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Overcoming My Fear of Heights

I decided to walk the Camino from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, Spain, a 500 mile journey.  Okay, now that we decided how and where we were going to vacation, I needed to determine how I was going to overcome my fear of heights – just in case there were mountains along the trail.  Maybe I should find out if there are mountains.  Upon what I considered substantial research, reading camino blogs, talking to people we knew who trekked the Camino it was determined, ‘Yep’ there would be mountains.  The first day, we were told would be the worst and then it would be easy sailing after that.  Now I did mention to everyone I spoke to that I had a huge fear of heights.  My husband emphasized to everyone we talked to that my fear was unusually intense.I researched the internet to come up with a method to help me overcome my intense fear of heights.  I wasn’t very successful.  Most advised to contact a professional for assistance.  I just didn’t have time.  So off I go again – just jumping in and facing my fears.  I had realized from my past experiences that this really didn’t work in the long run, but what else was I to do?  I just didn’t have time to get professional help.  Another stressful adventure – what fun.So, we arrived in St. Jean Pied de Port.  I am absolutely paralyzed in my mind.  What am I going to do? There isn’t even a warm up period.  We’re in the mountains right away.  Talk about jumping right into the frying pan!  It was such an uncomfortable and terrifying experience.  My husband was very supportive, but I could tell that I was really impacting his experience as well.  I think he was hoping I would be a little more courageous, especially at the beginning.  Then I soon learned that what goes up, must come down.  Never mind looking over the edges of trails that seem to drop off into the clouds.  How far down is that?  Put on a brave face Pat, and get with the program.  I soon learned to rely on my walking sticks.  Believe it or not, four legs are better than two.  That helped me get over the extra weight on my back from the backpacking and helped balance.  Now, if I could just be confident about what is around that next bend.God help me!!!  It’s okay Pat.  It’s just this tough the first day.  Self talk.  Does it really work?  Not for me, not now!!!   Well after a very stressful 11 hours of hiking up into the Pyranees, and down again into Roncevalles – a very, very steep downhill run that lasted about two hours, we had arrived at our first location for sleeping.  No beds – OMG where are we going to sleep?  After that problem was solved, I was thinking that the hard part was done according to information.  Wrong!!! Every day was up and down and difficult, some parts more difficult than others, but very scary because so far it wasn’t anywhere near over, and I had no idea how much worse it was going to get!  Fortunately for me, about one week into the walk we met a couple (Elaine and Joe Foster) that we kept crossing paths with at various locations throughout.  I mentioned to them that my fear of heights was very stressful, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make the remainder of the trip because the hills and heights just kept coming.Praise be – Mrs. Foster or rather Dr. Elaine advises that she is a practising psychologist, or rather just retired, and finds my fear kind of interesting under the circumstances.  She introduced a couple of techniques and practised with me to make sure I had a grasp of what she was trying to show me.  I got it!!! And it works.First, Elaine explained a little of how the chemistry in the brain works.  What I got from the information is that your body cannot stay in a state of fear and panic.  I didn’t know that?  I had always presumed I would be until in a state of hysteria.  I was wrong.  It drops off after a short period if you can give it enough time.  The best thing to do is once you start your little “panic attack”, STOP and take in your environment!  If you need to go back to the place before you felt the fear start, it’s okay, but preferable if you can stay where you are and take it in!  Your fear will stop, and it did.  Then move one step ahead at a time.  If you have to stop after each step to soak up your environment it’s okay.  While you’re taking in the environment, breath in and out – SLOWLY.  And don’t proceed until the fear/panic subsides.  I did this a lot during the remainder of the hike.  It slowed us down quite a bit, but that was okay.  I was overcoming my fear of heights for the first time in 57 years.I completed the hike with my husband after five long weeks.  I completed it!!!  That was almost a year ago.  My fear of heights has subsided dramatically, and I no longer avoid my fear, or deal with every  new experience with great apprehension.  These simple steps have created such a feeling of liberation in my life.  My day to day living is done with so much more confidence.I can’t thank Elaine enough for her generous nature and sharing this information, nor her husband, Joe, for his patience throughout their time with us.  What they have made possible for me, will change the way I deal with the rest of my life.  And my husband no longer has to worry that I’m going to fall apart.  How can one express appreciation to that degree?




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