Monday, August 23, 2010

Are There No Limits To My Limits?

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.


  1. If I am ever in your part of the woods, you can teach me to ski, and feel good that you are much braver than I am!
    Take it as it comes.

  2. I used to LOVE extreme stuff--jumped out of a plane and everything, but somehow, becoming a mom threw a big wrench in it and I don't like it much anymore... the lake wouldn't bother me, but the scuba diving would make me REALLY claustrophobic (breathing through anything does--can't even where an oxygen mask at a hospital--they tried to make me when I was in labor but it made me panic) and I get vertigo when I am up high, while I used to love it. I think there is some biological thing that happens.

    Good for you for tackling those fears, Barbara! And I'm with Deb... you've done it... no need to do it AGAIN.

  3. You are right Rayna, she is brave and must own it! Okay Hart, jumped out of a plane??? Could never. Parasailed once and thought I would die. And I get the thing of having kids and backing off from taking chances. But we do get braver in other ways right?

  4. I'm a lot like Barb, the anticipation of what could go wrong is worse than the actual event itself. When I skydived the worst part was flying around looking out the open door i was about to jump through and thinking, "Wow, If I die doing this, I did it to myself..." I hate roller coasters, and am terribly scared of heigths, but I decided a while ago that life is too short to let fear get in the way. I'm well on the path to becoming an adrenaline junkie, even though I have a small heart attack while waiting to attempt whatever it is I'm going to do. And skydiving is totally worth it, btw, most serene feeling ever...once the chute opens up :)

  5. OMG Ruth! You too? Wow. Impressed. I was with you right through "most serene feeling ever." you lost me with "once the chute opens up." Good for you adrenaline junkie!

  6. Hart, I couldn't agree more about the changes that come from being a mom. In my late teens and early twenties, I was very spontaneous and adventurous and always up for things like spur of the moment trips (by road or plane no matter the distance), seeing a hot air balloon on the ground and grabbing a friend to go get an unexpected ride in it (it was so beautiful!), jumping off of very tall things into very deep, cold springwater (don't worry, the alligators stayed where the water was shallower and warmer way further downstream), jumping off the stern of a yacht to swim to shore (yes, Barbara, over open ocean water), and having sex on what was, at the time, the largest nuclear aircraft carrier in the world.

    When I first got out on my own, I used to scare my mom to death! LOL For example, age...ummmm... 22 or so? She came home to a message from me on her answering maching, "Hey, Mama, just in case something happens and you see a plane crash on the news, I'm on flight #whatever on XYZ airlines tomorrow. I decided to go see Andy in his latest play. Bye!" She's a scaredy cat who doesn't even like to travel by herself. She has often wondered how she spawned me.

    But, once I had my son (just before I turned 26), the fears and what-ifs hit full force. I've become a cautious homebody. It's like all the boogiemen nature and mankind have to offer parade through my mind's eye. Now that I'm a mom, instead of perceiving adventure, I perceive worst case scenarios.

    That said, as my son gets older and more independent (and, as my ex-husband improves as a father and that situation has evolved into one where I'm not completely freaked out and worried every time my son spends days with him but, instead, am happy they are spending time together and know that my son is OK with his dad), I find myself saying, "Hmmmmmm, yeah, maybe..." to "safe" adventures again. For example, I have always loved helicopters, and one afternoon, a very dear flight nurse, pilot, and medic offered me the chance to go up in an evac chopper. I quickly arranged for a sitter, drove to the city, and said, "Yes, please!" The pre-flight briefing didn't freak me out. Instead, I distinctly remember thinking, "If I've got to die, I'm cool with going out this way. Helicopter crash? OK. Better than rotting away from cancer or something. I'll die happy." That ended up being one of the greatest afternoons of my life. (Oh, and I happened to be on the phone with my mom while driving to the city and mentioned, "By the way, guess what! In about half an hour, I'm going to be in the air in a helicopter!" to which she replied, "Don't tell me these things!" LOL) Once my son is 18 and graduated and I get to begin my Life 2.0, I can definitely see myself sort of exploding onto the scene and delighting in all sorts of wild and wonderful adventures. Actually, I look forward to it! But, until then, I'm a chickenshit mother hen.

    Oh, and Hart, I can't stand O2 masks, either. They make me feel like I'm being smothered.

