Friday, May 25, 2012

I Owe It All To One Man

By Laura Bradford

I have a bit of a confession to make.

I've always had a few fears, you know, things that make me cringe--bees, bugs of just about any kind, rodents, and anything I see as potentially harmful to my kids. But those kinds of fears I can deal with. I don't like them, but if I have to take care of them myself, I can and I do.

Recently, though, I've developed what can best be described as a phobia...of steep steps and/or elevators. I've upgraded it from a fear to a phobia because of how intense it's gotten and the fact that I can't "take care of it myself" the way I do with a bee or a bug.

I know exactly when this phobia was born. And I know (at least the rational part of my brain knows) it was an isolated incident. But for some reason, that part of a person's brain that regulates reaction can't seem to wrap itself around the whole "isolated incident" notion just yet.

The event that started it all off involved a very steep escalator at the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, and an older gentleman with a cane.

For whatever reason, he felt the need to hightail it onto the escalator in front of a bunch of people (myself, included). Once he boarded, I stepped on behind him. The problem came when he fell backward as the escalator began to rise. I saw him falling, did my best to move out of the way and grab him at the same time, but I got pinned. Folks came running to help and managed to get him upward, but my leg (and the position I was in) made it next to impossible to right myself (and, mind you, the escalator is continuing to do its thing at the same time).

By the time we reached the top, I was back on my legs, but they--along with me--were shaky.

Since that day, I've found myself leaving a step or two between myself and the person in front of me on any and all escalators. Even in places like Grand Central Station where spacing isn't always an option, I create some. And I do so with a pounding in my chest and a little clamminess in my hands--both of which has surprised and quietly embarrassed me.

A few days ago, though, the quiet embarrassment wasn't an option when hubby and I went hiking up Mt. Olga in Vermont. The hike, itself, was fine. I loved it just as I always do. But when we reached the summit, we came across a fire tower capable of providing a spectacular view...if you could climb to the top.

I couldn't.

I tried to climb up, I really did. But after I reached the top of the first set of stairs you see, I freaked out and had to come down. After about ten minutes I was so ashamed of myself I was determined to try it again. Unfortunately, that determination did me little to no good as I made it up to the top of the second set, only to turn around (in a total panic) and clench-arm it all the way back down.

The hardest part is the fact that I want to climb it, yet, when I try to, the panic becomes so severe that it completely overrides my determination.

So there you go. I've become an escalator-riding-steep-step-climbing nutcase.

Do you have any true phobias? 


  1. I have an amusement-park phobia. Don't know why. But the thought of going to one makes me break out in a sweat. I also hate worms. Not sure it's a phobia, but it's bad enough that one time, when I found one wriggling around on my kitchen floor, I went screaming from the house to get a neighbor, who thought my house was on fire from the look on my face. Who knows why we have these mental fixations/blocks? And if they don't interfere with our daily living, do we need to address them? I will ponder this today as I hop, skip, and jump over every worm on the sidewalk while trying not to think about Great Adventure. Maggie

  2. I don't like heights either or being in tight enclosed places. My two phobias developed slowly and I don't even have an incident like yours to tie them to. If I have a railing that is waist high, then there is no problem. I can climb a ladder, but I can't get off the ladder onto a roof or a platform. I visited North Carolina about 15 years ago and toured the location where they filmed part of the movie Last of the Mohicans (I was unaware of the severity of my problem at the time). I took the elevator up to the top of the lookout with a crowd of people, then got out at the top. The procedure was for all the tourists to walk back down a path to leave. First I couldn't make myself go any closer than 20 feet to the lookout edge, then when I saw the narrow, winding path with no handrails snaking down the side of the mountain, I made them take me down in the elevator. Very embarassing, but I could not make myself take the path.

    Rhonda aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  3. I won't go near a lake or the ocean, any open water where there's the potential for drowning. I don't like being submerged under water and to this day don't know how I survived my baptism (you have to be quickly dunk in water). I don't even like walking on sand. THe funny this is, I like cruising, of course there's a large distance where I am and the water.

    Maggie...I don't step on worms...yuck.

  4. Amanda has suffered from a fear of heights for most of her life. In recent years, being a photographer for our zip lines, she has been able to manage it (she still fears it but refuses to let it control her). When she was about four-ish, we were in Daytona Beach and decided to take pictures at Ponce Inlet. There is a lighthouse there. We went inside and Alex started up the stairs first. We made it about one flight up when Alex looked over the rail and says, "Woah Mommy we are high up!" Amanda looks over, realizes how high we are and proceeds to push past Alex and RUNS up the winding staircase with me desperately trying to reach her. She burst out the top door, screaming, and plants herself firmly against the wall - looking out at the beautiful scene (so very, very high up)... she was running away from the height... She would not let me carry her down the stairs, she backed down them gingerly, one slow step at a time...

