Dealing with heights has always created a bit of a paradox for me. I love hiking and climbing and I can handle being forty to fifty feet off the ground. But once I'm at altitude, I get what some call vertigo. Once I'm really high up, nerves take over and I'm pretty much useless. So I figured the PIEF rock wall was a good place to start facing my fears.
I shared my story with Health Psychologist, Heather Dermyer, who had some good news. "I would definitely say you're not alone in your fear of heights. I think are a lot of people that struggle with intense fear once they get really high off the ground. Especially on the cliffs of the Pictured Rocks in this area, people get a little hesitant to get close to the edge," she said.
She offered some friendly advice for my first climb. "First of all it??s trusting in your safety harness, the people you're working with, the safety equipment and really trying to trust that those things are going to be there to help you," she said.
Of course, once I found myself at the rock wall, ORC student manager, Greg Thocker helped to set my mind at ease. ??As far as safety goes, these ropes can withstand far more force than any human fall could possibly put on them. We check them once a week. We check the entire length on the rope for any abrasions, any differences in thickness in the thickness of the rope, any signs of wear. We also change the ropes once a semester which is arguably more than we really need to do," he said.
Once I started climbing, I remembered the helpful words of my friend, Dr. Dermyer. "Secondly, it's helpful to take things step by step. Remember to take deep breaths, use relaxation techniques and edge slowly and carefully as you go. And just keep thinking positive. Try to reassure yourself that you can do it. Also keep your eyes on what's in front of you instead of looking down," she said.
I made it up the rock wall with a fair amount of success a couple times. It wasn't really high enough for the fear to set in. However, I knew if I wanted to say that I??ve truly conquered my fear, I??d have to take it up a notch. I decided a trek to the top of the catwalk in the Superior Dome would be a good way to test my new found courage.
The PEIF rock wall was a mere twenty-five feet high. But the top of the catwalk at the Superior Dome is twelve stories high. I decided it would be a good idea to check in at the halfway point.
I had made it to the halfway point and decided to stop for a check point. "It's pretty high. I'm starting to feel the effects. I just want to lie down on the ground to keep from somehow just lunging over the rail. I don't know why. I know I'm not going to fall. I guess the power of that gravity, just kind of...a little scary. And we're only halfway," I said.
So I continued, onward and upward! At the top of the catwalk, I had this to say. "At this height I can definitely start to feel I want be careful where I put my feet and make sure that my movements are very purposeful and cautious. So here we are at the top. It's a little scary. I can feel it."
But even the Superior Dome was bearable. I bet if I keep challenging myself to new heights, I'll be doing the forecast from the top of the Mackinac Bridge in no time!