Fear is the Mind-killer

WRITTEN BY: Steve Richert

I never quite know how to introduce myself or my occupation when people ask. I’m a climber. A photographer. A writer. A podcaster. A filmmaker. The truth is that most of the things I am known for actually branch from my diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 1999 at the age of 16. I knew when I left the ICU in Fairbanks, Alaska, with my brochures and diabetic socks and dietary charts in hand that I was facing a choice that would govern the rest of my life: compliance or noncompliance.

I know that term is loaded — which is exactly why I use it. I don’t mean it in the clinical sense; I am relentless in pursuit of an optimized diet and physical training schedule that allows me to keep my diabetes in check. Imagine growing up in a world where everyone felt sorry for you, worried about you, doubted you and expected less of you. Imagine that becoming so normal that eventually you began to accept that narrative. That is compliance, and that is a path of existence that I utterly reject.

No person gets to choose what challenges they will face in life. Everyone gets to choose how they will approach those challenges. I decided that if an uphill battle was to be my future that I’d better learn to love climbing. In a more literal sense it was actually my love for climbing that caused me to choose noncompliance with the predetermined narrative that I was given when I left the hospital. My heart was drawn to high and wild places and I was not willing to accept that those experiences were no longer available for me too.


Now at this point in my story, I could “yadda-yadda” through the process of adapting my diabetes to adventure in the outdoors and just show you a handful of spectacular photos and call it a day — but it wasn’t that simple. It was a constant battle with fear to learn what worked and what didn’t work. Therein lies the takeaway point from everything you’re reading here; fear of diabetes is the “stopper obstacle” not diabetes itself.

Think about that for a second. It may sound really simple at first and a bit cliché, but there’s a really important distinction here. Diabetes has no cure—but fear does. It’s called action. That means that the biggest limiting factor in life with diabetes is something that we can train and control. Once fear is no longer muddying the waters, we have much more freedom to learn about our bodies and how to give them what they need so they can in return, give us what we need. Trial and error is key.

I learned this lesson very poignantly while climbing Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming a few years back — ironically with another T1D climber named Martin. We were about 500 feet up the 750-foot route and as it was the middle of the summer a storm blew in. The problem was that it blew from the west and we were climbing the east side of the tower. We couldn’t see the clouds until they were literally upon us.


Far more climbers are killed yearly by lightning than by falling — a statistic that was all too easily called to mind as we dangled hundreds of feet off the deck in a most vulnerable position. The light dimmed and the wind whipped up. I remember feeling all the fear you’d expect — and then something incredible happened. I accepted the fear and moved past it. On the other side was nothing but action through clarity. We pulled our ropes, quickly secured anchors and rappelled. We repeated the process several times until we were on the ground — and no sooner had we thrown our gear into our packs then the sky opened up on us with incredible fury.

We didn’t care. In that moment I had peeked over the fence of crippling, mortal danger and confronted the little dog with the big bark: my own fear. It was action that conquered fear — because the focus of doing crowds out the speculative voices in our head.

That’s why I climb. And photograph. And write. And podcast. And make movies. I am actively seeking a cure for the fear of diabetes — and it’s not five or ten years away. It’s right here and now.


Tips for Conquering Fear with T1D

  • Fear of diabetes is more limiting than diabetes itself
  • Experimentation is key
  • Action enables experimentation
  • Failure is just learning what doesn’t work
  • The way you see your limitations matters
  • Choose your own challenges
  • The cure for fear is NOW




Visit LivingVertical.org to read more from Steve Richert

Steve Richert

Steve Richert is a freelance media producer and traveling rock climber who has been dragging his diabetes around the world on the occasional hair-raising (blood glucose raising?) adventure. He lives in a 13 foot travel trailer with his wife Stefanie and 2-year old daughter Lilo. They are traveling full time while climbing and organizing free outdoor meetups for the type 1 community. In 2016 Steve is attempting to climb 100,000 vertical feet and share that effort through 100+ YouTube video blogs.