Fear of Falling

Last post I revealed my desire to skip the nursing home and boldly jettison through older age with a pack on my back, a camera in hand, a grin on my face and guided by my sense of adventure.

In writing my promised list of things I have done on my way to earning my ‘Adventure Chick’ stripes, I found that I wanted to explain. I was excusing some of these feats because to me they represent ‘extreme’, and ‘brave’ and ‘living outside my comfort zone’, but I know that what I deem adventurous is, to some, just ‘fun’. In creating a post of cool things I have done, I realised there is a preface.

I am an adventurous woman. I make bold decisions for my life. I have moved to other the other side of the world – twice – with only a month’s income in the bank, and no promise of a job on the other end. I have taken chances in life that would make others flinch and choose the safe option. These big actions have scared me, but I have been brave; I have indulged my sense of adventure in grand ways. And ultimately, my boldness has rewarded me; my life often surpasses my dreams.

So why is it that I can take on a promotion, move to a new city, take a chance on love, but the thought of climbing onto a horse, or into a raft gives me heart palpitations and sweaty palms?

Because of the fear.

I fear three big things: Water, heights and looking stupid. These are common fears, but the first two are misnamed. I do not fear water – I do shower and bathe regularly, and I will swim laps in a pool. What I fear is drowning – in rapids, in surf, in water where I cannot touch the bottom, and scary things lurk.

‘Fear of heights’ is also a misnomer. I am mostly fine with being up high. I fly frequently, I cross bridges, I can stand on a chair and change a light bulb. I am, however, afraid of plummeting to my death, or even being seriously maimed. My fear is of falling. So much so, that I cannot even watch someone (Ben!) balance precariously on the edge of a cliff and look over the edge.

The last fear is the hardest to overcome. I spent much of my late teens and early 20s refusing to do something if I thought there was the slightest chance I would be bad at it. I figured that if I did not have a natural aptitude for something, I would subsequently look stupid doing it, or trying to do it, or trying to get better at it. I would succumb to the fear, and never try again.

Skiing:17 years old, school ski trip, 3 days in the snow, hundreds of dollars my parents didn’t have. I fell off the ski lift, and then I fell down the mountain (27 times – I counted). When I finally made it to the bottom of the mountain, I literally skied into the crowd waiting for the lift, knocking them over like giant skittles. As I wiped frozen snot and tears from my face with the sleeve of my stupid looking over sized ski jacket, I stomped back to the lodge in my stupid looking ski boots. There I stayed for the next 2 and ½ days, consuming my body weight in hot chocolate. Safe. And, in my opinion, not looking stupid.

And I nearly did not learn to drive. It was only my father’s patience and persistence, that I learned through my tears and refusals to learn.

Fortunately, in the most recent half of my life, I have cultivated the one thing that can fight this fear of falling on my face. It is called ‘laughing at myself’. Laughing at oneself is the foundation that allows us to try new things, to surprise ourselves, and to delight those who love us.

On the last full day Ben and I had together in Seattle, we ended up at a video arcade. There it was: the game Dance, Dance Revolution. It has foot pads and a screen; you watch the screen, and copy the steps onto the foot pads. It is not really dancing, more like the African Anteater Ritual (shameless reference to the 80s classic film Can’t Buy Me Love), a series of ever quickening stomping and stamping.

Ben did not even hesitate, plugging his quarters into the slot and mentally preparing himself for the challenge ahead. Hours of playing this same game in the comfort of his living room meant that he was really good at it. But what I was thinking as I watched my 6’1” boyfriend stamp and stomp to tinny techno, was how brilliantly unself-conscious he was. I felt a welling of, what? Pride, I guess. He was doing this crazy fun, silly thing, right there in public, and I knew there was no way I was going to have a turn when he finished. I knew I would look stupid.

There it was, that fear. It lurks, and pops up when I least expect it. It is a self-centred fear, because it is borne from thinking that ‘everyone is watching and judging me’. Ben would not have judged me had I stood up there and had a go. He would have laughed with me and encouraged me, just as he does when I learn new things on the computer (things he finds really simple), or fall down on a steep ski run (yes, I have gone back, and I love it).

So, that day in the arcade, when that fear bit and niggled at me again, I looked at my cute, funny boyfriend doing something I wasn’t willing to do, and I admired him and loved him all the more for it.

He has his fears too, and when I see him overcome them, when he wins his battles (however large or small) over his fear of the unknown, I am supportive and proud.

I want to banish this stupid fear of looking stupid – forever. So, I will continue to laugh at myself, to willingly be the fool, and to give things a go – even those things I will be bad at.

The other fears – water, heights – are as acute as ever. So when I do tell the cool, scary, adventurous things I have done, keep in mind the stakes, even if for you they’d just be a bit of fun.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.  Right? Absolutely!

2 thoughts on “Fear of Falling

  • I LOVE this post Sandy! I read all your posts of course, but this one hit a chord with me. How similar we are, how many similar experiences we’ve had, why I consider you such a dear friend. Of course I had no idea we shared all THREE fears!! You are such an adventurous woman and now I know about all these fears it serves to make me love and admire you even more. You GO girl!

  • What can I say…. same fear of looking stupid and same shameless reference to an 80’s movie:
    I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
    Only I will remain.

    Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear – From Frank Herbert’s Dune Book Series
    © 1965 and 1984 Frank Herbert
    Published by Putnam Pub Group
    ISBN: 0399128964

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