Turning back through the gate.

Turning Back: Prioritizing Mental Health

After I moved out of the Midwest, I never believed adventures would work its way back into my life. Yet I was getting out weekly. I woke up ready to crank and ready to push my body and mind to new limits. I wasn’t sure what my capacity was as I didn’t feel like I had reached it yet, I just knew I could do things that might change the world for someone watching, reading, or following. The mental darkness was gone. At least I thought it was…

Tommy Danger chasing adventure, before the mental darkness
Tommy Danger chasing adventure on Aconcagua in 2015.

Seeking adventure

I grew up in Northern Indiana and for most of my life it has always been my nemesis, because I felt for my life to be complete I either needed the ocean, the mountains, or both. Northern Indiana didn’t offer that to me. As I escaped, I had friends, family, and others tell me a version of “I have to come back to earth” as I set out on a wild goose chase to catch my dreams and live them.

It took years of failures, but through those failures I learned more than any school could teach me. I learned what to love. I learned what love was and I got to see what our world truly consists of on all levels.

I’ve been a lucky dude. I came from nothing. My mom still works 10-12 hour shifts for five to seven days a week in a factory that gives zero shits that she has been loyal and consistent for over 25 years of service. I couldn’t live that life. I couldn’t handle that darkness, so I decided to escape and over the years I have turned my escape into an adventure that has led me to some magical locations and filled my mind with incredible memories.

What drives you?

In 2015 I married a woman that not only would teach me so much through life, but would be there when I decided to continue my career helping those with a disease that killed my friends on a weekly basis known as Cystic Fibrosis. This woman knew that some days I wouldn’t be able to handle my emotions and she would have to step in the middle of my darkness to shine a light.

There was a time when my wife was six months pregnant when I wasn’t sure if I would get to meet Mayzie Soleil Danger as myself, John Burkett, Mark Nolan, and Jon Kedrowski got ourselves into a tribal war located in the middle of nowhere Papua. That day before our rescue, I wrote a note on my phone hoping someone would find it to tell my upcoming daughter how much I loved her.

Mayzie is now four years old and we have another tiny Danger who came to us in the heart of the worldwide pandemic, Legynd Kaua’i Danger. Mayzie had seen 15 countries and 34 states before her third birthday, and as of the summer of 2021, Koko (Legynd) had only been on a flight down to SLC to visit my in-laws.

I’m telling you all of this because I’m not in a situation where I have lost everything. I have two healthy, funny, and beautiful children. I have a wife that is not only my foundation, but is an INCREDIBLE mother. But the mental darkness is back. The darkness I thought I had forever escaped.

How? Why?

I can’t give you that answer. It’s something I struggle with on a daily basis as I try to be a positive father, husband, and role model. There are days when I feel I am going to break, but my family definitely helps me get through it.

I guess why I am writing this, it’s for people to understand that it’s okay to not be okay. I am far from the best version of myself, yet I will continue to fight through the darkness and find my light again.

Testing out the Big Agnes Fire Tower Belay jacket in the Everest Region.
Testing out the Big Agnes Fire Tower Belay Jacket in the Everest Region.

Over this dark period, I haven’t adventured much, but recently had a recent trip to the Everest Region as I was going to climb Lobuche, Island Peak, and visit my buddy Ryan Waters at Everest Basecamp while testing out some new Big Agnes gear. The trip was absolutely incredible, but to be completely honest, I won’t be climbing Everest anytime soon as my mental game isn’t there. I have never missed my family as much as I did the month I went to Nepal.

Turning Back

My mental game has always been my super power as I have pushed my mind and body to extreme limits because of its ability to allow me to let go.

I was just above 19k feet on Lobuche as my crampon got tangled in my rope and my knee smashed into a corner chunk of ice. Any other time with my mental health I would have pushed through the pain and would have summited Lobuche, but the state I was in, it just wasn’t going to happen. I tried for another 200 feet, but my mind kept saying, it’s not worth the possible result if I grind through it. Maybe I would have been fine and just dealt with some pain, but I just kept thinking “WHAT IF” it’s serious and it affects how I can play with my kids in the future.

I stopped. Took my jumar off and just started descending to my buddy who was resting around 18k.

Turning back to prioritize mental health.
Turning back through the gate.

My mind kept telling me I was doing the right thing, but my adventure mind kept calling me a failure. Honestly there have been two peaks I have attempted that I didn’t summit and the other peak was in Ecuador in super shitty conditions and it still haunts me.

The point of this Nepal trip was for me to get my light back, but I feel I might be looking in the wrong direction for the light. I will continue the search as I know it’s out there.

About the author: Tommy Danger is a Big Agnes ambassador and adventure athlete. Today, he runs non-profit More Than Just Me, where he uses a different array of adventures to drive awareness to causes around the world.