A while back, I started a self-improvement project, inspired by Jenny Lawson, the Great Bloggess. To read about the origin of my project, look here. For the short version, each week I will set out to conquer something that is holding me back from being the person I want to be. A relationship, a memory, a fear. . .anything that makes me less than I am. I will attack each challenge wearing my red dress as a cape for inspiration and as a symbol of the superheroes we all are inside. My goal is to undertake the daunting task of taking one crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable woman and molding her into a productive member of our crazy, neurotic, and mentally unstable society.
My friend Alex is an engineer and a male. As such, he is a very linear thinker who believes that every effect has a cause and every problem has a solution. Nothing makes him lose his shit faster than if you tell him something occurred “for no reason”. As such, Alex has made it his personal raison d’etre to help me to conquer my irrational fear of heights.
“Were you in a plane crash or something?” Alex has asked me. “Fell off a building? Was assaulted by a Harlem Globetrotter? C’mon, Jen. Nobody is afraid of something without some predicating traumatic event.”
But I am! I am terrified of heights for absolutely no reason whatsoever. And it wasn’t always that way. I mean, when I was a kid I used to climb on top of our garden shed and do upside-down swinging knee drops from a 15 foot cherry tree, but back then it wasn’t called “extreme sports”, it was called “being a fucking idiot”. But I’m not totally inhibited. In fact, just the other day I was at Taco Bell and ordered my Burrito Supreme with the FIRE salsa! I live life on the EDGE, yo!
I tried to explain to Alex that anxieties develop over time as a result of stressors in our lives. As we age and experience more things like illness, death, divorce, and reality TV we can begin slowly acquiring such compensating phobias as fear of heights, fear of snakes, fear of public humiliation, fear of closed spaces, and fear of leaving home.*
*Got it, got it, need it, got it, need it.
Sadly, this argument wasn’t powerful enough to assuage Alex’s disapproval, so he decided that I would “get over that shit” by having him and his lovely wife Gina take me rock-climbing. “You’ll love it!” Alex grinned. “Rock climbing is just like hiking!” Yeah, sure. . .hiking with crippling fear of death and dismemberment as your body careens from the side of an 80 foot wall.*
*And while we’re on the subject, comparing one activity I hate with an equally unpleasant one does very little to state your case.
I’m not totally oblivious to rock-climbing. This is Portland, Oregon after all, where 90% of the population tools off in their Subaru Outback every weekend to dangle off the side of a rock or some other hippy-dippy, weekend warrior bullshit like that. And the health club where I used to work had the notable distinction of housing one of the largest indoor rock walls in the Pacific Northwest. But although I worked at the club for a little over two years, the closest I came to the rock wall was walking past it on the way to get a smoothie and yelling “Tell Darwin I said ‘hi’!” at the assholes rappelling down its sides.
As I did not wish to humiliate myself in a former place of business, I agreed to meet Alex and Gina at their rock gym across town. The first thing I noted when I walked in was the smell. It was like chalk. . .and incense. . .and ass. I briefly pondered making a trip to Target and returning with enough Febreze to spray the ever-loving shit out of this joint, but Alex had a mission, and within ten minutes I was harnessed, tied, and being wrenched up a wall by a 90 pound hipster in a Che Guevara tee shirt.
At first I was OK. . .I was focused. . .I was zen. . .then I looked down at the distance separating me from the ground I so dearly love and I began howling like a beagle at a Yanni concert.*
*You know what’s apparently hi-LAR-ious to a room full of hipsters? A 41-year-old white chick dangling from a rope and flailing like an epileptic at a laserlight show.
“Just relax!” Che Guevara tee yelled to me. Yeah, well, I’ll tell you what, Patchouli McTreehugger, when my pasty ass is dangling 75 feet above terra firma then “relax” is just NOT in my fucking vocabulary, ‘kay? But I did manage to at least keep my shrieking to a minimum, and after ten more minutes of psychological warfare, I was slowly lowered to the blessed, chalk-stained earth.
Did I overcome my fear of heights. Not quite, but I did learn a few things.
1. Rock climbing is not about strength, per se. Sure, being strong helps, but what is more important is proper technique, balance, flexibility, and clear focus. If your arms and legs are shaking like Michael J. Fox after a quad-shot latte, then the strength of your upper body won’t mean jack squat.
2. The concept of extreme sports like rock climbing and naked bungee jumping is just another component in the vast conspiracy contrived to make me feel like I'm aging faster than a tuna sandwich in a glove compartment in July.
3. My friends are assholes.
Do I think I’ll be returning to the rock gym? Not a chance in hell. But I may see if I can still do that swinging knee-drop thingy. Never know when you might need to bust out a bad-ass ninja move.