All my life, I’ve had a fear of heights. When I was young, I found it difficult to get on rides at the county fair…and it was almost impossible to get me on a roller coaster. I’d find any excuse possible to avoid any situation where I’d have to look down from a great height or feel like I might fall.
Over time, I got better at certain things. Flying in a plane was rarely a problem, except for flights during bad weather – and that was less because of fear of flying than it was fear of throwing up. I grew to enjoy roller coasters, and have ridden some of the tallest ones on the planet.
BUT, there were things that still bothered me – When my family went to Costa Rica, we did a zip-line tour through the jungle canopy. While it was a bit scary, I was able to get through the zip-line part without too much fuss. Part of the tour, however, included a ‘Tarzan swing’. The guides would hook you up to a cable, and you’d step off a 20-foot tall platform….and swing. Both my 13-year old son and 9 year-old daughter did it, so it shouldn’t be a big deal, right?
Wrong. I got up on the platform, hooked up….and couldn’t step off the platform. I was frozen in fear, and couldn’t let go. I mean, come on…it was only 20 feet. If I FELL off the platform, it wouldn’t be fatal. Still, after what seemed like an eternity, I had to un-hook, and climb back down the ladder, doing the walk of shame back to the truck. I was disappointed, and embarrassed.
A few days later, we went on another tour, and I was determined to try it again. Both kids did it…and now it was my turn. I hooked up, stepped up to the platform….and nothing. I couldn’t make myself step off. The guide told me that I had to jump…that I couldn’t back off….and then threatened to push me. I told him that if he pushed, we were BOTH going off the platform. Once again, I had to climb back down….and was very frustrated, embarrassed…and ashamed that I couldn’t do something as simple as stepping off a platform…..and enjoy the fun that my kids were clearly having.
I thought about what happened on that platform for a long time – It wasn’t the physical danger, because it was clearly safe – maybe a bit scary, but not dangerous. I figured that it was my own internal dialogue that was keeping me from letting go. I was thinking of my fear as a wall that I couldn’t climb over or go around. Over time, I realized that fear wasn’t a wall….it was a door – that I had to step through, to get to the fun on the other side.
A couple years ago, my son and I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Southern California. While Six Flags has its complement of roller coasters, there’s also a ride called ‘Lex Luthor’s Drop of Doom’. It slowly climbs up to 400 feet….then drops you back to the ground, with a lot of free-fall excitement. My son wanted to go in it….so I got in line with him, deciding that no matter what, I wouldn’t back out. I focused on my breathing, distracted myself, and worked on positive self-talk all the way to the ride entrance.
As we went up, I kept my eyes focused on the horizon, and tried to relax, instead of thinking about why I might be scared. When we got to the top, it was very quiet for a couple seconds……and then WHOOSH! We were falling towards the ground, and screaming our heads off. A few seconds later, we slowed down…..and the ride stopped. I wasn’t dead, dying or even scared anymore….I was excited from the rush of adrenalin, and realized that I was having fun!
More recently, I visited Las Vegas – the last time I was out there, we went to the top of the Stratosphere Hotel – 855 feet off the ground….and I found it difficult to get close to the (fenced-in) edge of the platform. I was really feeling the fear again. I decided, that the next time I was out, I’d do the SkyJump – it’s a controlled descent of the edge of the platform to the street, nearly 900 feet below. Even though it took me a year to go back, I was determined to confront my fear once again.
When I got out to Las Vegas, my friends helped me in two ways – first, they encouraged me by how exciting it was going to be….and second, gave me enough peer pressure to go through with it. Make no mistake….I was scared – in the first parts of the video, I seem pretty calm and chatty…but once we got up to the top of the Stratosphere….I’m really not saying a word – on the OUTSIDE. Inside, I’m talking myself through the whole thing – ‘You can do this, it’s scary, but still safe, you’ll have a great story when you’re done…’
It’s a Friday night, around 9PM. At the top of the platform, the crew is talking me through it, hooking me up, checking the safety equipment….and I’m stepping up to the edge. I looked out over the platform, and I can see all of the Las Vegas Strip lit up as if it were daytime. I can hear the screams from other rides, feel the wind kicking up….and hear a helicopter flying by, that sounds like it’s BELOW us. The crew does a final check of both cables, detaches the safety….and steps me up to the rim. I hear her count off, 3-2-1, GO!…………
…and I’m off! I’m still looking out at the horizon, but man, this is FUN! I’m zipping down the cable, and it’s quite a rush. I can hear the wind rushing in my ears, and hear the cable get louder as the winch nears the end of the descent. Sooner than I think, I hear the ground crew calling out to bend my knees when I land….and then, it’s over. I’m done. It was amazing….but not NEARLY as scary as I thought it would be.
When we were getting ready to go up, we asked a crew member if anyone ever freaked out on the platform, and he said, he’d seen everything from little old ladies jumping with not problem….to grown men crying, and everything in-between. From my experience, the real difference isn’t the danger outside…it’s the mental game that makes the difference between fun and failure.
I still have a fear of heights. I decided however, that I could either be afraid, and not take any risks….or I could have fun. I think I’m going to have fun.
What about you?