Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

I’m scared of heights. Really scared, actually. It’s not logical at all but it’s powerful and paralysing at times. It’s not so much a conscious fear but more an experiential one. There are sensations I experience when in high places that are very unpleasant. Vertigo and nausea for a start. Sweating. Shaking. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

Two years ago, I was forced to confront the fear at work. I work as a courier/tour guide for my second job, and I take groups of English kids to Europe for educational visits. I’m the one on the in-coach microphone, giving a commentary about wherever we are. No trip to Paris is complete without a trip UP the Eiffel Tower, but until two years ago, I’d somehow managed to be the responsible adult who stayed on the ground with the couple of kids who didn’t feel they could go up. Two years ago I did a trip where the teacher in charge deemed that EVERY kid had to go up, whether they were scared or not, so I had no option. I went up, shaking and sweating, on the very brink of a panic attack the whole time. But I stayed in the enclosed capsule at the final stage and didn’t climb the final dozen stairs to the highest point the public can visit. I was unable to set a foot on that iron stairway and make it up.

Last week, I took a group who have so far never gone to the top. It’s always been closed for maintenance when the group usually visit Paris. Last year we went to the second floor. When we got there this time to change to the smallest lift, one child became so unwell with fear, a member of staff had to take him back down. So the die was cast and I knew I had to go to the top again. The final lift is quite small compared to the first one which holds about fifty people so my group and I packed in and held on. I shut my eyes. Stepping out, I was relieved to be there but knew going down is worse. The kids wanted to go to the final stage and I had no choice but to go as well. Reaching the circular gallery at the very top, I felt the full force of vertigo hit me, and I tried to dig my fingernails into the metal walls. Breathe. Just breathe. After a moment or two, I was able to steady myself and move, walking slowly and shakily round before descending again once another member of staff was present. A kind American girl took my photo so I have evidence that I finally made it to the top.

Many things in life are like this. The tip-top is so far away, we think we can never reach it, it’s like shooting for the stars. But if you break down a massive task into discrete, achievable chunks, each to stand alone as a powerful monument to your abilities, then you have an option of building on them and slowly but surely reaching the top.

After all, there’s only one way to eat an elephant: bit by bit. 

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: or the wiki site )

September Spiders

September spiders


September is the month of spiders:

Poised in their webs like living jewels,

Stranded in the bathtub like patient travellers

Waiting for a train on the London tube,

Hatching in their hundreds from silken bundles

Dispersing to the corners of every room.

Webs a problem? Spray them silver:

Claim they’re the latest in interior design.

Visit a therapist if you’re petrified of spiders:

September’s not a month for arachnophobes!


Driving force

Yesterday, for the first time in a number of years, I got behind the wheel of our car and drove. I’ve had a little spin in it before, in the empty car park of the local golf club, but never on the open road. The last time I was behind the wheel was in our previous car, on Boxing Day more than two years ago, and that after a period of more than 2 years. In that case I panicked and gave up by the end of the road and my husband drove the rest of the way to my parents’ house.

It’s been absurd the lengths I will and have gone to in order to avoid driving. I passed my driving test a fairly long time ago, and the first car I drove for some years after was an ex-army Lightweight Land Rover. As a visitor once commented, that was REAL driving. Not only that, my scruffy old landy was invincible; people got out of the way when I was in it. The thought process went along these lines: I could cut her up…..but she’s got no paintwork to worry about sooooo….I’ll do the courteous thing and not be a bastard on the road. The known factor about land rovers is they DO have a crumple zone…it’s called The Other Car.

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere after her(my Land rover), I lost my confidence and then the will to drive. I sweated blood, practically every time I had to get behind the wheel. At first it was at night and in fog, then just at night and before long I got the shakes if ever asked to drive. I have a patient and kind husband who understands, but I hate myself for it.

So yesterday I said, OK, I’ll try. We drove about three or four miles and then came back. The little Peugot 106 we have is more like a toy car compared with the various other vehicles we have had: obviously the landrover was a tank compared to all cars, but we had a Volvo, then an Astra estate followed by a Skoda estate. The Skoda was the one I gave up on by the end of the street. I simply couldn’t find the gears; every time I changed gear, it felt like nothing would work. Silly when the landrover didn’t even have a synchromesh; you had to feel for the gears and then just shove, hard. But our little car felt quite easy and forgiving, and we returned without incident.

The plan is to take a spin at the weekends when traffic is likely to be quieter, so I can slowly build the confidence I lost. I can’t say I relish this but at least it means when the inevitable day come when it is essential I drive and there is no other option, I won’t be so terrified and then risk making mistakes. At least then I know this car a bit and feel that I can, with care, drive it.

As an addendum, among other curious dreams last night I dreamed I was in a smallish fishing boat, trying to navigate my way our of our busy little harbour. I’ve never “driven” a boat, and apart from a very few sea trips, I’m not a salty sea dog, so it seems significant that my subconscious chose to use that set of images and actions. In real life I would have been frozen with fear and uncertainty, not knowing the rules and regs of sea navigation, but in the dream I was fairly confident and assertive and steered neatly round other vessels and didn’t crash into the harbour walls. I woke before I got out to sea.

I’m hoping tonight I will be sailing out of the enclosing arms of the haven and out into the open sea….