This week’s photo challenge theme is Rare, so I’m going to do something I almost never do and talk about something very personal: fear. In addition to a lot more writing than usual, some of the photos in this series are not my own work, but are here courtesy of my boyfriend who, apparently, doesn’t have the same problem as I do. (On another note, can you spot which ones are mine and which ones are his? I think I taught him well!) But let’s get back to the beginning and I’ll explain everything…
I’ve always been in love with the mountains, but I’ve never been in love with rocks. Walking? Yes, please. For hours on end, if necessary. Scrambling? Ugh, okay, if I must. And why, you ask? Well, scrambling requires a certain level of strength and agility that I never really felt I had (“felt” being the operating word), although I think I was getting better at it. As you usually do with practice. And then, a few months ago, I had a serious accident that scared me sh*tless. I was lucky beyond belief: an ice axe and some grass literally saved my life. What could have ended with me sliding into an endless chasm, ended up with several small scars and a newly acquired sense of my own mortality. You can imagine how this impacted my, already very fragile, confidence.
So last weekend we went hiking in an area that is famous for its limestone rock formations, Samarske stijene. Out of the four peaks that were on our route I managed to climb just one. As soon as we got close to the top where you had to start scrambling, panic would kick in. Heart starts beating, hands start shaking and brain stops working. I don’t trust my shoes, I don’t trust my muscles, and I don’t know how I got up here and how the heck do I get back down!?? And then, on top of that, there were my friends who watched and waited anxiously for me to decide if I’m going up or down. No pressure, huh?
Immediately after the accident, I was just happy to be alive. But when the dust settled, and I recounted my story, again and again, to all of my friends, some of them commented that it’s good that I didn’t loose that drive to go into the mountains again. And I thought they were right – I was still okay. But over time, I realized that I’m actually not okay. I’m back at the beginning or even worse. I’m gonna have to find a way to work through this once again, and this time it’s going be even harder.
So how do you go about it, then? Nobody ever talks about these issues, as if they’re never afraid of anything. They talk about being prepared, first aid, right equipment and safety, but never about the things goings on in your head. It makes me wonder, is everyone really born Russian and unafraid of heights or are they just not saying it out loud?
As for me, I’ve adopted an attitude much like my friend who got teased because he was scared when thunder started rolling in and they were perched on top of a mountain ridge in the Alps: “Of course I’m scared of things that could kill me!”. If there is one lesson I’ve learned from my accident, it’s that I have to trust my gut. I had a feeling things are not going to end well and indeed they went south just a few minutes later. Just like this weekend when I had the feeling that my fancy new hiking boots don’t provide enough traction. (Apparently, there is a big difference between approach shoes made for rocks and hiking shoes made for dirt and grass.) Sometimes, your paranoia is actually a justified feeling that something is wrong. The trick is to distinguish between the two.
Take it one step at a time and never push beyond what you think you can handle. If it doesn’t feel good, remind yourself that the most important thing is to stay alive and in one piece. You can always come back and try again.
So there you have it: my longest post in recent history. Have you ever had similar experiences? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments below!