Because I’d viewed this photo before we hiked up to the cliffs it never occurred to me that there’d be a problem. I knew what I was getting into. Our competent Irish guide, Gerry Greensmyth, led the way. It was Day One of our hiking adventure and we were on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. Spirits were high.
As we crested the ridge I caught a glimpse of the sheer drop-off down to the wild coast below. It hit without warning, a physical response, a dizzy light-headedness as all my blood seemed to rush to my heart which just might have stopped beating for a moment. Next came a floating sensation and I hoped I wasn’t mid-faint. I think it was a panic attack, but I don’t know if that’s the correct label. All I knew then was that I absolutely could not stand there on that cliff-top with my friends to admire the view. I felt sure I would pass out and fall over, or worse, hurl myself over. Then, to further increase my anxiety, one of my dearest friends stepped oh-so-close to the edge to peer down. And it was a LONG way straight down. And did I mention that the wind was blowing hard? That really stirred up the strange physical sensations I was experiencing.
“C’mon, Shelley, come a little closer,” Gerry urged, wanting me to experience the full magnitude of the vista. After all, we had climbed this steep mountain for that very reason
I tried to cover up my embarrassing reaction by making light of the situation. “Did we sign any waivers before we took this hike?” It was supposed to be a joke, but my face likely conveyed my fear.
“Waivers are meaningless. C’mon, hold my hand,” he said and grabbed it without waiting for a response. He tugged me closer to the edge. That’s when I lost it.
“We don’t know anything about you!” I cried out, trying to put on the brakes. “For all I know you are a crazy man, luring naive tourists up here and then pushing them over the edge.” (Novelists have vivid imaginations.)
He may have experienced hysterical women before, I don’t know, but he remained calm and did manage to drag me close enough to the edge that the full beauty of the coastline unfolded before us. I am grateful for that. But as quickly as I could I took a mental photo and scrambled back to relative safety on the other side of the clifftop.
Admittedly, this was not the first time this has happened, so I should have been better prepared. It happened in the wind turbine on Grouse Mountain. When I stepped out of the elevator into the observatory at the top, it hit me equally as hard and as unexpected. I had to turn around and step directly back onto that elevator that returned me to the ground instead of walking around to enjoy the 360 degrees of magnificent views. Suspension bridges are another trigger. I won’t be crossing those anymore.
I didn’t have this fear of heights until fairly recently, I don’t know where it came from but I would really like it to go away. Does anyone know any strategies?
Anchll Island photo credit: Gerry Greensmyth. http://www.walkingguideireland.com
Eye of the Wind Photo Credit: Grouse Mountain Resort