I love roller coasters and zip lining but put me on a balcony on the 17th floor, and I get the feeling in my butt. And in my lower thighs. Mostly, in my palms. They will sweat profusely, forming puddles in the cracks. I used to say “I don’t like heights” but the truth is, I’m afraid of heights. Terrified.
In a roller coaster, I’m out of control, buckled-in and going super fast. The ride is over before I get too scared about how high up I am and my brain and neck is being bounced around so intensely, my body is distracted from the fear. In fact, the scariest part of any roller coaster is the slow, rickety incline climbing further from the safety of the concrete.
Adrenaline-related activities can win over fear only so much. A few years ago my sister and I went to the Big Shot ride on top of Stratosphere in Las Vegas. The height of this obscenely tall structure, if I had to estimate, was roughly halfway to the moon. At the tippy top of the thin, white pole in the sky, they buckled you into a 4-seater and they shot you closer to the moon and then dropped you to the ground and then shot you back up and then dropped you again. From the ground, this idea seemed electrifying. We took a longer-than-normal elevator ride up the skinny tall structure. Stepping out of the elevator, onto the circular observation platform, my feet locked up on me. My sister tried to talk me through it. “Are you really going to make me do this by myself?” YES! I am. A few workers tried to convince me it was safe, they tried to cheer me on. The concrete blocks on my feet wouldn’t budge. I bailed on her and she went on the scariest ride of her life with three other strangers. This irrational fear of heights nudges me. I’m angry I allow it the smother my spontaneous enthusiasm for an adventure.
A few years ago, I discovered the world’s tallest indoor adventure climbing course at a nearby mall. There are rope ladders, tremor bridges, spaghetti hand lines, lumber rope bridges and 70 other challenges. I was safely secured to a harness, which was connected to a cable that kept me on a track. Once hooked in, I couldn’t get off the cable until I exited. This was seemingly very safe and the physical complexity of the activities, if they were on the ground (like a balance beam) would be easy enough for a 5-year-old, and yet 85 feet off the ground, I was paralyzed with fear. This course was the ultimate head trip.
I am a physically strong person. I am limber. I am amply capable of crossing a beam or a rope ladder but somehow, 4 flights of mall below me trumped any rationale and all I saw was a blinking DEATH warning with every step. Between each challenge was a circular platform with a steel pole to hold onto. I left handprints at each one, unable to battle the crippling fear. “Just take one step,” I kept telling myself. Nothing will happen. I watched children on every level of the course breezing through with a confidence life hadn’t yet beat out of them.
“Why was I so afraid?” I ask my husband later, so disappointed I had only completed a quarter of the challenges.
“You just have so much to lose,” he reassures me. “It’s OK to be scared.”
I embraced this realization with a newfound forgiveness. I’ll keep my fear of heights as long as I can still get on airplanes, ride roller coasters, hike up mountains, and ride zip lines. I’ll just stick to being one of those of girls who gets her highs with two feet on the ground.