I am terrified- TER.RI.FIED- of heights.
I’ve had panic attacks while stuck in traffic on elevated freeway overpasses. On any given suspension bridge there’s an 80% chance you will find me crying and scooting my way across in a pitiful army crawl.
Hell, I scream when other people get too close to the edge. (Why?! Why must we tempt gravity?)
Which is why it makes total sense that when my 29th birthday called for some celebration, I thought: Of course! Flying Trapeze.
Day #10,585: Perhaps precisely because I’m one big walking phobia. I’m a strong believer that birthdays should include doing something that scares the crap out of me.
When I learned about Trapeze Arts in Oakland, it sounded like the scariest Safe Thing that I could actually force myself to go through with. (Skydiving = Never, Ever, Ever, Never Happening. Ever.)
Most of my friends thought I was nuts. (“Can… can we just take you out to dinner like normal people?”) Luckily, I have a balls-out sister who was willing to give a 40-foot high trapeze the old college try, despite her own healthy fear of heights.
Trapeze Arts occupies a giant warehouse directly across the bay from San Francisco. Classes were already underway with people doing crazy flips on trampolines, wrapping themselves in aerial silk rope, or doing upside-down-acrobatics on hoops suspended high above the ground.
Our instructor had our 5-person class of complete newbies practice a few moves on the low trapeze before graduating to the real thing: first just hanging on, and then flipping our knees over the bar, and then … gasp… letting go so we were just gripping the bar with our knees.
Even the low trapeze had my palms sweaty.
I was beginning to wonder if perhaps we could all just agree that the low trapeze had satisfied Birthday Requirement: Be Ballsy, and go out to brunch like normal people.
Happily, a lot of serious things are accomplished in the name of saving face.
I just kept looking at the rung in front of me… don’t look down… don’t look down…
Before I realized enough to freeze/cry/scream, I was being pulled up onto the upper platform and getting hooked into the safety harness. At that point, all you can do is hang on and try to avoid freaking the F out.
Unfortunately, swinging on the trapeze requires… actually jumping off the platform so you can swing on said trapeze. The instructor nudged me toward the edge, as I wimpered and cursed myself for not celebrating my birthday with a massage and a mimosa.
Our instructor had told us not to think once we got up on the platform. Just to listen to his voice and do exactly what he said when he said it.
“Ready…” I grabbed the trapeze swing with both hands and stared hard into the horizon.
“Set…” I bent my knees in the mini-squat position they’d taught us on the ground.
I can’t say that I jumped. It was probably more like ‘fell’ or ‘stumbled’ or ‘got pushed by instructor.’ But damn if I didn’t make it off the platform and right into a stomach-dropping arc through the air.
I couldn’t do anything more than just swing. There was no hanging upside down, just hanging on, and- surprisingly, the absolute hardest part- letting go of the swing to fall into the net below.
I kinda felt like vomiting.
But I didn’t.
I rolled off the net, and climbed that damn, rickety ladder again. And actually flipped upside down this time (after Take 20 of the instructor telling me to do so… the first 19 times I just kept death-gripping the bar, cursing like a sailor, and trying to ignore him).
I hated every single second of it.
But when I dropped down into the net, I rolled off, and I climbed that stupid ladder again.
As soon as we completed the catch, I knew I was 100% done.
This story doesn’t end with me realizing that it was so much fun or feeling like I nearly missed out on discovering what’s now my favorite hobby. It was friggin’ TERRIFYING. All of it.
But damn if I didn’t do it. And do it again. And again.
Birthdays have to include something terrifying. Try to tell me it’s not far more terrifying to become old & boring without putting up at least a modicum of resistance. I, for one, refuse to go quiet into that dark night.
A new year of life should be a little bit scary, or we’re not doing it right.
Even though I felt like crying out of sheer exhaustion in the end (y’all can laugh, but it really is tiring being this neurotic), I climbed that ladder and jumped.
And I’d never felt so alive.
You Can Do It, Too!
I don’t know if you got this in between all my #terrifying and #hatedit, but I can’t recommend Trapeze Arts (1822 9th St, Oakland, California) enough. The instructors were unbelievably patient with Sister S & me, and though I was hyperventilating at the time, and didn’t recognize it, our safety was paramount. They offer beginner’s classes in flying trapeze, aerial arts, trampoline, and acrobatics… SUCH a fun (or terrifying) way to spend a weekend afternoon.
Even if you’re not keen about flinging yourself off a really high platform, it makes for wicked cocktail conversation: “Did I ever tell you about the time I did the flying trapeze?”
And isn’t that what it’s really all about?
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever put yourself through? If not to give age the middle finger (totally a valid reason, says me), why’d you do it?