The fear was something that I couldn’t shake.
After losing a battle that I didn’t even know I was fighting, fear moved in with me, signing an indefinite lease. Omni-present and lurking just beneath the shallows of my mind, there it was, ready and waiting for any chance to bring me down. Stronger it grew and more empowered it became as the weeks and months passed since this secret battle of ours.
The story of how this toxic hitchhiker came to be is simple enough. One day in 2016, after hiking for several miles, Tyler, the
insane adventurous Dutch soul that he is, spotted a teetering rock balanced precariously on a narrow ledge. A compressed cliff of aggregate rock 1300 meters above sea level, this was something on which he naturally thought, “I must stand on that.”
The problem wasn’t that Tyler wanted to do something so crazy, it was that my friend Kat was not the sound voice of judgement I had expected. My mouth fell open in shock as I watched her descend down the cliff. She wasn’t being the rock I was used to — she was climbing out onto it!
Ears ringing, I stared in shock. With a violent pounding in my chest, I snapped the photographs they requested with bloodless fingers that shook above the shutter. Trapped in false safety, I stood paralyzed behind the railing, stoically watching my friends’ thrilling excursion.
Elated and free, they returned to the viewpoint encouraging me to share in their experience. Feelings swirled inside me that I couldn’t pinpoint.
No. I decided. I could never do that.
Embarrassed and detached, I concluded the hike with false smiles and in false spirits.
I know by now that anytime the old phrase, “I could never do that” crosses our minds, it’s because we have struck a cord with something our souls desperately want to connect to. Think about it, if I told you that there was a mountain house that you could go to to meditate in silence for 10 hours a day, 10 days in a row I imagine you would have one of two reactions. At the core of it you are likely either thinking, 1) “I have no interest in that whatsoever” or 2) “I could never do that.”
Believing “I could never do that,” I left Montserrat with a sad soul in April 2016. I didn’t share the liberating rush my friends experienced nor did I face my fear of heights that day. Instead, I chickened out. Never would I have guessed that not climbing onto the rock would have been so dangerous, but that’s exactly what succumbing to this fear was. Ripping me in half and trashing my sense of self-trust, this “act of safety” hurt me deeply.
For the next 237 days I traveled through life devoid of self-trust.
During this time I questioned myself, wondering why staying happy was such a challenge for me when “it shouldn’t have been.” I mean, I knew all the answers. I knew what healthy thought patterns looked like and what happiness felt like. I knew just exactly where I was ‘supposed’ to be in life, what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling but none of this knowledge — none of it — lastingly influenced my inner mood. Some days, seemingly out of nowhere, mental chaos would slam me backwards as forceful as ever. Grabbing the wheel, fear, doubt, and ego would take over control and drive me straight off a cliff. Free-falling down into a depressive slump, I was nothing more than a passenger — simply tumbling along for the ride — unable to stop any of it. Left unchecked, my fear was in full control. It took charge of cognitive thought, it rendered me disconnected from my inner consciousness, and it left me painfully indecisive about everything in life.
Life carried on like this until one day, in Thailand, I rediscovered freedom.
Tyler’s long-standing fear of road-rash and my seven month affair with self-doubt had been stymying our motorbike rental plans until, finally, our last day in Koh Samui arrived. Backed by the desire to impress the newest member of our crew, our traveling squad decided it was now or never. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done something that scared me, something that made me uncomfortable; and so I strapped on my helmet, found my focus, and told myself I could do it.
After about an hour of riding, my grip finally relaxed enough for me to regain the feeling back in my tense body. For the first time I noticed the salty wind had been air-drying my hair in waves. The tropical sun was kissing my cheekbones, and my bum was completely stuck to the hot plastic seat. Suddenly, I remember being presently aware of that moment. Loosening up and giving a lil shimmy, I pressed my toes harder down on the pedal. I felt the corners of my mouth twist upward and then a deep and hearty laugh filled my stomach. Radiating, next, out into the open wind for no one but myself to hear, my laugh carried with it feelings of empowerment. Independence, joy, freedom, and trust began flooding my system all at once. My god I thought — this is what I had been missing all these months. My power, I realized — all of it — had been commandeered by a big f**king rock and I had just figured out how I could get it back.
And so, it was there that I decided I would face the rock upon returning to Barcelona. I was determined to face my fears this time and brave this aggregate rocky ledge. I returned to the city the first of March 2017 and gave myself ten days to prepare for this journey. Before long, the day had arrived. I awoke before dawn with a clear intention and purpose for the day.
Tense and irritable, my jaw tightened and locked on the outbound journey. Sensing the fear rattling from my teeth, Tyler asked more than once if I was ok. “I’m fine,” I snapped, as my teeth clattered in my mouth. Eventually, we exit the cable car and look out onto the landscape. One stair after another, the springtime air washes over me as the morning sun kisses my face. For a brief moment, I am swept away from my purpose.
Close to the top we pass a familiar shack. Like a tidal wave, the memories of the year prior wash over me, taking with it all my current feels and leaving fear, paralysis, and dread in its wake.
