You know those people at amusement parks who just stand next to the entrance of the ride, waiting as their friends conquer death-defying rides? That person used to be me. Growing up, I had extreme acrophobia, otherwise known as the fear of heights. Every time I encountered heights, my mind would immediately think about plummeting to my death. For a long time, I avoided anything that involved my feet leaving the ground. The monkey bars were off-limits, and I would make sure not to fly too far off the ground on the swings. Even riding in elevators in tall buildings was enough to make me feel uneasy.
However, as I grew older that embrace became warmer and more suffocating…
Over time, however, I began to realize my fear of heights not just severely limited opportunities for fun, but this fear also tightened my comfort zone. I didn’t want to be afraid of tall buildings and playgrounds anymore. Being in the comfort zone is, as the phrase suggests, comfortable, and being in it felt like a warm embrace. However, as I grew older that embrace became warmer and more suffocating, until there was no more room to breathe.
Not only did my fear of heights prevent me from having fun at Six Flags and Disneyland, but my fear bled into doubting myself in many other aspects of my life. Public speaking scared me. My constant doubting made me indecisive on everything from ordering food off a menu to even seemingly obvious multiple choice questions. I had to do something about it, and conquering my acrophobia became the way I pushed aside my doubts and fears.
From afar, rock climbing didn’t seem to be that intimidating. But as soon as I was strapped into the harness, I immediately wanted to leave the climbing gym. Why did they have to make the wall so tall? And why were the rocks so damn far from each other? There was no way I would be able to climb even six feet, let alone the entire wall. At the same time, there was no going back. I had trekked all the way here, and I was all ready to climb. I had my helmet on, harness buckled, and my climbing shoes were strapped on my feet. Also, my sister was there! If I bailed out now, I would never hear the end of it. I took a deep breath, then I placed my foot on the first rock.
Humans were not meant to be that far off the ground.
Don’t look down. That was my mantra during this whole ordeal. And it worked…for a while. If you’ve ever climbed before, you know that the first part is easy. You don’t have to think much about where to place your hands and feet. Not much upper-body strength is needed to pull yourself up to grab the initial rocks. I was getting into a rhythm, and I could start feeling my fears wash away. However, midway up the wall, as the rocks began spreading further and further apart, my wave of confidence came crashing down. At twenty-five feet the rock above me was not comfortably in arm’s reach. My chest began thumping, and returning to my comfort zone felt oh so enticing. I was at a loss. So I did the exact opposite of what I had been telling myself to do: I looked down. No, this is not normal. I shouldn’t be this high up. Humans were not meant to be that far off the ground. That’s reserved for birds, and humans are not birds.
I was stuck, and I wanted to return to the safety of the ground. Yet, at the same time, I wanted to make it to the top, and I couldn’t just stall and hope that some divine force would lift me up to the fifty feet mark. I realized that the only thing stopping me from conquering my fear was myself. I knew that I was physically strong enough to climb a wall, but the missing puzzle piece was harnessing my mental strength. At that point, I was no longer experiencing fear. Instead, my phobia acquiesced to an extreme lack of self-confidence. In this moment, I did what I had rarely done in the past: I stopped doubting myself, and slowly but surely I made it to the top of the wall.
I began pushing myself in areas that before I would have never even thought of tackling. I
Of course, that day at the climbing wall did not totally erase my acrophobia. But over time, the more I climbed, the less I feared and doubted myself. I gained confidence, and not just that I could ride an elevator without feeling anxious. I began pushing myself in areas that before I would have never even thought of tackling. I debated my peers in class, and I applied and became an intern for a local politician. Acquiring self-confidence improved my relationships with my family, friends, peers, not just myself. There are times when I still have fears and doubts, and I know that’s perfectly normal. Yet, instead of allowing those fears to paralyze me, I know that I have the tools within me to quiet those doubts. We need to find a way to gain confidence and security within ourselves, no matter how small or large that climb may be. The sooner one recognizes and acknowledges their fears and vulnerabilities, the sooner we can all begin conquering our own inner rock climbing walls.