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  • laurenwhitehurst8

Aspiring for the Donuts

I am afraid of heights. This is sort of ironic in that I grew up on the 27th floor of a high rise. For some reason, living at that height never bothered me, but I know that I had the fear even then because I can recall being unable to walk across the Pont de Gard (an old roman aqueduct in South France) when I was 15. I literally had to traverse the span inside the ancient water pipe. I also know the phobia has worsened with age. It’s almost as if the consequences of a deathly fall are bigger now that I have a husband and children, and so I find myself wobbly at the knees in more places than ever.

What I hate most about this is what I miss. I couldn’t make it to the top of the Tower of Pisa or the highest level of the Eiffel Tower. I saw the Grand Canyon standing 25 feet back from the viewing platform. When our family climbed to the cupola at The Duomo in Florence, I could not step onto the ledge that allows one to circle the inside of the dome, even though there was a barricade of plexiglass ensuring no one could possibly fall (or jump). And I literally had to ask a stranger to help me start down the spiral stairs, while my family enjoyed a close-up view of the frescos on the dome and ascended to the roof. I can still see the three of them waving at me below in the plaza.

This phobia is especially nagging in that I also love to hike. I hate that I start a new hike in fear of what I might encounter. I picture ledges and paths with steep drop-offs, and I know I’ll encounter these elements, as practically all good hikes all have them. I force myself to go anyhow, but my whole family knows that when vertigo inevitably hits, one of them will need to hold my hand and guide me through each awful patch. I think the record was when I held Jim’s hand and looked away from the view for an entire stretch of the Cinque Terre!

I am not one to accept limitations, and I’ve spent many an hour googling down rabbit holes looking for ways to move past my fear of heights. I’ve also tried several remedies. I visited a therapist who specialized in phobias. I attended a training where you climb a 30-foot pole, stand up on a saucer with nothing to hold onto and jump off belayed (yes, the picture is me). So far, nothing has worked, but I’m not giving up.

This year, I bought sunglasses with side flaps that prevent peripheral vision (I’m going to try those next week when I go to Colorado!). And today Jack helped me start VR exposure therapy – a free application on an Oculus Go that asks me to walk a plank extending from an elevator at the top of a tall building. Jack found it hysterical that I both made him stand next to me when the VR image appeared and would not walk close to the edge of the elevator. But I did stare out from the platform for a good 10 seconds and then inched a bit closer to look down some more. It felt longer of course, but I think I managed about one minute in total. Tomorrow - I’m going for two, then three and then I’m going to stand on that plank. There is a setting that puts a stack of donuts on the end of it, and I plan to eat them and conquer this thing.

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