  5. I'm usually able to push past my fears - heights - spiders - mice - (I had a cat who knew if I was screaming, it was his clue for dinner.)

    But sometimes I get myself into places and I'm not sure I'm getting out.

    I'm not a strong swimmer. I paddle around, but underwater, no go. My boyfriend convinced teenage me to swim under the canal bridge and come up inside the bridge where there was a pocket of air. Got there, didn't know if I could do it again.

    Well, I did get out. But only after a long freak out session under the bridge. And please, don't try to help me, I can't give up control.

    And my heart pounds like I'm dying on roller coasters.

  6. Good to know on the worms, Maggie. :)

    Rhonda, I'd have been on that elevator with you if I was in that situation now.

    Dru, that's interesting on the open water. Wow. Do you ever try to make yourself get close--just to break it?

    Michele, that night, after I climbed my set of steps and turned around and made it to the second and turned around--my upper arms were so sore. I finally realized it was from the way I was clenching the hand rails. Wild.

  7. first of all dear friend, try to remember that fears are not reality based. Logically in our adult brain we know that rationally what we fear will not happen, or is unlikely to happen. but fear does not live in that part of our brain and it screams in our face when we try to have a logic talk with it. Of course i also believe that with some type of therapy we can overcome them....but most we deal with so infrequently that we dont feel it is worth it.
    i too have a fear of escalators and always have. I think it stems from parental warnings of pant legs or shoe laces or something getting stuck in the mechanism that will then somehow suck me under and grind me up. and while it could happen that something could get stuck and i could get fear is not based in fact as I dont think it could grind my whole body up....RIGHT? (she asked fearfully).
    now the stairs i am finally getting over. because my body is able to handle the walk down in a normal way. previous to my knee replacement surg i sort of sideways crab walked down them....sure at any moment my joint would give out and i would crash to the bottom, hit my head and die or be crippled.
    i have to say i think you were very brave to even try the stairs because i would not. only because i have this image of a tight space packed with people. and then you tried again Laura! and i believe that is how you are going to eventually beat this. baby steps. and remind yourself that it is okay because if you cant do it you will stop and you will be safe. I would really love to share with you a technique that my therapist has taught me and it honestly is helping me takes practice. and sometimes i get too panicked for it to be effective. but it is a start. I am going to email you
    Lori Cimino

  8. Lynn, it is VERY odd how, when in a need-help position, us control freaks are still scared to hand it over, isn't it?

    I guess the trust factor in such a phobia situation is even tougher.

  9. Lori, I had a panic fest once in my first MRI. Being caged in and shoved into that machine gave me a taste of claustrophobia I've never had. But, in that case, once the tech pulled me out and I was able to SEE I could get out, I was fine to go back in.

    That's why I made myself try the steps a second time. Because I know--on some level--I'll be fine, but it beat me yet again. One day...

  10. Great post Laura.

    I think we all have strong fears. Maybe that's why we are writers -- we can imagine extreme emotions because we sometimes live them?

    I'm afraid to fly - terrified, in fact. My kids would walk the wing tips of planes in flight, so clearly it hasn't affected them. I've flown a few times in the last few years, but needed to take an anti-anxiety pill to make it through the flight -- and my husband needed anti-inflammatories in order to use his hand after I've been clutching it for hours!


  11. ooh, Marian, interesting tie-in to the writing thing. Hmmm...

    Though I suspect (in my case), it's just because I'm a nut. :)

  12. I remember the first (and last) time I tried to climb a fire tower. I became absolutely paralyzed after the first level. It was so open. Since then, heights have really gotten to me. I don't know what changed, but I'm worse now; my imagination just won't leave me alone. I like hiking though.

  13. Lil, I find that fears increase as I get older, too. I wonder why that is. Are we just more aware of the fragility of life, than we were as kids?

  14. Yup, and I think we know more about the possible dangers. And the old body isn't as sure of itself as it used to be ;)

  15. I would have had trouble with that fire tower as well. I once went halfway up a Mayan temple, and went back down . . . between fear of heights and shortness of breath, I knew when I had reached my limit, and we all have limits.
    OTOH, I have sometimes been able to help friends and younger relatives past some fears . . . a calming presence can be helpful.

  16. I don't like escalators either. When I was a kid, someone got caught in one at a department store. Don't remember much about it, but it makes me really nervous when I have to get on one.

  17. Storyteller Mary, I agree on the limits. And on that fire tower, my psyche knew the limits.

    Marilyn, when I was a little girl (maybe 3 or 4), I was at Gimbals in NY with my mom and I had my little hand on the hand rail part of the escalator (like you're supposed to). Only back then, there was a metal encasing that the hand rail fed into at the bottom. My little hand went inside and got stuck. Had to have it pulled out if I remember correctly. Hmmm... Maybe I need to start taking elevators. ;)