Facing Fear

I’ve always been scared of heights. Even as a small child, I remember having a great deal of anxiety walking down the narrow cliff path from the hotel in Wales my family stayed at a few times. It was the only way to the beach and so several times a day I had to endure it.

The thing about this sort of fear is that it goes deep and it goes beyond logic. I thought I had mostly overcome it some years back when I found myself able to stand on the roof of a carpark without wanting to hug the ground, and later to walk around the summit of Glastonbury Tor without getting vertigo. Or being able to go to the top of mountains and not feel unwell.

But at times it returns as if it had never been away. I had a bad attack of vertigo at Tintgael Castle in Cornwall some years ago and on occasions since.

So you can understand why I was reluctant to tackle the Eiffel Tower. I’d evaded it last time I was in Paris because one kid was too unwell to go up so I stayed firmly on the ground. This time, I made the decision I would get as far as the second level and then decide if I were going to the very top.

Now the Eiffel Tower is over 300m high. That’s ludicrously high.

I went up in the lift to the second level with my eyes shut and my body shaking. I felt dizzy and sick when we walked around. But I decided that how much worse could it be to go right to the top? So into the little final lift I went, along with some of the kids and up we went…. My eyes were shut tight and I was trying not to hyperventilate. At the top, it’s all enclosed by glass which makes it feel a lot better than the middle section which is only enclosed by wire mesh and the breeze comes in.

So I relaxed a little and took photos:

As you can see, it’s very high!

Then we made our way down again in the lift. It takes rather a long time but we were back to the second level again. I was feeling a bit sick, but then the group I was with decided to walk down from the second level to the ground and that for me was when the trouble started.

It wasn’t so bad with someone immediately in front of me but pretty soon the kids lost me and I was faced with the stairs ahead of me. One foot in front of the other, but there are over 1600 steps…and it’s open to the air. You can’t hurl yourself off it; but it still feels as if you might slip and plummet to your death. Every time I loosened my grip on the handrail my body thought it was the rail giving way and I felt a massive surge of fear shoot through me. It takes at least 20 minutes to walk down. I think it took me half and hour. The group were waiting for me at the bottom and I smothered the urge to throw up in the nearest bin. I was shaking for the next half an hour, and I had a thumping headache too.

But despite being completely shit-scared (excuse my French) I’d done it. No one can take that away from me. And next time, I know I can do it again if I have to. I can choose not to, but I know that it’s not because I am being controlled by my fears. I’ll be back in Paris in late May but I haven’t a clue yet about my itinerary. If it includes the Eiffel Tower, I will be OK with that.

If I could only manage to cope like that with my other fears, I’d be unstoppable….

(for more info and a virtual tour, visit: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/teiffel/uk/ or the wiki site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower )