Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm not sure how my fear of heights began, or why it persists, but it is there. Always. And it rears its head every now and then to remind me that nothing really has changed in my core. It could be brought on by a ladder or as I discovered a couple of years back, by spending a night in an open loft space in Lewes. Just out of Walpole is a tree top walk. A construction of bridges and walkways that climbs to 40m and looks over the forest of karris below. A spectacular view undoubtedly, but a long long way down. I know that those engineers would have designed everything according to standards, and margins for error to account for excessive winds or load would have been built in. And that thousands of people have successfully negotiated the path before me. And that walking along a straight path without deviating over the edge is something that I am able to do every day. Well most days, assuming that I haven't spent way too long in the pub. But rationality just doesn't come into it. It wasn't quite terror this time, but I felt my toes curling inside my shoes as if trying to recall the time in my ancestry when we were apes and they could establish a good grip on a branch. Eventually, rationality did triumph and I completed what was really a very simple walk without incident. I can't say it was enjoyable though. Tori, Finn and Jaz loved it. I was just relieved that it was over.

Where do these phobias come from? I don't recall ever having any genuinely bad experience involving heights that could explain my morbid fear. My mother can't tell me of anything that may have happened before my current conscious memory. It just seems inbuilt like a malfunction in my internal programming. An overdeveloped sense of self preservation when it comes to being in high places. Just seeing pictures looking down from a cliff top is enough to give me the same sensation of dread. Having tried on a number of occasions to confront my phobia and conquer it, usually with stunning failure, I just feel inclined now to recognise this weakness in my being and try not to put myself in a position where it will come to the fore. That is of course until a "must not miss" tourist attraction such as the tree top walk comes along.

Today we went along to another must not miss tourist site. The Jewel Cave, just out of Margaret River. This is one of a series of limestone caves in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park and was recommended to us by several people as the most spectacular in the region. We paid the exorbitant admission price and set off on the mandatory tour of the cave down the stairs leading to the giant cavern. We had been told that the cave has increased levels of carbon dioxide, hence less oxygen in the air, and so would make the 250 steps more of an ordeal than they would otherwise have been. We were only a short walk into our descent when it was Tori's turn to freak out. Seeing the enclosed space that we were having to walk through, probably combined with the quality of the air, was enough to send Tori's claustrophobia into overdrive and she decided immediately that it was time to get the hell out of there. This is her phobia. She can sit on the edge of a cliff dangling her feet over the side without a care in the world, but put her in a confined space and she is completely overcome by fear and has to escape. I've seen it before when exploring the old gold mines around Warrandyte and when she was learning to scuba dive and even at night in the van if it's just that bit too dark. She too has no reason for her phobia. No past experience that she can pin it on. A few minutes after Tori had exited the cave, Finn lost it too and decided that he had to get out. It seems that he has inherited a claustrophobic fear also. Jazzy on the other hand was racing ahead down the stairs to the 42m depth of the cave. Just as she had raced up the tree top walk and was leaning over the edge to get the best of the view below. At least one of us seems to have escaped the fear of heights and of closed spaces that curse the rest of the family. Hmmm...but if I place a spider in her bed, that'll probably get her.

1 comment:

Marion said...

Phobias = Good healthy connection to the limbic system.