches almost all the time,” she says, and she wondered if bouldering would make any difference.
Day 2: Encouraged to try again, I go back. Try some new routes. Still on the kiddie wall. Fail.
The first day Juliane went bouldering she felt weak, nervous, and by her account, failed to get up the VBs on the children’s wall. Yet something about the movement, the way it made her feel, kept her attention. She decided to go back. And then again, and again, and again.
She stayed with it for years, but after her first session with a headache, it became a whole new ball game.
“I was so happy to find out that after [that session with a headache] I felt pretty good.” She then started to go after migraine attacks had subsided and discovered it offered a mental convalescence as well. “It helped me to own my own body again,” she notes, you can hear the empowered feeling in her voice.
These sessions became a period of freedom from outside concerns, a flow; they were fun, they were cathartic, and taught her about herself in unexpected ways.
“It made me love the sport even more,” Juliane says.
Down the rabbit hole she went. “I became a bouldering nerd” as she puts it. She began going every other day and consuming all things bouldering in between: Watching comps, reading whatever she could find, and even visiting the world cup in Munich.
Over the weeks the attacks lessened; from a few days in a row with no pain to long stretches of manageable headaches.
Through pain, Juliane had found something that called to her like the work she did in radio. And there was another interesting twist she discovered:
“I’ve been working in the media for years, at a radio station in Berlin. And I found out that sometimes I am free of pain when I interview people. [I thought,] ‘just combine the two things you really like, that make you feel really good, and do a podcast, interview people that have the same passion for bouldering and share it.’ That’s why I started the podcast.”
Day 3: Progress. Go back alone, and something special happened! I managed to send problems I couldn’t do the first two times. This is fun!
Bin weg bouldern
Juliane started her podcast, Bin weg bouldern in 2018 and is becoming known throughout Germany as the “bouldering podcast lady.”
She interviews pros, local crushers (in Germany, there are a lot), shares event recaps and educational material, and talks with climbers engaged in peripheral activities, such as Zofia Reych who started the first ever Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau.
You can listen to her episodes here, though be sure to brush up on your Deutsch! (The links above are to episodes in English.)
For Juliane, bouldering has helped alter her perspective on work, life, and her relationship to herself. What started back in 2013 with three days of climbing — from flailing to her first send — has turned into a life possessed.
“You can learn so much about yourself, the mental aspect, your body,” she says. But most importantly, “You can just be free and have fun.”
Feature photo courtesy of Juliane Fritz.