Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights and I “fall” (which is what I am really afraid of) into the 2 to 5 percent of the general population who suffers from this type of phobia. Research indicates that women are twice as likely to be affected as men. I don’t know if I have it as severe as some because I can overcome my fears and experience height in many instances but in some situations it is all I can do not to have a panic attack that makes me feel so “out of control” (which is also what I am afraid of) that I have no peace until I get myself down to safety. On the other hand, RM has a head for heights so when we travel we often find ourselves at divergent points when selecting sight-seeing options. I seem to forget how extreme my acrophobia can get when on vacation and can get myself into some pretty scary spots. Here is a list of the top three adventuresome ones in recent memory.
1. We celebrated my 40th birthday at the top of the Eiffel Tower which is nicknamed “the iron lady” which I found very ironic since I felt more like the jello lady most of the way up up the 984 feet to the top viewing deck. The two bottom levels we walked up just so we could experience the beauty of this architectural wonder (did I study engineering in college? I did not) and we needed to do this at night to truly enjoy the famous Paris lights but then thankfully we had to take an enclosed elevator to reach the precipice or I would have never made it to the top. When I walked out onto the shaky top deck (it sways), I wanted to hug the inner wall and stick myself to it like a gecko does with her sticky toes. RM thought it was important that I have my picture taken, since it was the big 4.O., with the panoramic view of Paris behind me. This meant that I had to leave the inner wall, walk across to the deck edge, turn around and smile, and pray that no one bumped into me or any unexpected tremors occurred (only the sound of my beating heart). I agreed but I told RM he had one shot and he better be quick about it.My heart beat so hard in my chest, I wondered how many silly tourists ended up dead at the top of La tour Eiffel of cardiac arrest. I knew I couldn’t miss this experience but I was much happier when we got back down.
2. The Duomo in Florence is magnificent but “we” wanted to see if from the top looking down so we started up the 463 steps,winding around and around and around and always going up. The staircase is not wide enough for two people to pass one another. I found I had another phobia which I call “confineophobia”. I don’t usually mind tight places but this experience was different in that I didn’t know if I turned around to get out, if I could, because of all the people climbing up the steps behind me. The great part of this climb is that at one part you come out and you are at the bottom of the dome, inside the Duomo and you look up and there is Michelangelo’s painting staring down at you. Then when I looked down, how did I get the nerve?, I was looking right at the Duomo’s main altar. You can walk around the entire perimeter of the ceiling and take as many pictures as you want and gaze at the wonder of the gigantic fresco that is painted by hand.
Of course, then you go back into the stairwell and up, up, and up and always winding. Then, you pop out again and you are even closer to the ceiling. Then back in the stairwell, and up, up and up. Then all of a sudden you notice that the walls are sort of slanting inwards and you have to duck at some points to go under beams and under jutting walls, and then you come to this stairwell which is more like a ladder and you can see blue sky at the top. So you climb and then hit another ladder and you push through and you are looking out at all of Florence before you and it is very, very, too far below you. If I hadn’t been so winded, I probably would have immediately turned around to the safety of the stairwell. But , it was spectacular, worth the climb I think in the end (not sure I would do it again), and definitely not for those with a weak disposition to small spaces. RM and I had a little picnic up there after I got my balance enough to soak up the Italian sunshine.
3. Built in 1889, Capilano Suspension Bridge stretches 450 feet across and 230 feet above Capilano River. I walked across the swaying bridge, did all of the attractions at death-defying heights, with a stiff, white lip, ignoring comments of concern from nearby strangers, so I am definitely never doing suspension bridges again. I sprinted back over the hanging, swinging bridge, snaking around laughing teenagers, not stopping when RM again mentioned a photo opportunity, to the sweet, solid ground in Vancouver, B.C., just happy to get across without bursting into tears. I can’t seem to even get myself to write much about this more recent experience. I guess it is too fresh in my mind.
Over the years, I have continued to taunt my acrophobiac fears from time to time. Empire State Building, Willis Tower and the ledge — only a single toe over the line — Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument (no elevator just ancient stairs upward and downward so got to experience confineophobia once again), escaped the experience of the Eye in London (too long of a line), Tokyo Tower (too young to have full-fledged acrophobia plus due to extreme teenage peer pressure, I held it together), Reunion Tower (made me queasy inside), lookout points over the Grand Canyon (grateful for the fog that filled the canyon on our visit), ski lifts (not so bad), TCU’s new football stadium, top row (why are we so cheap sometimes?), Ferris wheels (forget about it – not doing them ever, ever), Royal Gorge Bridge (who thought is was smart to make a bridge to no where?Coloradans did it before our frozen friends in Alaska frittered away tax payer money on the same idea), Pikes Peak (remember Lucy Ball and the movie The Long, Long Trailer?), and old rickety lighthouses in Maine (kinda lame for even the most strident acrophobiac).
Garrison Keillor described it well when he said that he wasn’t afraid of falling but he was afraid of a magical force that would pull him over the edge.
Did I mention that RM squeals like a girl on roller coasters?
Here is to conquering or better yet, to living with our fears. We are headed to Germany next month. I wonder what attractions wait for me there? Those castles look amazing in the photographs.