• Stephanie Hammond

I used to be afraid of heights ...

One time, we lived in an amazing two storied house. Above the stairwell, in one of the bedrooms, was a ceiling height cupboard. It was so deep that on the top shelf we stored several suitcases and a large trunk. The shelf had enough height that you could open the trunk and the lid would stay up.

One day I needed something out of that trunk. I had no foreshadowing of what was to come as I pulled myself into the top shelf and found what I wanted. I turned to back out of the cupboard and as I reached with my feet for the shelf below, I froze.

Years earlier I was aware of my fear of heights when I was coerced into climbing a ladder to go onto the roof to help with repairs. I was petrified and froze then too. But I thought it was because there was no scaffolding or anything to hold on to. Certainly I didn’t remember that fear as being the same as what I was feeling now as I clung on to the top shelf, calling out for help.

My mother rarely visited, so I was really grateful that she’d popped in that morning. She came and guided my foot to the shelf and helped me down.

Over the years, several other experiences highlighted this fear of heights. And, as it was with my fear of drowning, one day I became so sick of having this fear I determined to do something about it.

I notice my fears are not always there from the beginning. As a youngster I wasn’t aware of being afraid of heights. I realise now that fear can sneak up on me, without any obvious or remembered trigger. Getting rid of this fear of heights wasn’t going to be an overnight thing. Once again I seemed to choose outlandish things.

I decided to go abseiling and organised a group of friends and work colleagues to share a guided experience with me. Getting over the edge was the hardest thing and took me a long time. But I did it. And that day I also abseiled in a cave.

A girlfriend wanted to have a hot air balloon ride to celebrate her birthday and she invited me to share that with her. Our city is known for hosting the Balloons over the Waikato festival each year, with many skilled pilots offering rides. I jumped at the chance to test out how I was feeling about heights. What joy to find that, although the fear was still there, the balloon ride was one of the most glorious experiences. High up above the houses in the early morning air we floated, descending to just above the river and then up again and back to land - awesome, and I wasn’t afraid.

Another birthday and another girlfriend invited me to join her in a fully guided climb of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. What a spectacular experience - a 360 degree view from the top, waving to the cars below and watching sailing craft on the harbour. Not much fear in that.

The first photo is of me at the top! You can

see the Sky Tower I mention in the next paragraph. The second photo was taken from the ferry boat - the flag flying on the bridge is where I stood.

Auckland has a glass floor at the top of the Sky Tower. Whenever I was in Auckland and near the tower, I’d ride the lift up and test out my progress by standing on the floor and look down. It took a long time before I could even stand on it and longer till the queasiness ceased. Lots of fear in that, none now.

I love the mountains and took my youngest daughter to join a guided walk to the crater of Mount Ruapehu. Once we reached the snowline, we trudged up the side, following the guide and stepping in his footsteps as we went. It was misty as we stood on the rim, so there was no spectacular view and we couldn’t even see the crater lake. But through this experience I was gaining an appreciation of the guide’s role in overcoming my fears. The walk up the mountain was hard. The trek down started with sitting on the edge of the rim (not the lake side of the rim) and with a little push, sliding straight down the snow clad slope into the valley below. We couldn’t see the floor of the valley, but we could see the person in front take off and hear the joy of the slide and the shouts of accomplishment as they reached the bottom. My turn saw me do what I’d seen the others do without any hesitation. Not much fear in that part

The flying fox has always beckoned me. And I’ve always been afraid. Until one day some little children encouraged me to have a go and they showed me exactly what I needed to do. I pushed myself forward and the second my feet left the platform I felt the joy of it. Oh, what I’d been missing out on because of my fears!

These are just a few of the things that helped me overcome my fear of heights. One thing they all had in common was there was always a guide. I’ve learned to trust the guide. Like all of us, I have my own inner guidance system. With respect to heights, it warns me if I’m putting myself in unnecessary danger. It warns me because I ask and I listen to the answer.

I’ve had wonderful experiences now because I’ve learned I don’t need to be afraid of heights - respectful, yes; afraid, no.

I’ve climbed a mountain in south east Queensland with my daughter. I’ve stood on the ledge of a cliff overlooking Lake Waikaremoana. I’ve done the same in the Himalayas. And I’m not afraid any more.

I will always remember the day I realised my fear had gone. I was on a site visit to a disused power station and the caretaker took me up a flight of stairs that had metal treads. We walked along a ramp with the same open metal - all so I could see the property and its surroundings. The caretaker said to me: “You’re the first woman I’ve brought up here who is not afraid of heights.”

I realised it was true. I was not afraid of heights. I looked all around and down between the open grate to the ground far below and I was not afraid. I was not queasy. I was cured! What joy! My next adventure? Ride the three giant ziplines on Waiheke Island.

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