Overcoming Fear

by Caren Johnson '05

I am a young woman of many fears. I'm afraid of falling, heights, spiders, being left, the effects of artificial sweeteners, drowning, being weak, asking for help, and failing. (The latter two are the worst.) I had to meet all of these fears head-on in the first few days of the High Sierra Semester. Yes, I knew that I would eventually have to face them, but I was kind of hoping I could start with the artificial sweeteners.

On our first full day, we started the most fun orientation ever. We broke off into four groups and separated into four different stations to learn teamwork, and get accustomed to living in the forest.

The Ropes Course One of our tasks was to get our ten group members over a ten-foot wall. Now for someone who doesn't like heights or help, this is not the most enjoyable experience. Apprehensively, I stood toward the back of the group, hoping I wouldn't be noticed. Sadly, my plot was foiled by our team leader, who looked at me and said, "Caren, you're up." Nuts.

I approached the two people who were going to lift me over. I put my foot on one of their hands, then took it off, biting my lip to keep it from quivering. "I can't do this," I said.

Seeing the anxiety that was radiating from my face, my team encouraged me: "It's okay, we'll make sure you don't fall"; "Don't worry, we'll help you"; and "It's just like a cheerleading toss." (Yes, the last one didn't help all that much, but the confidence behind it was what swayed me.) Reluctantly, I climbed onto their awaiting hands, and I was lifted up to the top of the wall. With a little effort, I made it over safely.

Of course, this one event didn't cure me of my fear of heights or my dislike of help, it just got me on the road to remedy.

Feeling good about the wall climb, I was ready to tackle anything. Well, anything but what was coming.

We were now to be strapped into a harness, and climb a pole reminiscent of a telephone pole with small pieces of wood attached to it. Once we reached the top, we were to stand on it (we're talking 30-feet in the air, here) then jump off it and attempt to catch a trapeze. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This was insane. No, this was beyond insane. It was absurd, preposterous, deranged, unbalanced—you get the idea. There was no way you would ever get me on that thing.

As I watched the first person in our group attempt this thing, I was still convinced that I would never do it. As I watched the second person, I still didn't want to do it. When the third person went up, Dave (one of our instructors) asked if anyone wanted to learn how to belay. (In case you don't know, belaying is securing the end of the rope so the person in the harness will be caught if they fall.) I said yes, figuring that I might as well do something with this crazy pole, considering I would never be climbing it.