Overcoming My Fear of Heights
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fear of heights. Things like glass elevators and ladders have always made my palms sweat and my knees shake. When I was a child I rode the London Eye on a rare sunny day and spent the whole time staring at the floor, white knuckling the bench in the middle of the pod. While my friends ran around taking pictures, I was trying not to hyperventilate. I still regret not enjoying the views.
When I set out for a few months in Europe as an adult, I promised myself this time there would be no regrets. I started small by hiking the hills of Tuscany and climbing the Campanile (or bell tower) in Florence. While overlooking the terra cotta rooftops of Firenze, I got my first taste of the exhilaration that comes from proving you’re stronger than your fears.
Every time I pushed down my fear for the sake of the adventure, I felt like I was one step closer to conquering my fear of heights.
As I got more confident, I grew bolder. Over the next few months, I climbed the rickety stairs of a tower in Split, Croatia, rode the tall swings at Oktoberfest and endured the terrifying and claustrophobic elevator ride to the top of the Eiffel tower. Each experience both terrified and exhilarated me. Every time I pushed down my fear for the sake of the adventure, I felt like I was one step closer to conquering my fear of heights. But the real moment of truth came on a boating adventure in Corfu, Greece.
When I woke up that morning, I had no plans to tackle my fear of heights. Our hostel had a day cruise that explored the remote beaches of the island and I was looking forward to lounging in the sun with a cocktail in hand. We were sailing along the coast taking in the gorgeous cliffs and beaches of Corfu, when the captain casually pointed out that conditions were perfect for cliff diving. Typically, it was a separate excursion for the more adventurous in spirit but they weren’t sure the sea would be this calm the rest of the week.
Apparently, it was now or never. Before I really processed the idea, our guide anchored the boat between two towering rock islands and offered anyone who was up for it the chance to jump off the 35ft cliff into the ocean. Just looking at the drop made my heart race, but I knew that if I didn’t do it I would never forgive myself. I didn’t want to look back and regret not jumping. Before I could second-guess my decision, I jumped off the boat and swam towards the rocks.
Just looking at the drop made my heart race, but I knew that if I didn’t do it I would never forgive myself. I didn’t want to look back and regret not jumping.
In all honesty, the climb up the steep rock face was probably scarier than actually jumping but my mind was so preoccupied with my upcoming leap that I barely noticed. Looking back, I’m surprised that I managed the climb, clad only in the flip-flops I wore for a day of beach lounging and my bathing suit.
The handholds were far apart and the rock face was jagged and steep. We scrambled up in a single file, careful not too look down at the waves crashing into the rocks below. With each handhold, I felt my anxiety grow until it was almost suffocating but there was no turning back. At that point, there was nothing to do but focus on making it up the cliff.
When I got to the top, I hung back as the others on our tour bravely took the plunge. Then it was finally my turn to stand at the ledge. I peered over the edge and wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. I mean, there is a big difference between conquering my fears and being insane. As I listened to the guide explain how to safely jump one last time, my mind raced through all the ways this could go terribly wrong.
I looked him in the eye and nodded with what I hoped looked like confidence.
The fear must have shown on my face, because he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you totally got this. Just take a deep breath and leap off.”
I looked him in the eye and nodded with what I hoped looked like confidence, as I lined my toes up to the edge. He was right. I could do this. In fact, I wanted to do this. The captain of the boat below started counting down from 10. There was no turning back. When the group got to 1, I took a deep breath and leapt off the cliff.
I’d love to tell you that I shouted for joy or posed mid-air, but in reality I shut my eyes and screamed as my body smacked into the water with a force I wasn’t expecting. The adrenaline rush I felt as I burst above the surface of the water was indescribable! As I swam away from the jump area, all I kept thinking was “Oh my god. I can’t believe I just did that.”
I’d love to tell you that I shouted for joy or posed mid-air, but in reality I shut my eyes and screamed as my body smacked into the water with a force I wasn’t expecting.
I climbed aboard the boat and accepted the customary congratulatory beer, shaking with leftover nerves but feeling proud and empowered. In fact, suddenly felt like if I could take on the world. I try to remember that feeling whenever I put myself out of my comfort zone because if I could willingly jump off that cliff, I know that I can do pretty much anything I put my mind to.
It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking to do another cliff dive anytime soon. Instead, maybe I’ll give the London Eye another go—after all we only regret the chances that we didn’t take!
Overcoming My Fear of Heights
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Overcoming My Fear of Heights photo credits: Jessica Shen and Kassie R. Join Pink Pangea’s Travel Writing, Hiking and Yoga retreats!