I have always had a terror of heights, and had to be excused from excursions featuring walks across Sydney Harbour Bridge, Centrepoint Tower and the footbridge at Darling Harbor. The mere thought of traipsing across walkways was too much to bear. Of course, my acrophobia became much worse after I soared to earth and broke. You can’t easily explain to other people what it is like to be jostled up a stairwell, nor set on a ledge. They can’t understand how it feels to soar through the air, knowing you will crash to earth within seconds. They don’t know how any of it feels, for the simple reason that they haven’t felt it. My survival is due to a combination of things; I was able to talk him down from the roof, and to the next level. There were bark chips (rather than concrete), underneath this new level, and the few metres less gave me more chance of surviving. I have taken for granted many things in my life, but my survival has not been one of them.
When memories are stirred, and flashbacks take place, I am usually alone. I make a concerted effort to be alone at such times. I get through it, in my own way. Yesterday, I had probably one of the worst anxiety attacks of my adult life. The day started pleasantly enough. I was taking part in a walk with a group of people, and we chatted happily as we strolled through parklands. Two kilometres in, we turned a corner, and I was caught up in the group. To my horror, I found myself to be on The Ring Walk, a circular walkway 550 metres in circumference and 18.5 metres above a sandstone floor. The panels either side were transparent, allowing a complete view of the drop below. My heart beat wildly, as I summed up my options. I couldn’t turn back, as there was a sea of people approaching from behind. The thought of advancing forward seemed unthinkable; I still had such a long way to go.
I stood paralysed until a friend noticed my discomfort. She asked how she could help. I said that if she could link arms with me, and keep me chatting, I could cope better. We walked quickly as we talked about anything other than being on this walkway. It seemed to take hours to get to the end, but I kept my focus on gratitude; that this stunning woman with raven curls had noted my anxiety from afar, and instinctively knew what was happening to me. “We are at the end!” she cheered, and as I let go of her waist, my body felt like lead. I was dripping with perspiration and shaking uncontrollably.
There are many things I can control in way of responses, thoughts and emotions. My acrophobia is not one of them. I have a daughter who delights in heights, and is skilled at ascending without fear, and descending in a safe manner. My acrophobia affects nobody but me, and I am pleased about that. I crawled into bed, nauseous and exhausted last night, and it took 24 hours to still the surge of adrenalin coursing through my veins. No matter how many times I assured myself that I was safe, that there were no baddies behind, ready to throw me below, my body recall wouldn’t have it.
I usually fight the past alone. Yesterday, somebody stepped into the fray and not only acknowledged my past, but how I felt in that moment. It was a gracious act, filled with empathy. This lady has no fear of heights, but put herself in my shoes. Not only did I survive the Ring Walk, but I was given the gift of being completely vulnerable in front of another, and not only being seen and heard, but held up. I did something I never would have dreamed I could, with a dear friend lending me her strength.