The Ring Walk


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.

The Brickpit Ring Walk at Sydney Olympic Park

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.

Falling, Heights and Pemberton


I have always had a fear of heights. I would have nightmares about those I loved being thrown off balconies as a child, and wake up crying. I refused to walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a school excursion, as well as the footbridge at Darling Harbour. I have never liked open escalators and glass lifts either. Staying on the ground was the only choice I allowed myself. It was a cruel irony then, that when I was abducted at fifteen, I was made to climb a staircase and set on a balcony. It is a cruel irony that I was thrown off said balcony. I had many surgeries to put my body back together. My fear of heights is still with me (understandably), though I can tackle staircases and some footbridges now.

Fast-forward a decade, and I now have an adventurous daughter. She is unafraid of anything, and has a love of climbing. I have had to put my own fears aside to applaud as she ascends to the sky, doing stunts along the way. I have had to reassure tourists throughout Sydney that she is fine, and knows what she is doing. She is happiest sitting in the canopy of a tree. I have had to remain silent on many occasions, resisting the urge to let out an audible gasp or holler out to “be careful.” This kid knows what she is doing; she always has. The most challenging time was still to come…

She was asked to accompany her friend to Western Australia for a holiday. The family was going to visit the Quokkas on Rottnest Island, snorkel and climb a trio of trees in Pemberton, the tallest at 75 metres. Here is an apt description of these beauties. Apparently, only one in three tourists make it to the top. My daughter was determined, and started training immediately. I was filled with trepidation, and had to resist the urge to say no. In my heart, I knew she could do it, and that it would provide an important life lesson. The more goals a kid can kick and the more challenges they accomplish, the better. It provides a great foundation for their lives. Afterall, if you can do something hard, it proves you can do anything! I wasn’t going to let my fears stand in her way.

Imagine my delight when she Face-timed me from the top! The look of absolute joy on her and her friend’s faces said it all. They can do hard things. I must say, allowing her to climb an apex has been one of my hardest parenting moments. To encourage, rather than daub her skin with my phobia has been challenging. I am so proud of both these girls!

I was struck by two recent incidents when writing this piece:

#1 A fellow serving us at an inner-city coffee shop watched as my daughter performed a back-bend and other tricks. He told me that he had been a trapeze artist for the past 19 years, travelling the world with his wife, until a shoulder injury rendered the demise of his career. He urged me to put her in a school where she can learn more, and said she would never be a day without work when older if she pursued her love of climbing, such as is the demand for these skills.

#2 An older man watched as she joyfully climbed a tree near Sydney Harbour. He glared at me, and remarked that I was “a reckless parent.” My heart sank. The friend I was with urged me to not pay any mind to this stranger, but I still hurt. He had no idea that I suffer anxiety so severe that it rendered me house-bound before I had her. He had no idea that I had fallen from a height, and have had to work hard to applaud my child as she ascends. My grandmother was a very nervous person. She would holler to “be careful! Don’t fall!” as we climbed down her concrete back steps. Sure enough, we would be so alarmed at her hollering that we would indeed fall. It takes everything you have to not do it.

When I saw the look of pride and joy on my girl’s face, I knew it had been the absolute right thing to celebrate with her, rather than douse her enthusiasm in my own fears. As I said to her at the time, “you did this amazing thing; can you see that you will do anything you set your mind to?”