Franklin D Roosevelt once famously said ‘The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’ – but maybe he’d never been faced with climbing to the top of the O2. Okay, so I’m being a bit glib, but the fact is that sometimes I feel like a walking talking ball of anxiety. Especially when it comes to my bete noir – heights.
I can’t remember when I first started being afraid of tall buildings and mountains. Probably when I learned what happened if you fell off them. And that’s what my fear really is — it’s not a fear of heights, it’s a fear of falling to the depths. A fear of mortal injury!
A wise fear, you might say.
It’s not that dissimilar to some of the fears I face as a writer. What if people hate my book? What if they find out I’m a fraud? (One of my big ones — see this post on Imposter Syndrome for more details). What if I fail?
And sometimes even more scary, what if I succeed?
At the end of the day, the only failures we have are those when we don’t try. When we hang up our hats and hide away and decide not to challenge ourselves. So I try to ignore those inner voices that tell me to stop writing, the same way I try to ignore the inner voice that tells me I’m sure to die if I scale the dizzy heights of a skyscraper.
So I write and I publish, and I try to face my fears. That’s also why I decided to climb the O2 – that giant white tent-like structure in London, home to many a concert and exhibition. It looks like this:
As you can see, the sloping nature of the roof makes it hard to climb, which means you have to wear special equipment, including a harness, strong shoes, and a carabiner that ties you to the roof. You know, just in case you fall. So by the time I was fully dressed and ready to go, I was shaking. I was that afraid.
The route to the top is on a bouncy walkway, along with a hand rail that you have to cling to, otherwise the steepness is too much. All the way your carabiner is locked on to a wire, keeping you safe, but it’s hard work. And a bit like being an author, I found the best way to keep my anxiety under control was to keep my focus ahead of me, not look to the side, and keep breathing. That last tip is good for anything in life — breathing is important. Anyway, after around half an hour our group made it to the top, Want proof? Here’s a picture of me smiling, yes smiling. Because I did it. And the view from the top was amazing.
The route down was actually steeper than the route up (something to do with no platform going down), but I found that walking backward while clinging to the handrail helped. And when I finally made it to the bottom, I got a welcome rush of adrenaline, along with a sense of accomplishment. Because I did it – I felt the fear (oh boy did I feel the fear) and I did it anyway.
Would I do it again? I’m not sure, but I’m definitely glad I did it the first time. With every new thing I try, my fear of failing (or falling) becomes less. And I’m determined never to let my life be limited by fear again. Whether that be in my writing or anything else.