How to Deal With A Failed Expedition

A failed expedition can lead to post-expedition depression, feelings of inferiority and thoughts of quitting. It does not have to feel this way.

How to Deal With A Failed Expedition

Expeditions take a lot out of us, and during those months of hard exertions, we give the best of what we can offer to the mountain, the ice, the sea; wherever we happen to be. But while we can all relate to that statement, no one ever really talks about what happens when you go home. More so, no one ever discusses what goes on mentally in someone’s mind when that expedition fails.

Today, we are going to talk candidly about what is known as post-expedition depression, specifically, how to deal with a failed expedition. But before you can even tackle dealing with a failed expedition, you have to recognize the signs of post-expedition depression.

Symptoms of Post-expedition Depression

For the most part, whether you succeed or fail, most people will feel some level of the following symptoms of general post-expedition depression:

  • Not being satisfied at home
  • Not wanting to see or be around others who don’t understand expedition life
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Disinterest in daily life
  • Melancholy, sadness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritation, mild anger or being easily triggered
  • Suicidal thoughts (extreme, if you are having these thoughts, seek professional help now)

Post-expedition depression is no much different from regular depression. The main difference is that it’s brought on by a sudden change in your environment. In this case, it’s an environment you subconsciously prefer to be in above all others. Leaving always implants the idea in the brain that you may never return, whether that’s due to a lack of funds or fitness is irrelevant. What you’re coping with is the idea that it’s all over for good. Compound that with returning from a failed expedition, and you have yourself a bomb of self-depreciation. Many adventurers go through this.

Post-expedition depression caused or compounded by a failed expedition can result in the symptoms listed above and other, more specific, symptoms directly related to your self-esteem and commitment ethic.

Signs of Post-expedition Depression Caused by a Failed Expedition

  • Feelings of inferiority (others made it, and you did not)
  • Thoughts of quitting future planned expedition attempts
  • Self-depreciation
  • Lack of commitment to restart training (makes it more real that you failed)
  • Lack of motivation to restart training (what for, you already failed)
  • All the signs of general post-expedition depression
  • Suicidal thoughts (extreme, if you are having these thoughts, seek professional help now)

These are the symptoms we are going to talk about today. They are very real, and if you’re here, you know they are. The biggest mistake most people can make when it comes to dealing with a failed expedition is thinking (and then believing) that they aren’t even the least bit upset that they failed.

Worse yet, is thinking they have no problem at all being back home afterward. So, let’s identify why you’re having these feelings and symptoms and get on the road to fixing them.

Symptom: Feelings of Inferiority

One of the very first thoughts that accompany post-expedition depression is the feeling of inferiority. This is usually brought on by the knowledge that others on the same expedition succeeded while you did not, rather than just because you didn’t succeed as the sole factor.

Expeditions are grueling experiences and most of the time, they start well in advance of departure. Training for your upcoming expedition is the real start of your experience. After all the training, the travel, the climbing and expedition work, when you don’t complete the mission, your brain starts telling you it’s your fault.

For example, instead of thinking that it’s a normal thing to fail sometimes, some climbers and adventurers will begin to think they failed in spite of all their hard work simply because they aren’t good enough. After all, others trained just as hard as you, maybe even less, and they made it. Why couldn’t you?

Examining Feelings of Inferiority

The first step to tackling feelings of inferiority is telling yourself that if you even survived the expedition, you’re obviously not inferior. For climbers specifically, there is a very small group of you globally. That’s not because you’re inferior. You’re an example of athletic and disciplined mental prowess. Not everyone can do this.

Now that you’ve established your place on the global scale of things, let’s talk about your niche. The global population of climbers is small in comparison to everyone else. But within the interest, it’s quite large. Not everyone can succeed every time. And if they did, would it be that satisfying during the times you do? No.

Every failed expedition is a chance to learn something new and maybe avoid things the next time around. If your expedition failed because you were being careful under extremely dangerous conditions, then you succeeded. Would you rather be alive and try again? Or would you prefer to be dead with a record no one will remember because you died? Or worse, you could be dead with an expedition that failed anyway.

In 2017, Fredrik Sträng attempted to climb K2 again after nearly 10 years of absence from that mountain. His last attempt to climb it had been in 2008 and that year ended in one of the worst mountaineering seasons in history. Eleven climbers died.

