Have you ever stood at the bottom of a really tall tree or under a huge cliff and just wanted to be at the top of it so you can see everything around? 

I haven’t.

I’m terrified of heights. 

I don’t know when it started, but I have very early memories of feeling that tension near high up places. Pictures appear in my head of me plummeting to my death, or my friends who are less fearful than me doing the same. 

It doesn’t even have to be a dangerously high ledge, or a precarious one, or one with rocks or spikes at the bottom. Neither yard sticks, nor balconies, nor mattresses can assuage my anxiety. 

That’s because this is almost a phobia, not a fear. I’m not just afraid of heights, I’m terrified of them. They fill me with nervous energy both emotional and physical. I can’t focus on anything else once the fear has gripped me, and sometimes I freeze up entirely. 

I know, objectively speaking, that I’m relatively safe. The anxiety isn’t conscious or controllable. 

But it is resistible. 

See, I don’t like heights, but I love them. I love the view of everything around, I love mountaintops and skylines. And I love waterfalls especially. 

I wrote recently about going to Letchworth State Park, among other Rochester parks. I felt that anxiety as I stepped to the edge of Letchworth’s gorge. 

Whenever I’m up high, my eyes look toward the ground below and my mind freezes up. 

And I pause. I say to myself, “This fear isn’t rational. Don’t let it control you.” And I try to look up. 

Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. But every time, I take that second to turn my freeze into a pause. I acknowledge my irrationality. And every time I get better at it.

Sometimes I’m stronger than my anxiety, other times my anxiety overpowers me. But I keep trying, and I keep improving. 

I have other anxieties, too. Ones that are less funny and more difficult to manage. Ones that feel less normal but which probably are more normal. Ones like talking to strangers, trying new things, going new places, making new friends, and losing old ones. 

For those that know me, and those that have read my other pieces, it’s probably surprising to hear that these things scare me. I’m an RA (which leads to meeting quite a few new people), I’ve moved cities and schools a few times in life, I always talk to random strangers, and I’m probably too open about my feelings. 

These things don’t come naturally to me. They’re almost natural now, at least from the outside looking in, in that it doesn’t look like I struggle every time. But that’s because I’ve practiced it. 

Ever since I was a little kid, meeting random people at synagogue (old people love to meet the Rabbi’s son), I’ve been meeting new people. Then we moved from Philadelphia to New Orleans, and barely had time to settle before Hurricane Katrina sent us packing to Houston. By the time I returned to New Orleans and finished preschool, I’d been at three different schools in as many cities. By the time I finished elementary school, it was six schools, five homes, and four cities. 

This inconsistency wasn’t the result of an unstable home life. It was more a combination of the strangeness of having Rabbis for parents and a big storm. Regardless of the reasons why, change has been a part of my life since I can remember. 

I’ve always been meeting new people in all kinds of ways, I’ve always lost touch with old friends, I’ve always had to talk to strangers, I’ve always gone to new places, and I’ve always tried new things. 

And it didn’t stop after middle school — I’m still practicing.

Those anxieties never left me. Every time I go somewhere or meet someone or try something new, I look down from the ledge and I freeze.

And I pause. I say to myself, “This fear isn’t rational. Don’t let it control you.” And I try to look up. 

16 years after moving for the first time, I almost always succeed. Because I’ve always been practicing. That isn’t to say I don’t sometimes fail, but I’ve gotten really good at it. The pauses have become shorter, the irrational fears don’t hold on to my tongue in front of a room the way they do my legs in a tree. 

It’s easier to fight the anxiety now than it was a year ago, or two, or 16.

That isn’t to say progress has always been a straight line. I didn’t really start fighting my acrophobia until I was a teenager. Until then it had been too much for me. Sometimes it still is. 

But I try, because the alternative is to never look at a waterfall. 

We all have anxieties. Sometimes they get the better of us. That’s okay. It’s okay to manage to overcome them some days and fail the next day. 

But keep trying, because even if it doesn’t feel like it’s getting easier, one day it will. And when it does, you’ll enjoy life that much more. 

Tagged: anxiety phobias

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