Barbara: I am a chicken-shit. Simple as that. At least that’s how I feel more often than not. If I find myself facing a bit of a physical challenge, something most of you would shrug at, I start to, oh my god, hyperventilate. It’s frickin’ ridiculous.
Let me give you a few examples: Every year I go to my sister’s cottage. It is a little piece of heaven with a beautiful lake. Both my sisters are strong and enthusiastic swimmers and they love the chance to get their exercise out on the water, swimming for miles from one side of the lake to the other and then back again. Now, I love the water and I love swimming, but put me in the open water and my heart starts pounding and my breathing starts to accelerate. I am strong, I know it. When I’m at the gym I can fake-row for 30 minutes without breaking too much of a sweat. I can bike for much longer. I workout; I have some upper-body strength (my husband may mock this claim). But still the open water is freaky for me. It’s not a fear of under-water creatures or even of drowning. But it is this strange hopelessness. It comes over me, taunts me, maligns me: “You can’t do it. You can’t do it.” I’m the Little Engine That Couldn’t.
Last summer, I visited very good friends out in B.C. and one of them offered to take me on what’s called the “Grouse Grind”. The Grind is a famous 3-kilometer hike straight up a mountain near Vancouver. I love hiking and being out in the wilds. The Grind is something I always wanted to do. I was really excited. But as we drove there, my (very fit) friend––who had done the hike many times––described the trail: it is literally thousands of steps straight up. Not a winding, steep trail as I had imagined. But friggin’ stairs. Thousands of them. (Did I say that already?). The maligning voice started taunting with a vengeance: “What are you thinking?” “You’re going to make a fool of yourself.” “Everyone will have to wait for you.” “You’ll be the whiny baby who couldn’t do it.” And sure enough, we hit the trail and my anxiety kicks in and my breath jars and my heart races. It’s hard enough climbing stairs that never end, never mind doing it with a bad ‘tude.
My husband really wanted me to share his passion for scuba diving. So, despite my absolute terror, I finally tried it. I panicked so badly, the instructor had to hold my hand the whole way. The whole way!!
I’m a pretty good downhill skier, but my husband and girls are kick-ass. One year, they challenged me to ski an extreme bowl. I gulped hard and agreed. The bowl started on a 75 degree vertical, then got less steep but more treed. The run is 6 kilometers of pure torture. I cried for the first 3 k. That’s, like, an hour of crying. During which, mind you, I am skiing. I’m succeeding, but not appreciating the fact, get my point?
So what happened? I crossed the lake with my sisters, no problem. Zen happiness. I made it up to the top of Grouse Grind (1 ½ hours of climbing stairs). Pure cathartic adrenalin. I made it to the bottom of the ski hill in one piece. Absolute euphoria. I challenged myself to try scuba diving one more time. Did it, didn’t panic, loved it in fact. My husband was elated. I was elated.
But I still found myself clasping my husband’s face between my hands and very gently but firmly informing him that I would never, ever, ever scuba-dive or extreme ski again. The Grind? Maybe. Swimming my sister’s lake? Quite probably, hyperventilation and all.
What’s the point of this post? Um … I don’t actually know. I’m a wimp and I know it. Not proud of it. But I’m also realizing that I underestimate my own strength and power way too often. And that’s not a good thing.
Well, they do say that knowing your weakness is half the battle, right? And I did once kick a car-jacker in the balls. But that’s for another post….
Deb: First of all, Barb is an excellent downhill skier with beautiful style, but did not learn to ski in the cradle as her husband and kids did and I think that is part of the thing. When it is taught from early childhood, it is like walking or breathing, but when the lesson is learned later it comes with the manual of what could happen “if”. I once told Barb that instead of feeling badly about not doing the extreme ski again, she should be proud as punch that she did it once––and knocked it off her list. After all, is it worth the sickening worry?
I am also a scaredy-cat I am ashamed to say. I have always been a fit, healthy girl and I work out five or six times a week. I just registered for two types of dance classes today. But anything that seems “extreme” to me makes my blood run cold. I don’t even swim in open water of any kind. I figure you know where you stand with a pool. At this point in my life, I want to live as healthily and well as I can, taking no chances. I guess it all depends on what you think is “taking a risk” in your life. If you know in your heart that the fear is healthy then I say GO! But if it is debilitating then maybe you should stay. Risk isn’t always facing mortal danger. I have seen Barb take risks in the most ordinary everyday ways and I have been amazed and in awe of her!
Barbara: Aw, Deb, thanks. Back at ya, by the way. And you’re right, there are lots of ways of “taking chances”. I just wish I could apply that courage a bit more often and with a bit more gusto.