Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer of Fear: Heights (...and Falling From Them)

Earlier this month I went on a little mini-vacation for a weekend-long, outdoors workshop for women. If this already sounds interesting to you, they have these "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" workshops all over the country, and I absolutely loved mine. You spend a lot of time in a natural setting, you learn all sorts of new things from awesome instructors, and it's a great opportunity to meet new friends. True story, I met three other librarians without even trying. We sort of gravitate to each other that way, it's a beautiful thing.

In the classes I took I got to do a lot of cool things, like a ton of hiking, learning to identify trees and plants, chopping wood, learn self-defense, learn a lot about power tools, and even use a couple to make myself a little two compartment box. The one class that I was really out of my element on was Deer Hunting. Honestly, it was not one of my top choices for that day because I am not terribly interested in hunting. But I still thought it sounded like it could be a valuable and interesting class, and I was definitely introduced to a whole new world through it. The instructor was really passionate about what she does, and not in a "I just like killing deer!" sort of way. The biggest and most important thing I learned is how much hunters respect the animals they hunt, and how they consider hunting an important method of maintaining a local environment. Plus, she hunts with a bow and I am all about archery. 

Our instructor talked a bunch about tree stands, which I was not familiar with at all. It's a platform attached to a tree a few feet or so above the ground, with a ladder to get up there. You harness yourself in to prevent falling, and set in for your hunt. She brought one to show us and give us the opportunity to climb up. While my weekend was very much about stretching my comfort zone and trying new things, this was the one time over the course of the workshop that I took a pass. The thought of climbing up that ladder and sitting on this small platform, even just a few feet up, made something inside me panic. 

To be fair, I don't have a severe case of acrophobia (fear of heights). I would call it mild. I ride rollercoasters, I've been in the St. Louis arch, I can get on a plane without totally losing it. But it does provoke a great deal of anxiety, and it takes time and work to psych myself up to the task. On the day of my Deer Hunting class, I was not at all in that place, and knew I would panic and possibly embarrass myself if I tried getting up in that tree stand. 

This is one phobia that is thought to be an evolutionary advantage, which makes sense. It's helpful to be cautious of heights, and more specifically, falling from them. A bad enough fall could kill you. But a phobia can be more crippling than is beneficial. I can't pinpoint when I developed mine, I know I once fell off a bed when I was a baby, but I don't personally remember it and I can't say that the anxiety began right after that. It's a good candidate, and given that my mother is also pretty afraid of heights as well, I'm sure there was some learned fear in there. 

Looking on the bright side, at least being afraid of heights means it's easy to give yourself a little thrill: just get on a ladder! As I mentioned before, I'll even get on a roller coaster to really give myself a jolt of "I'M ALIVE!" But I have my limits-- I can't do the rides that are a straight drop, and I don't think I will ever be mentally capable of sky diving. I hate to say "never" about anything, but my life may have to go by without the mental breakdown that would result from purposely jumping to the ground from thousands of feet in the air. In fact, just the thought of it... I think I'm going to go lie down on the floor for a little while. 

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