Hey, remember that time I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t run? Or exercise early in the morning? Or that time I thought I couldn’t possibly give blood? You know, those challenges that showed me I could do more than I thought I could and that I was pretty dumb for thinking I couldn’t? Enter this week’s challenge (she says in parentheses).
Until 2003, I never had a problem with heights. I could climb ladders and ride roller coasters with the best of them. I was no rock climber, but I didn’t mind hiking up to precarious ledges. I sat on an elephant (and let my children join me) this far off the ground and wasn’t freaked out in the least.
And I know it’s hard to believe, but check me out dangling from this bungee cord, no big deal.
Then one afternoon when I was pregnant with my third child, I was stepping down from relatively low height and had a sudden attack of vertigo. I got dizzy and found myself overcome with fear just three feet off the ground. The reaction was completely new to me and came without warning.
Six months later, as I stood on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, the feeling returned. This time, in addition to the dizziness and fear, I felt like gravity was pulling down very forcefully on everything around me. I remember trying to hold on to my wedding ring with my thumb because it felt as if it was slipping right off my finger. I was holding my friend’s baby and insisted she take him because I felt like I was going to drop him. It sounds silly now, but it was a very real, very frightening feeling of a powerful downward pull.
So I turned to my favorite coping mechanism: avoidance. When we hiked, I stayed far away from any great views that might take me within ten feet of a cliff. When we went to Disneyland, I rode all the ground-level rides with my timid youngest son while the rest of my family was off looking for thrills. I closed my eyes during any movie scenes or commercials involving heights. I even hid friends’ Facebook posts about goats climbing cliffs or trees. Problem
But then I had to try something outside my comfort zone this week, and it had to be something that could be done in an hour or less, which is how I got myself into this situation:
This week I told all my fears to just shove it and joined my son (the same one I was pregnant with when the vertigo first hit me) on the ropes course at the Provo Beach Resort.
After an initial mild freak out, I started on the lower level of the ropes course and realized that my trust in the harness and my concentrated effort not to look stupid overrode my fear of heights. Some of those ropes can be wobbly, so I was pretty pleased with my ability to get across (however slowly) without losing my footing. The challenge of each obstacle demanded my focus more than my fear did. Soon I was ready to take it to the next level (a phrase my husband has banned from all his students’ writing, but it totally applies here).
I mean, look how far off the ground I am! And it’s not like I could avoid looking down because I had to watch where I was stepping. I couldn’t even trick myself into forgetting I was up so high.
The course doesn’t have a specific order – you just choose where to cross next. After a while, I realized that this is what it felt like to play on a jungle gym when I was a kid. No rules, no set schedule. Just go wherever you want, use up all your energy and strength, and don’t worry about things like gravity or hospital bills.
And it was a pretty good workout for my arms.
After my initial panic, the only thing that really freaked me out was the amount of hair on each step. I guess they don’t dust or vacuum the course very often (it seems like it would be tricky), because there were so many hairs! It was nasty. I’m thinking maybe my vertigo has disappeared and been replaced by trichophobia.
After a while, we finally had to call it quits because our hands hurt from gripping ropes. Going into the experience, I was sure I was going to have to quit because of fear or an inability to stay upright, so I was pretty pleased to discover that, whatever the reason for the sudden onset of vertigo, at least the physical symptoms seem to no longer be an issue for me. I guess this means I’d better go back to Disneyland to hit all the rides I missed last time.
I wasn’t the only one who demonstrated bravery that day. Because there were no available lockers for me to use while on the course, my husband had to wander through the arcade with Fritz carrying my purse. Luckily, he’s a real man. He’s not afraid of a purse.
My crazy kid doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. I’m glad he was there to teach me how to just go for it.