Have you ever felt afraid? What are you scared of?
I’ve generally been a bit of a worrier. But the real deal? Only a few times in my life have I been utterly terrified. There are a few things I’m scared of, but the main one is heights – and the thought of falling from them.
I took a school group to a dry ski slope once and decided to have a go. Despite feeling like my ankles would snap in the boots, I trudged over the surface with my little brood of 8 ahead of me. We put on our skis, we walked sideways up the slope, encouraging one another and one by one the children glided down, even the scared ones. My turn.
One foot out.
Ski facing down.
“Turn your other ski and you’ll slide down.”
And I froze.
My feet were completely paralysed, pointing in different directions and I couldn’t move to head down the slope. To give you a context, this was approximately two metres up the slope with eight 10 year olds shouting how I could do it and that they believed in me.
The thought of being out of control, careering – to my mind – down this minute slope at the speed of light was terrifying. And unrealistic. But terrifying nonetheless.
You can imagine my apprehension on discovering a hen party invite I had accepted included a trip to Go Ape. If I couldn’t make it down two metres of dry ski slope, or up a climbing wall higher than two foot (same trip, same children urging me on, just as embarrassing), there wasn’t too much hope.
Me up trees. High up trees. Me jumping off of platforms around said high trees. In short, the stuff of my nightmares. The practice run ten feet off the ground intimidated me, and the prospect of letting go of the solid tree trunk was almost impossible. I stood on the platform, my mouth was desert dry while my palms pooled with water.
Reader, I let myself fall off a tree.
What did I learn? I’m braver than I thought.
I could not have done this without two particular friends. We’ve been together since our first days as bright-eyed, keen NQTs – and true to national statistics only one of us is still a class teacher. At every point one went ahead, and one behind. They held my sweaty hands, helped me clip on caribenas when I couldn’t let go of the tree, shouted encouragement, and gave me a proverbial kick up the backside at times – ‘Do you want to tell people you did this, or that you almost did this?’.
And this year I decided it was time…I was going to combat my fear of flying. I have flown: the last time I did so was about 13 years ago.
So, following sleepless nights and nightmares about getting on a plane and telling people I was thinking about it and therefore being regularly asked about it, I booked EasyJet’s Fearless Flyer course. They say pride comes before a fall which I was sincerely hoping wasn’t true, as I felt very proud I’d actually booked on and if the plane fell out the sky, that’d be it for my flying experiences, and possibly for me altogether. Having booked, all I had to do was turn up on the first day, and then get onto the plane on the second.
In advance of this though, I had a trip to St Paul’s planned, expecting lots of history and beauty which didn’t disappoint. But as this was the exact weekend before my flight, it felt imperative I climb to the lantern that tops the dome. Warnings of ‘the see-through stairs’ and how far down you can see weren’t helping my confidence much, although there was, according to my fellow attendees, no question of me not scaling the height. Repeating to myself that it was safe, had been for a few hundred years, and that Sir Christopher Wren himself had climbed – in his mid-seventies – up to the top went somewhat to helping my mindset. Encouragement (in various guises including the occasional shove) was an assistance too, and having someone to take your mind off the fear really helps. What made it worth it was two things. The view – and the achievement.
In the same way that Go Ape had helped me face a fear, climbing the stairs was important. I wasn’t going to let an irrational fear stop me from seeing a great view. Which is why I’d enrolled on the Fearless Flyer course – because fear shouldn’t stop me from seeing the world – and trains and boats take a really long time.
Fear is useful. It warns us of danger and gives us that rush of adrenaline to fight or flee. But sometimes it can glue us to a spot and immobilise us, inhibiting us from doing what’s possible and possibly even enjoying it. Was I scared? Yes. But the joy of overcoming the fear is greater than the fear itself. Except that sometimes fear can paralyse – the dry ski slope being a case in point. And it’s these fears we have to face head on, in case we stay rooted to the spot. Catch the spider. Drive on the M25 and see where it takes you.
And then make yourself a certificate, and graciously accept the round of applause from your friends.