Friday, September 17, 2010

Acrophobia: fear of heights

At 16 while training to become a lifeguard, I had made a comment to my trainer about the distance between the lifeguard stand and the diving pool.  To be honest, I was a bit afraid that if anyone was in need of my lifesaving skills, and I was required to jump from the stand into the pool, I wouldn't make it.  I could see myself jumping and skimming the edge of the pool, hurting myself - which would make me unable to perform my ever important duties of saving someone from a watery grave.

She took my comment as though I was afraid of heights- which, in fact, was also true.  But since I'm speaking honestly here, saying I have a fear of heights is an understatement. It's beyond a fear... and I don't even know if there's a word for that. 

But to squelch my trepidation, she decided I should jump off the high dive ...a 10 foot drop into the water.  Fear jolted through me as I climbed the ladder to the top.  My heart rate increased as I slowly made my way to the edge of the board.  And before I was given the OK to jump, I was breathing so deeply I thought I'd make myself pass out.  But I did it.  I jumped.  And I felt so relieved to have it over with, until my head came back out of the water and my trainer was shaking her head and stated, "no, no, no... you closed your eyes! You ALWAYS have to keep your eyes on the victim until the very last second you reach the water. Now jump again, but this time: keep your eyes on me."

So I did. And I kept my eyes on her, until half way through when I was asked by her co-trainer to look at him... and I did.  I came out of the water to the sound of rolling laughter.  Between laughs they were able to get out the words "you know...ha ha...the wall  clock...ha ha...that looks like a cat...ha ha...with the big eyes that move back and forth?  Ha ha... you looked exactly like it... ha ha!"  But at least I pacified them and didn't have to jump again. 

My real concern, however, wasn't even met.  If the need ever arose that I'd have to jump off the lifeguard stand, I didn't know if I could leap far enough out to hit the water before inevitably hitting my head on the cement.  See, as afraid as I am of heights, that fear is increased ten fold when lateral distance is involved. Thankfully, no one ever came close to drowning on my watch.

Age hasn't diminished my fear, even in the slightest degree. But when I neared the waterfall, located on the Sosian Ranch property, I wasn't going to let it stop me from jumping.  My entire trip to Africa was about reinventing my independence.  Breaking out of the shells of fear I protect myself with.  Becoming a new, fearless, woman... one able to conquer anything she sets her mind to.

The waterfall is 30 feet high. Three times the distance from the high dive I jumped half a lifetime ago.  But I paid it no mind as a group of us climbed the cliff leading to it. It wasn't until we reached the top that my heart started racing.  We walked across rocks in the river as water rushed around our feet and over the edge we were making our way towards.  Two brothers, who were barely teenagers, urged me to jump first.  I couldn't do it.  So I watched as their little bodies flew over the ledge and into the water below.  I continued watching as two other people made the plunge.

But when I could use the excuse of waiting for others no longer, I stood paralyzed.  It was if I was 16 years old all over again, on the lifeguard stand forced to jump.  My feet were planted on the small rock that served as a platform, too small to provide a running jump (or even a large step for momentum) over the rocky ledge that protruded out a few feet below.

I continued to stand,  unable to move.  All I could think about was hitting my head on the way down and not making it to my 30th birthday the next day.  I looked down at the four people happily waiting for me below.  I looked over at the two behind me that wouldn't jump until I did, to make sure I landed safely.  And I stayed that way for 5 minutes. 

My hands became numb and tingly.  My knees started to buckle underneath me.  I had to hold on to the rocky shelf for support.  I couldn't get myself to do it.  I couldn't get myself to jump.  Finally, everyone decided to encourage me by counting down from 10.  The entire time I gave myself a mental pep talk, and when they reached "1", I found myself free falling in the air. 

I did it... and I was no longer that scared 16 year old girl, afraid she wouldn't make it to her 30th birthday the next day. 

1 comment:

ReL said...

That is just AWESOME! And oh so inspiring! Oh and so much better than my jumping off a cliff story LOL. :-) Happy for your reinvention and that it's going so well for you lady!!!