Close to the top we pass a familiar shack next to a stretch of stairs and there it is all at once. Emotions flood my mind; fear grips my body. It wasn’t just the same set of stairs as last year, but the piny air, the chill of the altitude, the warmth of the sun, everything is the same in this exact same spot. With a racing heart and stiff fingers needlessly grasping hold of my pack, I vaguely notice Tyler is speaking. His voice is distant and muffled in my ringing ears. My stomach is acting like a cement mixer filled with churning rocks. Tight and nauseated, somehow simultaneously, the pre-summit jitters wash over me like a ten foot wave and drain away all my blood. Dizzy, nauseous, scared, the voice in my head is primed to voice its opinions.
You’re too scared, don’t do this.
I want to.
Don’t be stupid, you could fall and die.
I bet you’ll trip.
I’m graceful and strong.
You’re right to fear. You need me to keep you safe.
You’re not going to do this.
The sun, hot moments ago, fails to warm me against the full-body chill that I now feel. Tears stream involuntarily down my cheeks and I start to cry. There are a few other people on the lookout, causally admiring the view, but in the moment of self-inflicted judgement I’m convinced they’re pointing and staring. I crouch down and really start freaking out. Tyler offers support and reminds me that I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to do anything.
But I do.
Purpose burns within me at his words and I know that this is important. I don’t yet know that it’s self-trust I’ve been lacking and I don’t yet know that it’s self-trust that I’m about to find, but I do know that I am going to do this.
Tyler descends first, climbing over the railing with a firm grip on the cable. From the floating rock, he waves, smiles, and beckons me down. I wanted to go out there and face this. I really truly did. But fear stopped me. One slip and it was instant death. My feet were cemented in place. I gathered as much inner strength as I had and focused my thoughts on how I felt last time.
My toes curl and tuck up under my feet, my body physically protesting my choices. With great effort, the sole of my right sneaker touches the railing. Up and over my left foot swings. Knuckles white and trembling, my fingers reach down for the thick steel cable in trepidation. Tense, taught, and secure, the feeling of the rope in my hand sends my breath back to me. As fear abates, my ears regain function and I detect voices below me. This cable is here for a reason, I realize with sudden clarity. I chance a glance down, causing my stomach to shoot up and inside itself, but in the process I catch view of climbers way beneath me. Strapped in with harnesses, sure, but it’s enough to show me the thing I’ve feared all along isn’t nearly as bad as the story I was telling myself.
Triumphantly I move faster to join my love, elated and excited to reach this now infamous rock. Much smaller than it seems in photos, and rounded on all sides, the terrain is as uneven as my legs are wobbly. Tyler’s eyes lock onto mine and we smile, sharing in the victorious feeling of safety and pride. Even the slight shake from my jubilant jitters can’t take away my elation. Just as I really start to relax and move around, the unthinkable happens. My foot in all of its unshakeable strength, kicks a rock loose.
Over the edge it rolls, nothing but silence in its wake.
Tyler drops to his hands and knees and locks gaze with mine. Paralyzed, we stare at one another in fear. The deafening silence of the plunging rock is palpable. My heart and mind enter the body of the rock and together we plummet to our death. Everything goes bright. My once stable footing turns to quicksand as I free fall. Finally, the rock bounces. A moment of reprieve. I catch my breath. Tyler looks relieved. Another bounce. With one final echoing sound, the rock lays to rest 1300 meters below.
Tyler’s hand finds my back. Together, we breathe.
Hearts in our stomach, stomachs in our throats, the rock finally ceases its echo, reminding us both of just how alive we are at this moment. Hearts racing, we laugh from a mixture of nerves and the pure wonder of life.
The advice we hear time and time again is that we should welcome our fears and anxieties. That for resolution we should allow them to pass through us because resisting them only makes it worse. Because resisting only makes it worse. Because resisting only makes it worse. How many times do we need to hear that before it holds true in our hearts? For me, thousands. I don’t think there is so much a number of times you can hear this and finally realize it’s true. I think it’s one of those things where you always hear it, but then one day you learn it for yourself and it’s like you’re the first one who has discovered it for the very first time. Kind of like when you realize breakfast is the meal used to break your fast, or that history is subjective because it’s his-story.
I do know that when we’re going through the process of self advancement it’s easier to trust in a process than it is to first trust in ourselves. And so, if you want to believe in something — if not yet yourself — believe that facing your fears is an incredible tool. If we can objectively evaluate what exactly it is about our fears that we fear…then we can systematically deconstruct those fears. We can devise a method for fast-tracking out of our insecure states. For me, I learned on the rocks of Montserrat that I feared heights all my life because I didn’t trust in myself. Fearful that I’d lose my footing; unsure of the strength of my legs; feeling clumsy, wobbly, and out of alignment; every reason behind my fear boiled down to simply not trusting myself.
What do you think? Do all of our fears boil down to lack of trust in ourselves? Have you ever faced a fear? How did you feel afterward? Celebrate yourselves down below in the comments ✌️