I had a crippling fear of heights when I was young. Living in New England meant I was often a scared, quiet passenger sitting in the back of a car that was driving over bridges. I’d squeeze my eyes shut and focus on something else, anything else, until I thought it was over.
In 1994 I was 18yo when I went to live at college, and made a friend who was a very avid rock climber. Being someone who loved nature, felt at home amongst the trees, never squeamish about dirt on my pants or bugs in my palm, I had always been drawn to the idea of rock climbing. It seemed exhilarating. I wanted to do it. I thought it would suit me, somehow.
Except for the being-really-high-up part of it.
My Fear, something that if fully explained did make sense at one point, had become something holding me back. Fear put its hands over my eyes. Having lived with the Fear for so long, I didn’t recognize the point that it had become comfortable. Familiar.
One day I decided: enough was enough.
I told my friend I was ready. He knew my Fear. I privately explained to him how bad it was, and he assured me I would be safe.
I was a wreck in the car on the way to the spot we were headed to climb.
I was shaking and sick and nervous as my harness was strapped on and the rope knotted.
He showed me how to belay (run the rope between our harnesses, keeping it taught so if he slipped off he won’t actually fall, then how to loosen it so he could come down safely). He went up first, an easy climb, showing me that I was able to keep him safe and I was all new to this.
Then it was my turn.
He pulled the rope so tight, I almost felt him pulling me up the rock. But I was the one who put my hands and feet on the rock and climbed up.
When I got the to top (we’ll skip how slowly I went, shaking the whole way), I knew there was only one way down: I had to let go, trust in the ‘professional’ to lower me back to safety.
Needless to say, the fingernail marks I made in the rock up there probably still remain.
But I let go. I trusted someone else to guide me to safety.
When I got to the bottom, I wiped away my tears, caught my breath, and said:
I faced my Fear, I trusted in someone who knew more than me, and my world opened up just a little bit.
It taught me to trust others. To put myself ‘out there’, both literally and physically. It was a very big step for me, something I’m not sure I ever adequately expressed to my old college friend.
I found myself scared many times as a parent. But once we made the decision to start trying, once I got pregnant, once that baby (and then another) was in my arms, I knew I had no choice but to slap on my harness and climb.
A lot of things shifted this year. I became scared of Cancer. Very scared. The more I learn, the more I understand that being scared of Bad News is what causes people to put off doctor appointments more than anything else. They put things off, their health, because it’s easier to just be scared and then think about something else rather than actually face that Fear head-on. That Fear encourages people to live in the ‘ignorance is bliss’ state. When we give in to the Fear, and delay taking care of ourselves, that’s when sneaky bastards like Cancer, Obesity, And Other Bad Body Things get out of control.
On 8/31 I found a spot on my shoulder.
I made a Dermatologist appointment right away, telling them calmly that one of the cancers my father had (years ago) had been Melanoma. And that my Mom is battling cancer right now. And that my father had died of another kind just last year. I had been meaning to make an appointment since March. I felt a fool. I felt as if I was about to be made an example of.
I waited, watched. The Spot faded away, but my recognition that I can’t be scared all the time didn’t. I recognized that I was more scared of not knowing whether I was okay, than I was of hearing Bad News. Bad News can be dealt with. Ignorance is just plain stupid.
I cannot imagine anything scarier than having to tell my beloved husband and beautiful children “I’m so sorry that I am very ill because I put off taking care of myself”. This would be my worst nightmare, and its up to me, only me, to make sure it doesn’t happen. Not taking care of myself isn’t an accident, it’s deliberate self-neglect. If something happens to me because of my inaction (like putting off important doctor appointments), it’s just as bad as should something happen to me because of my action (like smoking ciggarettes, or driving while texting). I have a life worth living well, and a family that loves me. These are obvious things I shouldn’t have to remind myself of.
I was nervous this morning about my appointment, even with The Spot totally faded away by now. But I got to my appointment a little early.
I stripped down, ignoring my embarrassment at a stranger seeing me totally naked. Of being prodded, chatted to while my shivering-cold body got the up-close-and-personal once-over by a professional.
Once she was done, once the door closed behind her and I could get dressed, I caught my breath.
The Fear was faced, and I am okay.