No Way Out But Through

In my last year of college, I got to use the ropes course. The ropes course was this walled-off section next to our gym with ziplines, wooden poles, a twisting rock wall, and various hanging ropes to swing from. Normally, you had to pay and make an appointment to use the course, because it required equipment and wavers and supervision. But I happened to walk by during a sort of "open house" for the course, so some friends and I jumped in on impulse.

I have always been afraid of heights. I look down from the second story of the mall, get sick, and step away. I think heights were the very first thing that I ever identified as a fear, which is important, because the things we are scared of are just as integral to our personalities as the hobbies we keep and the things we like.

Anything higher than a full flight of stairs induced vertigo, yet somehow, this ropes course was exciting. I didn't hesitate to get in a harness and sign whatever form that said if I broke my face it would be my own damn fault.

That's not my natural reaction to fear, but I keep trying to duplicate that anyway in other aspects of my life, wherever appropriate. This isn't some chest-puffing, bravery braggadocio - I am still very much afraid of everything. I still hate heights. But I still go up there, anyway, because as much as I hate heights, I hate being afraid more.

One of the obstacles there is essentially a wooden pole, about 35 feet tall, with a perch no bigger than a diving board at the very top. Maybe 7 more feet in front of that tiny platform is a small trapeze bar. You climb it, and all the while, a supervisor is holding the other end of a pulley contraption locked into your harness. The objective is simple: jump. From this precarious standing position, jump forward, reach out, grab the bar and hold on. Or fall, for a few terrifying moments, before the rope is drawn taut and you hang in shame.

It's a lot harder than it sounds. Your nerves spike at every rung you climb, and when you get up top, you never expect the wind. From the safety of earth, you don't realize that the whole pole is swaying with the breeze. Every shift of your weight tilts it so slightly and you wonder: how could this thing not have fallen over with a medium sized gust? Will this topple over if I so much as sneeze? It doesn't matter that you've got a safety, your nerves don't feel that, so everyone inevitably ends up staring at the trapeze bar for a good five minutes. You imagine the jump, the grab, and most importantly, the holding on. That's what gets most people. They jump, catch, but let go. They are surprised by the need for strength, or the sensation of gracing the bar.

I am at a very particular moment in my life with a lot of events and worries that trigger anxiety. I have blogged and reblogged, far too many times, about the big scary uncertain future. There are decisions to be made, people to impress, and opportunities to seize. I try to remember that all this wrapped up tightening in my spine is normal, and all this self-doubt and panic is normal. I am sane, I am sane, I am sane. But it doesn't feel that way.

The knowledge that your brain-burning worries are part of the process is your harness. You know it's there, you can feel it tight around you, but it doesn't register enough to allay your fears. You are still staring at a tiny bar, above the air, and you don't know if you're going to grab it.

I used to hate roller coasters, too. I rode a lot of them after being peer pressured into the experience at Knott's Berry Farm. I still don't care for them and don't go out of my way to visit them. I used to be afraid of writing workshops, where I had to present my pieces to my peers. I've done at least a dozen of them, and each one filled me with the exact same dread. Eventually, I asked privately: Is this how it is supposed to be? Do things, the real big things in life, ever cease to be scary? The more I face that metaphorical trapeze bar in life, the more I think that maybe conquering your fears isn't about never being afraid again. Perhaps it's about being scared shitless, each and every day, but climbing that ladder anyway.

Because who cares how you feel? If the end result is the same, then you can be as spineless as you want. If your performance doesn't suffer and you get through it, then go ahead. Lose your marbles. Panic and freak out. Don't keep calm, but carry on.

Fear is a beautiful, exciting thing and we should be glad to have it. Not so that it may rule over our lives and keep us indoors, but to give us a monster to convincingly slay each and every time. I'm trying to ingrain that philosophy in my life and worries. These are things to beat, not reasons to lose.

All of this is to say, I have an important interview tomorrow, and I hope it goes well. When I think or prepare for it, my heart beats a little faster, and I start wondering what kind of competition there is or what kind of person I am. I've lost sleep over it, and it has been dominating my mind to the point that I finally got off-track on my NaNoWriMo novel. But this is all part of the game.

At my worst moments, I try to remember being on top of that platform, 35 feet in the air, with my knees slightly bent and my thigh muscles aching. I remember that the wind was blowing, the boards were creaking and I felt like everything was going to fall apart. For a few minutes, I stared down the bar. I said I didn't like heights, but there I was, at the top of the world, tense and sweating. Did that make me a liar? Maybe. The bar dangled and I couldn't hear a single thing.

I kept my eyes open and jumped with hands spread, like sun rays, like wings.