Generally, I am a chill dude, not prone to worry or anxiety. In the fight or flight spectrum, I tend strongly towards fighting. Not so when it comes to heights. No matter that my rational mind is well aware I am in little to no danger, there is a part of my brain that starts sounding alarms anytime I stand on the edge of a significant drop.
The exact requirements are a little sketchy. The exact height required is unclear, but anything over 20 feet seems to qualify. Terrain that slopes away tends not to trigger it, only sheer drops or overhangs. Barriers that I can see through or around make little difference though solid walls seem to offer some comfort. Being seated lessens the anxiety somewhat, and lying down further reduces it, though not entirely. It even triggers when I see someone else in such a position, though to a lesser degree. I’ve even had the sensation watching someone fly a drone.
No amount of rationalizing is effective in quieting the sensation. I can go over each and every fact, agreeing there is no real danger, yet the alarm bells keep ringing. I would not elevate my anxiety to the level of a phobia because I can, when determined, override my fear and do whatever I’ve set out to do despite the rising tide of fear. I often feel my motor skills are compromised though it is hard to tell if this is true, or simply an irrational belief.
The one technique I’ve found most effective at subsiding the anxiety is classic zen meditation. Focusing on nothing, sometimes with the help of a simple mantra greatly quiets this anxiety. The only problem with this technique is it also washes out just about every other feeling such as awe, excitement, or a sense of beauty. This pretty much negates all the benefits a person gets from an amazing view. At “full zen” I may as well be watching the scenery on TV.
I’m glad that it doesn’t actually stop me from going places I want to go or doing things I really want to do, but it is a barrier to certain kinds of experiences because, on balance, I just won’t enjoy them. Paying money to go on a balloon ride in the Grand Canyon is a good case in point. Either I pay a hefty some to be terrified while I look at the natural beauty or I zen it all out. Either way, I’m not really getting much for my money. It’s a bit of a shame because Trail has no such fears and would love to go on such adventures, but not without me, and not if I’m going to be miserable. Thus, most of the time we are both grounded.
I used to think everyone had the same feelings, but over the years, I’ve both learned how little control I have over the feeling and how relaxed some people are at being in these same situations. At Grand Canyon west I would shimmy towards the cliff edge tentatively while a young woman hopped out on an outcropping spun around and posed for pictures with her back to the 4,000-foot abyss as confident as can be.