That 2008 season would forever be known as the 2008 K2 Disaster. He survived that expedition. He made it back home to try again another three times because he was careful the first time around. Fredrik refused to climb late in the day, past the turnaround time.

Subsequent times, including his 2017 expedition, dangerous conditions were also the reason he chose not to go further. As of 2019, he still has plans to attempt it again. K2 will always be there. Your job is to preserve yourself so you can later give yourself another chance to try again with better odds.

How to Deal With Feelings of Inferiority

Tell yourself every day that you survived. Tell yourself every day that you trained hard and somethings just cannot be changed. Promise yourself that you won’t give up and owe it to yourself not to. And when you say it, believe it, “none of that side-saddle stuff.”

The goal here isn’t to get back in the saddle, but to convince yourself that you are worthy of riding. That the horse is just part of the obstacles you have to overcome.

Symptom: Thoughts of Quitting Future Expedition Attempts

Whether you’re 10 after a lost soccer game or 30 after a failed climb, we all do it. We let the idea creep into our minds that “this is it! I’m not doing this anymore.” After all, what for, right? You did all this hard work only to fail, possibly again.

During this time, you’re probably thinking of canceling future trips, appearances, and selling all your gear. Slow down. First, if you sell all your gear, even we are going to be mad at you. This is an expensive sport/pastime. Just remember everything you had to do to earn enough to even purchase all that gear. Better yet, if you’re feeling spiteful or jealous that someone else succeeded, use that feeling. Don’t just make it easy for someone else to get their gear by selling yours at 25 percent off just to get rid of it. Screw them.

Analyzing Thoughts of Quitting Future Expeditions

Thoughts of quitting future planned expeditions are natural. They are brought on by not wanting to repeat the entire affair, including a possible failure. For a little while, it may make you feel in control to know you can choose when to stop trying, when to give up. But after a time, you’ll start to realize that that feeling is an illusion. You will feel less in control knowing you gave up your dream because you were scared, angry, sad. Your feelings trapped you in a box – because of this, you also lost all of your awaiting opportunities.

Don’t let it get this far.

How to Deal With Thoughts of Quitting Future Expeditions

To keep your mind off of quitting, just keep proceeding with your normal post-expedition routine. Start training at your regular schedule. Start your diet on time.

It’s fine if you want to keep telling yourself that you’re going to quit tomorrow, as long as when tomorrow comes, you get up and get out there. It’s psychological. Give your mind time to vent, but don’t give your body the freedom to get comfortable in that mindset.

Before you realize it, you’ll be in a full-swing training and prep mode, and you won’t be thinking about quitting.

Symptom: Not Being Satisfied at Home

Not being satisfied at home is probably one of the telltale signs of post-expedition depression. It’s completely normal. You’ve just left a place almost no one else has experienced only to come back to the monotony of everyday life. Probably, the worst part is watching as people pass by unaware that you’ve just stood on top of the Earth, climbed the highest place in the world. They just glance past you, as if yesterday, you too were just mowing your lawn like them.

Deciphering Why You’re Not Satisfied at Home

When you’re not satisfied at home, you’ll find it hard to focus. You’ll lose interest in your usual home-life routines. Getting along with family is hard, and finding time to spend with them is almost forced. Nothing about home makes you want to be there or stay there. This is because you want to be up there, on that mountain. It could also be because you just want to be on the road again on an expedition preparing to conquer the Earth.

Whatever the real reason, it’s almost always brought on by your inability to come to terms with the fact that you genuinely prefer to be elsewhere. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your family or want to spend time with them. It just means that, sometimes, you just wish you had a bit more time to try and conquer that dream. Being home makes it real that it will be a long time before you get that chance again.

How to Work on Being Satisfied at Home

Spending time with your family may be forced. But don’t let them know it’s like a job to you right now. Try your best to look interested. It will take a few months to remember everything you love about your family and why home is home. What you have to remember is that at this moment, you’re comparing your family to a mountain in terms of the satisfaction either can provide. And that’s not fair. Your family is human, that mountain is a creation of perfection and there’s no competing with time spent on it.

Of course, we’re not saying family isn’t important. But we are being frank. When you’re dealing with Post-expedition depression, you’re not thinking rationally sometimes. These are the things you’ll experience and until you admit to yourself you feel this way, there’s no way to fix it.

Make an effort to spend time with your family/friends. Redecorate a part of your home or work on a new solution for storing your gear in a better place. These things will keep your mind occupied, and when you’re done, it will give you a new reason to love your place; a new reason to love your life.

