A fear of falling: That time I fell on my face and badly broke my confidence

I am afraid that one day, I will fall and hurt myself very, very badly. I know, I know… nobody wants to fall and hurt themselves. But my fear is big enough that it has rendered me shaking and in tears at doing things other, less fearful people can do without much hesitation. Stuff like hiking down a steep, rocky incline. Or walking across a fallen log to cross a stream, or stepping from stone to stone to cross a creek. Or skiing down the blue runs at our local ski hill. I’m not talking big rivers and mountains here. I’m talking about stuff that an average person with average skills can do easily and with confidence.

It is not easy being someone who loves outdoor fun, when the outdoors are filled with things you can fall off.  This fear can make me extremely grumpy, causing me to unfairly get angry with the innocent people around me.  It has given me anxiety attacks. It has almost stopped me from doing stuff .  And you know what? That’s just not cool with me. So over the years, I’ve tried to push my limits a little bit at a time and work away those fears so I can be more nimble on the trail and pursue the things my family loves to do outdoors, without worrying about being stopped – literally – in my tracks from fear.

My fear of falling is very different than a fear of heights. I can be up high no problem – especially if there is a railing or wall to make feel secure.  I don’t worry about falling over walls and railings. So I can stand at the edge of an amazing look out, high above the trees and feel fine.
 But the task of stepping across a crevice on the Bruce Trail during a backpacking trip a couple of years ago almost made me turnaround and hike back to the parking lot. Luckily, I was able to find where that very deep, scary crack in the escarpment stopped. It was just a few feet of bushwacking off the trail and I continued my hike on solid ground, with nothing more horrible happening than a few branches slapping me in the face for my efforts.
I wasn’t always this way….

I used to ride and show horses, jumping fences with a smile on my face and no fear in my heart. But ultimately it was riding that brought me the fear.  I can remember the exact moment it happened.  I was riding in a horse show, going through a combination jump that required my horse to make it over the final obstacle with only one stride after the previous jump. It’s called a bounce, because the horse has to quite literally bounce from one jump to the next.  When we were about to “bounce” over the last jump it felt like my horse was going to refuse the jump. So I squeezed my legs and encouraged him to make the jump.

He tried. He tried really hard. But the bounce failed. He hit the top poles of the jump with his two front legs and flipped over the obstacle head-first, rump following high in the air. I was launched from his back and landed chin-first in the dirt. He landed on his side, in the dirt, right beside me. Apparently, the accident it was quite dramatic to see, and I’m kind of sorry that it wasn’t caught on video. But this accident happened over 20 years ago, before cell phones and Go-Pros were ever-present at an event.
Happily, the horse was fine, but I suffered a gaping wound to my chin that required a bunch of stitches, a concussion, pulled muscles in my neck and shoulders and my entire face was swollen.  The Emergency Room doctor who stitched my chin back together could not believe I hadn’t lost any teeth. But what was much worse than the physical pain, was the mental trauma of falling off that horse. It was the day my fear of falling was born.  I did get back on the horse a few weeks after the accident and tried to go over a few jumps. I couldn’t do it. My jumping days ended in the dirt of that arena the day the bounce failed.
And then the fear extended into other things. The next time I really felt it was nearly 10 years later on my honeymoon in South Africa. Alex and I took a cable car to the top of  Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain and decided to hike our way down to the bottom. The hike should have taken about two or three hours. It didn’t. It took many hours, many tears, many swear words and much fear. It ended just as the sun was setting and me exclaiming that I would never, ever hike down a mountain again. Never. Ever.  My wonderful husband coached me down the mountain and kept his patience the whole time, not truly understanding what my problem was but supporting me no matter what. Here we are over 14 years later and he is still coaching me down things and over things and along things, helping me move through the fear. That stupid fear of falling on my face – again.
I’ve been taking steps to conquer my fear for years. In 2012 we went zip lining on a trip to Costa Rica. A few years ago, I started hiking with poles to give me stability and the same kind of confidence a “blankie” gives a child. And then last Spring, I decided to take a leap and spent a few hours zip lining and crossing aerial courses with my family at Treetop Trekking. The ziplines weren’t a problem, but the aerial course was a whole different story. I was terrified. I almost cried. I almost quit (more than once). I swore at every obstacle. A lot. And I successfully completed more than half of the courses. I only stopped trekking because I was exhausted, which is a way better reason to stop than because I was too scared! 
Since that day with Treetop Trekking last summer,  I have noticed something interesting. On a backpacking hike a month or so after I accomplished the aerial courses, I felt more confident and sure-footed. I didn’t immediately hesitate crossing streams by stepping from rock to rock or on top of a log. And when we went skiing recently, I trusted my skills a lot more than usual and enjoyed myself swooshing down the hill much more. Ok, I still didn’t get off the green run. But I felt much more confident that I had felt last year.
Maybe, just maybe, my broken confidence is actually starting to heal. Will I ever get back on a horse and leap over fences with reckless abandon? Nope.  But more and more I will cross the streams, stepping from rock to rock with almost a skip and I will descend the steep slopes without having to sit down and slide along on my backside. I will ski the blue runs. I will complete the aerial courses without feeling exhausted from the very physical chore of managing my fear from falling. And no matter what, I know that despite the things that scare me, I will continue to get outside, go explore and do stuff and challenge myself to move just a little bit faster and a little more solidly each and every time.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. I have not sought professional help to overcome my fear of falling. This post is not meant to provide any kind of professional (or otherwise) advice. I’m just sharing my story. 


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  • Gabriella V.

    Interesting — the things we don't know about each other. Good for you, for being persistent about pushing through the fear. It seems the bigger the trauma, the more work it takes, but you are seeing progress and that can only serve you well. Thank you for sharing this.

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