We fall through life as much as we climb through it

The Prompt: Are you scared of heights or do you love looking down from a high point?

When I was a kid, I would set up the ladder and scurry up on the roof of our ranch house. I couldn’t see much from the front and I was a little frightened of going onto the back which was actually a two story fall. But the front one story was fine. I didn’t really perceive it as dangerous. My younger brother went up to sun bathe all of the time (it was the 80’s.)

I also loved Kennywood (amusement park for those of you not from Pgh.) I didn’t like the Ferris Wheel due to a traumatic incident at the Fireman’s Fair when I was 7. However, I loved the roller coasters, the round up, even the Enterprise.

When I moved back to Pittsburgh at the ripe age of 28, I went to Kennywood with my friends. I was appalled at how much had changed – not at the park, but with me. I tried several rides and was terrified to the point of almost pleading to be let off early. Even the Paratroopers. The Paratroopers!  Now I basically ride the wooden roller coasters and the grandma rides. I tell myself I’m being “nostalgic” but the fact is the creaking of the chains on the swings and all o fthe groans of the machinery makes me very uneasy.

Eventually, I realized that it was certain motions and heights that set me off. I could ride the underground coaster just fine. But not the Steel Phantom. We are talking nightmares for weeks. This presents a dilemna when we want to go to Kennywood now – I am annoyed to spend nearly $40 to ride like 7 things, but more importantly Ledcat and I like the exact opposite rides. You can imagine how much fun that is.  Hey, let’s ride the Whip for the 12th time!

I have some weird form of vertigo that has to do with crystals in my ear needing to be adjusted and other creepy Star Trek sounding things. So I’ll never skydive.I’ll never stand on the edge of giant falls.I’ll probably be spastic when and if we get to the Grand Canyon.

There’s no reason it happened. The ear doctor said age but I was 28!

I could not do this. Kinzua overlook, Pennsylvania. Image: GretchenMcKay.com

When I’m near a scenic view that’s really high, my heart starts to race and I feel adrenaline seep up and down my chest likes its seeking an escape route. My  breathing gets shallow and I tremble a bit. I wring my hands unconsciously and I tend to grind my teeth (to avoid the screaming.) Then I find some reason to back away.

I could do this just fine.  Image: Pittsburgh.com
I could do this just fine. Image: Pittsburgh.com

Anxiety treatments say that aversion is not good (tell that to my cobra phobia), that we need to prove to ourselves that we can withstand the anxiety and survive. It doesn’t feel good. The anxiety doesn’t go away, we just have a better sense of control. Aversion just reinforces it.

So I try. Now I’m not climbing on roofs, but I ride the Incline and I stand on vistas and I crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge twice without vomiting this past summer albeit in the passenger seat looking down at my phone the entire time. I won’t parachute which kind of sucks because that always seemed cool. But I can go about day to day life and get those damn crystals adjusted every so often.

Life is not something that we fix until it’s perfect. There are literal heights and depths as well as metaphorical. We have to just find a way to live and try to believe that it will be okay, even if it doesn’t work out the way we want. Even if we are still scared after it’s over. Even if it never gets easier – we have to persevere. Just because I can’t imagine going skydiving doesn’t mean I can’t take a trip to the Grand Canyon.

We fall through life as much as we climb through it. That’s the fundamental lesson.


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  • Enjoyed your post! Made ms smile as I go to Disney World in my mid 40’s and ride the childlike rides like Winnie the Pooh or Dumbo. I am a chicken. Heights don’t bother me (do go out on views etc.), but would never jump or do anything “risky”… The Grand Caynon is a dream vacation for me, but the heat will be the thing that gets me.

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