The fear I can’t conquer

I really dislike the word can’t.  It makes my skin crawl.  Lately, Chloe constantly says “I can’t” to everything her stubborn 2 year old mind doesn’t want to do (whatever sweetie – you can eat that oatmeal I just made you! – stinker).  I just want to yell at her and tell her to stop being such a pessimist and that she’s amazing and can do amazing things.  But alas, she’s 2, so I just show her that she can and save the screaming for boys who want to date her later.

However, that being said, I’ve decided that I have a fear that I really can’t conquer.  Or maybe I should say, “I have a fear that I won’t be conquering, ‘cuz it scares the crap out of me”.  Here goes…I have a fear of heights.  Well actually, it’s not really the heights that scare me, it’s the thought of falling off of them and landing in a crumpled heap at the bottom.  Now I know that much of this may sound totally irrational to you, but here goes…

Rewind 10 years.  I worked in Jackson WY during the summer as a river guide.  I was working most of the time the sun was up so my friends and I would do everything at night.  One of the favorite activities was cliff jumping.  This was something that had always scared me, but somehow doing it at night made it much easier.  At this point, I thought I was cured of my fear of heights.  Well, turns out that it’s just because I knew I was likely not going to get hurt when I fell.  If you land right, water does not hurt.

Me pretending I can actually climb


Okay, now go back 7 years to when Andrew and I were dating.  He’s pretty much the Jack-of-all trades when it comes to outdoor recreation (have you noticed) and climbing is no exception.  He was quick to take me climbing with him and teach me all about it.  I went along with it.  Bought shoes, went with him several times and kept my sobbing to myself.  I was scared that if he knew this huge fear he’d think I was too whimpy for him.  Soon after we were married, the truth came out about how terrified I was of rock climbing (I know, how sneaky).  I would get about 15 feet up and start shaking (I could show my true colors now because we were married and he was stuck with me), demanding that he pull the rope tighter every time I moved and inch, and the higher I got, the more likely I was to cry.  There, now you all know – I’m a big baby.  I was scared of a big fall and landing bad.  Like loosing my footing, slipping, and crushing my body into the rocks.  Or worse, Andrew would fall and I would end up paralyzed since my fall would no doubt be disasterous.  Don’t worry, I completely understand how irrational all of this sounds, but this is what goes through my head and I can’t shake it.  Needless to say, we started climbing less and I encouraged Andrew to just go with friends instead.  Since then, I’ve pretty much backed off from anything that will bring on this fear.  Having kids makes it even worse because now I imagine Mason running to catch a ball and running straight off a cliff (he doesn’t pay attention when he’s playing hard).  Yep, I’m crazy when it comes to taking my kids around steep things.  So we avoid them.  I’ve gotten to the point where I can handle climbing indoors, and bouldering is great.  I mean, climber girls are cool and I wish I could be one.  Their lean, ripped, and just hardcore…but I’ll never really be one.  Girls who are scared of heights don’t make good climbers.

Okay, rewind to two weeks ago.  We’re headed down to Coyote Gulch.  This was my first trip there and Andrew had told me that there was a big hill at the end that you needed to go down.  “Don’t worry” he reassured me “it’s not that bad”, and I believed him.  That is, until we got there.  I saw the hill and vertigo instantly set in.  There was no way I was going down this.  I sat down to control my shaking.  Andrew did his best to reassure me “it’s way harder going down than it is going up”.  So we made a plan.  He would take his pack and Mason down to the bottom and then come back up to carry Chloe in her backpack and I could scoot down on my bum.  Amazingly, I did okay (minus the giant hole this made in my pants) and I don’t think I cried once (even though I still made Andrew help me at the hard spots).  Two days later, we met that hill again.  I kept telling myself that going up is way easier than coming down, and guess what?  The first section was.  I was still pretty scared, so Andrew had already taken his pack to the top and was holding Masons hands with Chloe in the pack.  I wanted to stay close to them thinking that if there was a problem, I could help.  Seriously?  Okay, maybe I was actually thinking rationally then.

My brother and sister-in law going up the hill



I was fine until one move came.  I would have to put my foot on a tiny sloping rock while I made a big move to my next hold.  I couldn’t handle it.  One of my biggest problems with climbing is that while I know I can trust my feet, I mentally can’t do it.  If I fell here, the slope was steep enough that I would easily slide 100 feet to the bottom.  I immediately stopped thinking about my kids and started thinking about how I was going to survive.  Andrew wouldn’t let anything happen to them and would wait with them at the top, but he wasn’t with me now.  I started getting dizzy and a sharp pain in my stomach had me doubled over.  Luckily, we were with a big group and my brother saved my life.  For the next 75 or so feet, he placed his hand on each foothold for me so I would be confident I wouldn’t fall.  I was convinced he would die doing this but he assured me he would be fine.  I was crying by this point (I’m sure that really helped me a lot) knowing that each step I took made my fall bigger.  As I was doing this, my brother-in-law practically ran past me.  The killer part was that my 3 year old niece had her harness on and was clipped onto him going as fast as she could.  Not only was I scared now, I was a major wimp – wasted by a 3 year old!  By the time we got to the top, I was a mess.  I had to sit for a long time before I could get control over my body (shaking, crying, stomach pain).

It was at this point that I realized that I probably wouldn’t ever conquer my fear.  I could do my best to mentally prepare for situations like this, but my fear always won me over.  When I step back from the situation, I can see how completely crazy I sound.  However, I can’t seem to do anything about that when I’m in the situation.  I understand what it would take to get me over it and I don’t think I can do that.  I don’t think I can gradually expose myself to heights until I’m no longer afraid.  I can’t handle the mental or physical stress that gives me.  Well, at least not today.

We’ll go back to Coyote Gulch someday, but not until the kids can carry their own packs.  Andrew will need extra room in his pack to carry the ropes and harnesses needed to get me down and up that hill again.

Hi, I’m Jessica and I’m afraid of heights.


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