For as long as I can remember, I’ve been scared of heights. When I was probably 7 or 8, my family hiked somewhere in Ohio to the top of an overlook and my little brother jokingly pretended to push me. Nothing like a dizzying scare of a couple hundred foot drop to make you feel alive, right? When my family went to Spain in 2009, I had one of the more epic panic attacks I’ve ever had heading from Barcelona to Málaga when the plane hit a rough spot and we had severe turbulence. I remember trying to breathe and also control my bowels at the same time for a solid 10 minutes. It was weird, the 12-16 hour flight over the Atlantic ocean hadn’t freaked me out, but the one hour flight over land ruined my life momentarily. Even now, crawling to the top of that first hill on roller coasters makes my stomach twist – I love roller coasters though.
Sometime in mid-high school, probably junior year, I started hanging out of one of the windows in my bedroom whenever I wanted to clear my head at night. I also used it to illicitly smoke cigarettes because I was a cool 16-year-old, you know, and all that. But for some reason, leaning out the window, breathing in the night air, and watching the world from a different angle calmed me and gave me a different perspective. I’m sure there are plenty of Myspace pictures of it somewhere. You know, those artsy photos you took of yourself before they were called “selfies” and I hated people? I hadn’t thought about that until last night, when at 1 a.m., I found myself leaning out the same window, emptying my head. I had been laying in bed, unable to slow down my thoughts (anyone who ever suffers from occasional insomnia or racing thoughts/anxiety probably gets this), and I didn’t know how to solve it. It was too late to call someone, plus it wasn’t specific to any particular conversational subject, I was already laying down with lights off so I really didn’t want to get up and try to run it out, and I need to actually work on my occasional sleeplessness. Usually I’m out within a few minutes of laying down, and if I’m not, meditation helps. But last night it felt like the meditation speaker was just droning on and on and, not for the first time, I out loud told the recording to “go shut the fuck up”, which is probably not very nice. Or meditative. So, I opened my window, played a song that was stuck in my head, and just breathed.
My bedroom is on the second floor, you see, so draping my arms over the side of the window and looking out doesn’t shove my nose into the bushes (that’s what she said) or anything. As scared of heights as I am, being able to look down when I’m up high makes me feel different. I wanted to write about this afterward last night, knowing it probably makes no sense. What I’ve read about meditation and finding your serenity tells me that things work differently for everyone. Sometimes finding your peace isn’t as simple as just closing your eyes – sometimes it is.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how often I like to be high. Not in the “pass me that blunt man” sort of way, certainly not anymore anyway, but in the very literal, visceral way of being able to look out and down on everything. That sounds super pretentious but it’s not how it’s meant. I feel very small, very insignificant, when I’m looking out on mountains and valleys with trees that are no bigger than my pinkie nail. And somehow, feeling small makes everything make more sense. Most of my friends know how hyperactive I am – like an energizer bunny who just fell into a bag of cocaine and then went to a rave hyperactive – at times and over the last two years I’ve really found that hiking slows me down. I’ve written about it before, but the first time I hiked in years (I hated it as a kid, bugs are the enemy), I was an out of breath, sweat-stained, “dear god hand me a bag of chips and also a couch” mess. Well, I’ve lost 25 pounds since graduating from college (I KNOW RIGHT WHAT THE HELL), greatly improved my diet and sleeping patterns, and really fallen in love with running and hiking. Trail running is one of my favorite things to do, even though it kills my knees and I can’t very often. Something about being completely alone in nature, pushing myself while also enjoying myself, makes me feel most like myself. After getting lost (AGAIN) at Sugarloaf Mtn in Maryland and accidentally hiking 4 miles before hitting the summit again, I plopped down on a rock and just looked out. There was one other man there, an older guy with a moustache that could rock the world, doing the exact same thing. After a few minutes, he caught my eye and gave me this “yeah, you too?” head nod, which I reciprocated, and we went back to just looking, feeling, and not thinking. Or at least I did, maybe he was plotting his wife’s death I’m not really sure, but I’d like to think he was doing the same as me.
Running is hard for me due to lower back and hip problems, hopefully which will be resolved sooner rather than later thanks to my parents practically forcing me to go get tests done. After about two miles, my hip hurts so bad that I have to stop and stretch it. Even hiking will flair it up, though stopping to stretch on a trail gives me a view. Last year, when I was dealing with rejection and sadness, I tried to quite literally run away from it. It helped, but 45 minutes is only 45 minutes and sometimes I need to spend an entire afternoon losing myself. Hiking gives me that. I started writing this with the intention of talking about the weird paradox of my hatred of heights and the necessity of feeling high (again, not via substance) to find inner peace. I’m not kidding about my fear, sitting in the top row of movie theaters has made me uncomfortable. I was taken to a Phillies game last month and was near hyperventilation for the first half hour, and then anytime I actually focused on the game.
So, in a complete set of contrasts, heights make my stomach flip and make me feel all too mortal and that’s bad…but also good. Because sometimes I need to humanize myself, center myself, and let myself just be for a while. I’ve always been very in my own head, wanting to over-analyze everything to better understand it (that Psych degree makes sense now, doesn’t it?), not feeling satisfied without answers. I saw a comic wherein a psychologist is interviewing someone and says, “Ever fantasize about about locking 100 babies in a plain white room at birth and then returning after 10 years to see what they’re like?” The interviewee responds, “No! Dear God no!” and below it reads, “I could tell immediately that he wasn’t cut out for developmental psych research.” I couldn’t help but laugh when I read it because I’ve wondered countless times what would happen if humans were taken completely out of society from that age – would it be all Lord of the Flies or Brave New World? Little known fact, I was Sam in a local acting class’s production of the former mentioned story. Yes, it was supposed to be an all male cast. No, you will never find an all male cast of teenagers willing to take acting classes and no, it made no sense.
But, anyway, it helps. No matter what mood I’m in, standing on an overlook, staring down at the world will always make me feel alive. It’s not totally out there I suppose; for about 10 years I had every intention of becoming an astronaut. I mean, for real. I was going to space. I still wonder if I should’ve kept that goal, but then I sit in the last row of a movie theater and think, “Mmm…probably for the best.”
I love that something that scares me also inspires me.