Every so often, I come across someone who’s so inspiring, who, during the course of a conversation, seems to reach out and touch my soul in such a way that I feel so heard and understood it almost makes me want to cry. My interview with local author and well-known ice climber Margo Talbot was such an instance, and when talking to her on Monday over the phone, I was rendered speechless to the point I felt embarrassed by my sudden lack of ability to be articulate.
There were also shivers running up and down my spine, adding to my inelegance (I taped the conversation, by the way, so no, I’m not exaggerating).
Talbot is coming to Rossland on Sunday, June 26, to do a reading and book signing at Cafe Books West. Her literary debut is entitled All that Glitters: A Climber’s Journey Through Addiction and Depression, and in Talbot’s own words, “the book is my life story, that I’ve kept hidden until now.”
She goes on to say, “Basically, I teach women how to ice climb and I’m a well-known athlete--sponsored by Outdoor Research, a company in the States--and people come to my courses and they look up to me. They think I’m this super woman, super athlete, and I just thought, ‘you know, I want to tell people the real story because I want people to know that even though they didn’t start out with good beginnings, they could pursue their dreams and end up in a good place. So my story is basically about living through childhood neglect and abuse and suffering twenty years of addiction and depression, which were the symptoms of that trauma I suffered as a child, and how I worked my way through it with lots of psychotherapy, social workers, and nature in general but climbing in particular.”
The process involved in writing this book was an enormous journey in and of itself, compounded the extreme anxiety Talbot endured when she began to look at herself and her life so closely under her own microscope. “Because I had gone to therapy on and off for twenty years, I thought I’d seen it all, gone through it all, and processed it all, and it turned out that writing this book was a whole other level of the onion.”
Revisiting her dark past often meant revisiting emotions and mental states she thought she had left behind for good.
“I did go through periods of relating so deeply to the depression that I would fall back into it--not in a way that worried me but in a way that I didn’t think I was going to go to that place again in my life. And I went through a few episodes of intense anxiety where I absolutely could not calm myself down. Part of the anxiety was revisiting very dark places in order to write from that place, and part of the anxiety was worry over what people from my past and present life would think about [what] I was describing in my book.”
The book took nearly three years to complete, from inception to publication, and Talbot now feels that the hard work and agony has had rewards far beyond just having the physical, published book to show for her effort. Now that her past is being made public in a big way, she says it’s given her an enormous sense of freedom.
“I feel quite impervious to judgement at this point,” she says, referring to fears around the stigma of addiction and mental illness. “That’s the beauty of what the book gave me. I judged myself to the point where I was scared people would find out about my past and my real life. Writing the book was very liberating in that way. And I didn’t know I was going to get to this point of freedom where telling my story meant so much to me that the judgement just fell away.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, I live with Major Depressive Disorder, and it was those words of Talbot’s that rendered me speechless. And it would get better.
“One of the things I’d like to do now, with my new work, since the book has come out, is to dispel that stigma on mental illness and depression--and addiction.”
This a very strong, courageous statement to make, especially for someone who describes herself as a “fierce loner.” In fact, readers can expect future books from Talbot about the stigma of mental illness and addiction. Writing All that Glitters gave her numerous ideas for books since she had to really focus on her own story for this first release.
“There was a lot I had to leave out in order to keep the book moving, and I didn’t want to get bogged down in my personal views about reality and stuff like that. I really wanted to just tell the story and let the reader to make up their own mind about my life.”
In addition to writing--Talbot has also written articles for climbing magazines and co-wrote a guide to ice climbing in the Rockies, and she has long been writing poetry--Talbot also does public speaking, when she’s not travelling around the world climbing frozen waterfalls.
Talbot now lives in Winlaw, and All that Glitters is published by SonoNis Press, which is also located in the Slocan Valley. Author and publisher connected when Talbot attended the Banff Mountain Writers Program, and her participation in that program was an important part of the author’s writing journey.
From New Brunswick originally, Talbot was introduced to ice climbing at the age of 28 by an old boyfriend, and she quickly realized that the training and exercise was great for her mental health, as it boosts endorphins and can increase seratonin levels.
Margo Talbot will be at Cafe Books West from 1 - 3pm on Sunday afternoon, and staff at the bookstore told me there is the possibility of live music at the event, too. Feeling heartened and inspired after my exciting interview with Talbot, I’ll be there with bells on!