Crossing Two Things Off the List


I don’t think of myself as much of an adventurer, but I like broadening my horizons. I’ve traveled a bit off the beaten path and seen and done some things that may not be on everybody’s itinerary. I’d like to think of myself as, if not quite fearless, at least someone who is not easily daunted. At least if I act like I am not afraid, I might appear less anxious than I actually am.

But, one thing that I don’t often do a good job of masking — and too often it has held me back — is my fear of heights. Several years ago I worked in an office on the fifth floor of a building. The main conference room looked out over an atrium. It was nearly impossible for me to concentrate if I sat facing the atrium unless the blinds were closed. To get to the window side of the conference table, I would walk sideways with my back to the windows. After a remodel, the main conference room was on the fourth floor, but still overlooking the atrium fountain. Since it didn’t seem as high, I wasn’t as bothered, though I still sat where I wouldn’t have to look out. That is, until I heard a news story that claimed that if you were on the 4th floor or above in a fire, you wouldn’t survive jumping out the window. Suddenly, it seemed as high as the fifth, or fiftieth, floor.

Years ago, I took my son to New York City. He wanted to go to the Empire State Building. I wasn’t happy about it, but he was too young to go on his own, and I didn’t want to seem like a fraidy cat. I held it together as we waited over an hour in line. I didn’t realize that once you made it up to the beginning of the line, it was only to get on the elevator. Another line awaited you on the Observation Floor. Worse than the lengthy wait on the ground floor, this wait was along a wall of windows. Floor to ceiling windows. A bank of windows that made it seem as if nothing separated you from the sidewalk 86 floors below. I broke out in a sweat. At the end of the line they took a photograph. I never looked at ours; I’m sure that it told a story of a young boy eager to get out on the observation deck and his fearful mother looking about to find a trash can to heave into. He did coerce me on to the open air deck and it wasn’t so bad. Why not? Because there is a tall wall and an even taller fence between me and a freefall.

Sometimes, if sitting in a high balcony seat in a theatre, or near a window in a plane, I will suffer from vertigo, that spinning sensation that some people experience when looking down from on high. Driving over a bridge, if I’m in the right lane, will cause it too. Not one, but three different hospitals in my city have glass elevators that I prefer not to use, lest someone think that they need to direct me to Emergency, or more likely, the Psych Ward. Once I was going to participate in the Mackinac Bridge Walk to see if I could overcome this phobia. It started raining before we got to the start and our adventure was ditched: I was relieved.

So, given this, what would you think that I did today?

A beautiful day to sail over the Gulf of Mexico!

No anxiety at all! No concerns that I would fall into the water too far offshore to swim to safety. No thoughts about what would happen if the lines broke. (I realized after I was back on the boat that they didn’t cover this contingency before I was airborne.) I was at maximum height quickly and could see for miles over the Gulf of Mexico and over Estero Bay. I could clearly see the 7 miles of beach that I walked last week and grasp that it is nothing like a straight line from one end to the other. I realized how there are some very tall pines on the island that soar above the palm trees. I could see boats in the three marinas on the island and I could see just how many small, uninhabited islands there are in the estuary.

My only regrets were that I didn’t have a camera with me and that I couldn’t swivel around 365 degrees to see everything. The boat did a good job of changing directions so that I could see different perspectives, but I found myself twisting in the harness to look elsewhere. If I looked at the boat, it appeared to be traveling at a good clip, but it didn’t seem like that up in the air. It was quiet and peaceful and felt like what I imagine it might be like if we could glide like birds.

Would I do it again? You bet!

Epilogue: I spoke to my mom early this evening and told her that I went parasailing. Her response: “Oh, isn’t that fun? Your sister got me to do that about a dozen years ago!” For a moment, I felt a bit less adventurous. But only for a moment. It was fun & I had to overcome, at least temporarily, a deep seeded fear. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try skydiving in the future.

* Do something despite my acrophobia. CHECK
* Go parasailing. CHECK

It was a good day!

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6 responses to “Crossing Two Things Off the List

  1. The Rowdy Chowgirl

    This is completely awesome! It couldn’t have been easy to get out there and try parasailing, given your impressive fear of heights. Good for you! I just checked parasailing off my list last year, and I was also surprised to find out that it didn’t feel scary, or even like I was really all that high up. So unexpectedly peaceful.

    • It was so peaceful! Unlike a hot air balloon (which I was in before I had such a fear of heights), you don’t feel that high. I’ve been in a sailplane too — equally peaceful but you hear the wind rush around the plane.

  2. Congratulations! In my thirties, I had developed a tremendous fear of heights. When I was young, I skied the alps and rode in gondolas and thought nothing of amazing heights. Sometime after having my daughter and having a career, it hit me. Even climbing a ladder was a challenge, I could go up, but coming down – well, sweaty palms, locked knees and paralyzing fear – coming down or looking down was an issue. I mentioned this to my doctor who checked out my ears because of it.
    Turns out I had an inner ear thing and my horrible vertigo was cured with the insertion of tubes into my ear to allow for proper drainage. It made all the difference in my life, it may be something you might want to consider 🙂 Again, congrats, it looks like a great time!

    • Well, that is interesting. I had a problem with my ears a few weeks before we left on vacation. A loud and very painful pop! Went to the doctor to be sure that I hadn’t punctured my eardrum. I had not, but had quite a bit of fluid. I wonder if the issue corrected itself and that is why I didn’t have vertigo. I do think that part of the reason it wasn’t so scary is that you are not looking directly down when you are in the parasail,so you don’t get that feeling of being so high with a sheer drop.

  3. Accept my congratulations! Given your prologue, I’m incredibly impressed. To what do you attribute your ability NOT to be in a total panic on this occasion?

    I have no fear of heights. There’s a “trail” of sorts at Zion National Park in SW Utah called the “Angels Landing Trail.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angels_Landing) It leads out to a spit of rock called, naturally enough, Angels Landing…so-called because the early settlers in the area said that only an angel could make it out there. There are spots along the trail where the rock is scarcely wider than one’s foot and there are chains bolted into the rock which one grabs to pull oneself along. I “hiked” the trail when I was there in 1998. My (now) wife, who is terrified of heights, wisely didn’t attempt it. There are warnings all over the place that those with a fear of heights shouldn’t attempt the final 1/2 mile (which has a drop off of approximately 1000 feet) and yet…some people do. It ain’t pretty–I saw more than one adult bawling like a child on that trail. To me, Angels Landing is the ultimate test for the ordinary person when it comes to fear of heights…if you can make it out and back AND be willing to do it again, you have no fear of heights. (Yes, I did it make it all the way out and back–great view of Zion canyon from the summit.)

    • Wow! I don’t think I could do that.

      Why didn’t I fee anxious? I’m not sure. Maybe it was because the harness gave me a sense of security, which would be the same reason why I could stand on the outside observation deck of the Empire State Building, but not in the room inside with floor to ceiling windows. We had box seats at the opera once and I had to move my chair away from the edge — it was just too much to look over and down.