I used to think that I had a fear of heights but what I really have is a fear of falling. I am not worried about flying, well not much, and I can enjoy the view from the top of a tall building providing there is a comforting wall all around me but ask me to climb a ladder and I turn into a quivering mass.
I don’t think that I was always afraid but certainly by the time I went to school I was. At my first school in England we had to do gym. One of the things they would make us do was to walk on a plank suspended between two large stools. I don’t suppose they were very high but they seemed so to a five year old. I was terrified to do it but too shy to tell my teacher. I’d just try to make myself invisible and keep going to the back of the line. In those days they would probably have made me do it even if I had said something.
If we went to the playground I wouldn’t go on the big slide because I didn’t want to climb up the ladder. I do wonder if I had an early experience that made me afraid. Mum did tell me that once when I was very small my father brought me home from the playground covered in blood after a fall. I don’t remember this incident at all but maybe that was the start of it.
Fear of falling has continued to be a nuisance all my life. Occasionally on outings I’ve missed out on doing things because they involved ladders. Last summer at the Maritime Museum in Sydney I found that I could not tour most of the ships on display because doing so would have involved climbing down ladders.I would love to sail on a tall ship but even before I became too unfit to be much use I would not have been able to pull my weight because there was no way I was ever going to climb the rigging. I’ve never been to the top of a lighthouse for the same reason even though I would love to do that too.
When I was younger I could sometimes overcome my fears if the motivation to do so was great enough. When I was a Steamranger volunteer I was for a short time able to climb onto the roof of a train carriage. My greatest achievement I think was to climb Ayers Rock. It’s not the done thing to climb the rock these days, it’s considered disrespectful to the indigenous people who consider Uluru to be a sacred site. However, in the 1980s a lot of people did it. Hubby and I were there with an American pen friend of mine and although she and I were both a bit anxious we decided that we would try it. Hubby elected to remain on the ground. I really expected that I would be too scared to go on once we got past the first section where there was a chain link railing to hold. Surprisingly I wasn’t; it felt firm underfoot, not slippery and although we resorted to some undignified sliding on our bottoms on the way down we both made it to the top. I could never do that now.