Symptom: Abnormal Sleeping Patterns

This is something that goes hand in hand with all kinds of depression sometimes. But when we are talking about post-expedition depression, its a killer. When you’re on an expedition, the effort you put into your climb can make you tired enough by bedtime that you fall asleep fairly easily. Other times, the excitement will keep you up all night. You will battle this on the mountain. But it often doesn’t go away just because you’ve come home. In fact, when you get home, it may be your biggest challenge.

Why You’re Experiencing Abnormal Sleeping Patterns

You’re experiencing abnormal sleeping patterns because your mind isn’t where it needs to be right now. The depression of a failed expedition compounded by the fact that your body is adjusting to regular life can leave you in limbo. You may feel exhausted, but unable to sleep. Or you may find yourself sleeping all the time, often without the presence of fatigue, but rather, you just don’t want to be up and about.

Sleeping can sometimes be used by the body as a coping mechanism. It harbors your body and mind in a still place, so you have more time to deal with your issues later. At first, the idea of “get some rest” can seem legitimately productive. But over time, you’re just procrastinating the healing process. And if this is the section you’re interested in, I think you know that’s exactly what you’re doing.

In other people, procrastination of healing can manifest in the rejection of sleep. This can be seen when the person refuses to stand still, has to keep moving and working on different projects without a break. Mainly, it’s a way to avoid downtime before sleep. This is a time when they have to be alone with their thoughts.

Getting Your Sleeping Patterns in Order

Regardless of whether your abnormal sleeping patterns manifest as insomnia or constant sleeping, you have to fix this. Make a strict schedule and adhere to it. Make yourself a bedtime, and stick to it. Create a routine if you have to. It can include something to look forward to before bed like a book, tea, a television series, a phone call, or anything you can do that requires you to dive into downtime.

Some sleeping supplements can help. Melatonin is a popular, natural sleeping aid. Diphenhydramine also helps and is the main ingredient in medications like Benadryl and ZZZQuil.

It’s also a good idea to talk to a licensed medical professional when it comes to problems sleeping.

Symptom: Lack of Motivation

Just like thoughts of quitting, lack of motivation can plague you after a failed expedition. Lack of motivation can leave you feeling like you don’t want to get up and start training, networking for funding, and more.

Analyzing Lack of Motivation

Often lack of motivation is brought on by the idea that there’s no purpose to continue the task, you already failed once. It can also lead to a lack of commitment, which is essential to your image with regards to reliability, whether from sponsors or partners. Lack of motivation can destroy your image. And it will destroy it if you don’t get up and move.

Regaining Your Motivation

The easiest way to regain motivation is to set goals. Preferably, for your sake and ours, set achievable goals. Make daily schedules and work toward these mini-goals a little at a time. Looking at the big picture as a whole can seem intimidating, especially right after a failed expedition where you may be feeling like the smallest being on earth. So start small. Work your way up.

Symptom: Suicidal Thoughts

If you are having suicidal thoughts, close this page and dial your local emergency hotline. Remember, it only feels as worse as it does right now, tomorrow, it may be different. Reach out to friends and family, and seek help from others in the climbing community if you need help. There are other climbers who know what you’re going through. There’s no reason to endure this alone.



Until Next Time

This topic, as you can imagine, is vast. We can’t cover it all in one article, so there will be others in the next few months. For now, let these things sink in. Remember, in life, you cannot win them all. And, sometimes, your losses are meant to serve as lessons. When you think you’re invincible, you can end up dead on a mountain.

I’ll leave you with this mini-documentary by Fredrik Sträng, which details the importance of knowing about summit fever. In it, he says, “you can’t have too much debt on your account, because you’ll end up dead.” This is true, and it’s important when dealing with the feelings that come with a failed expedition. If you focus too much on the sweet goal, you may lose sight of the fact that there are factors in place that make this goal impossible. If you go against these facts, you might end up dead.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose any medical or psychological condition and is not a substitute for treatment for any medical or psychological condition. Speak to a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms associated with any medical or psychological condition. This site uses affiliate links. We receive a commission for any items purchased via these links at no cost to you. This helps support our site. 

One response to “How to Deal With A Failed Expedition

  1. Pingback: Fredrik Sträng Finally Reaches K2 Base Camp | Base Camp Magazine·

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