    And, importantly, BARBARA - YOU ARE NOT A CHICKENSHIT! If you were, you would not have swum across that lake. But, you did. A chickenshit would've stayed onshore. You would not have scuba dived. But, you did. A chickenshit would've stayed on the boat deck. You wouldn't have done that bowl skiing thing, but you did. A chickenshit would've stayed on the bunny slopes. You are NOT a chickenshit. You are a BRAVE woman. Bravery is acting inspite of the fear. Bravery is conquering the fear. So, hush up with putting yourself down like that! You are Wonder Woman! (Please purchase and wear the appropriate Underoos. )

    Love and hugs,

  7. Wow Rigel, your response was an adventure. Love it. I was never afraid to fly until our son was born and then worked very hard (another blog another time) to get over it. I guess we all have our adventures in waiting right. Some are helicopter flights and some are traveling to less than safe places. Your Mum must have a hellova strong heart!

  8. There is nothing I adore more than challenging myself and actually meeting the challenge. It's what I live for. I feel this huge adrenaline rush and can't wait to do it again, and again and again. The only problem for me is that I lack in opportunity. I am crazy jealous of the fact that you guys have had the opportunity to take those chances and actually decide to do or not do them (way to go Barb for choosing to do them, now you know you can, and can move on). Those kinds of things never come up in my life. Definitely a lack of funds and a lack of adventuring friends to push me in the right direction, have deterred me in the past. But you can bet, that like Rigel, when my daughter is older and can survive if I happen to die doing something adventurous, I will be using what money I have and heading out on my own to try sky diving, scuba diving, trekking through jungles and rain forests, and maybe, just maybe I'll try skiing...only It'll be on the baby hill 'cause my bones may be a tad brittle by then.

  9. Me I am also so afraid of heights. I hate them. I will not even step foot on a plane or anything that has to do with a height. If I am doing something and height has to be involved I will refuse to do it. I would love to adventure out and do new and exciting things with my friends like when the go to amusement parks and ride all the exciting rides but instead I just sit back and let them have all them fun. I have never faced my fear of heights. I wish I could over come it but for right now I have not. I am missing out on so much because I have this fear. I think that if you never over come your fears than you miss out on so much and it sucks. I like to try new things but I have always played it on the safe side. Hopefully I will get past my fear and be able to do more exciting this with my frineds like go on a plane or go to an amusement park and ride the exciting rides.

  10. Such different points of view on this one. I think Barb you have hit a nerve. Nicole the beauty of challenging yourself in my point of view is that it does not have to be expensive at all. You can set up a challenge for yourself that costs nothing but that means something to you and it. Hike, bike, read the bible in a week, read Portnoy's complaint in an hour, eat a fried grasshopper and the list goes on. Lyndsie, I do not know what to tell you except that I have been there in a BIG way and I worked and worked and refused to be afraid. And the good news is, I came out the other side. Whenever I am afraid, I try to face it and conquer it. I hate to be frightened and I fight it whenever I can, one fear at a time. I hope this helps you to do the same.

  11. I had the same problem with being claustrophobic when I learned to scuba dive. I had always wanted to do it. But the first time I went underwater, 4 feet in a pool mind you, I panicked. I came up gasping for air because I could not breath through my nose.
    Then I saw someone else who was panicking more than I was and the teacher in me kicked in. I talked her into not panicking and going under with me. I guess I was focused on her so much I forgot myself and did it.
    Then there was the time in open water that we were swimming through a tunnel. My tank keep hitting the walls and I just knew I was going to get stuck. Panic started to set in. Then I looked up saw my swim buddy ahead of me. He was a 295 lb 5'10" guy going through without any problem.
    I swear the taught jumped into my mind, "If that fat ass can get through here I wont have any problem" No more panic.

  12. There's just life, it is so true. Hence "Misery loves company" We are always more relaxed when we know that that someone else is worse off than we are. True.

  13. I meant Thought not taught. My brain detoured on the way to my fingers. Sorry about that.

  14. Deb -

    First of all, you are not unique in that whole mommyhood yields fear of flying thing. My friend from university, Mary Chloe, had to go on a business trip when her first son was a few months old. She'd never been afraid of flying before (heck, she's an engineer who works for Boeing on NASA stuff!), but she was CONVINCED she would die in a plane crash and leave her son without a mother. She had her husband in TEARS the night before the flight because she was showing him where everything was (including her WILL) and giving him last minute instructions on things she wanted him to tell their son about her as he grew up. She really had her husband freaked out. Suffice to say, she made the trip and came home fine. She had a second son a few years later.

    As for me and flying, I'll hop on a helicopter any day any time (please, please, PLEASE!), but I'm not a fan of planes. When I was young, I really liked flying on planes, but then I had a bad flight. OK, to be more specific, a bad landing. A VERY bad landing. A. Scary. As. Hell. Landing. And, I instantly developed a fear of flying (which really sucked because that was the "to" leg of the trip, and I spent the whole week dreading the "from" leg of the trip). Over the years, I've had to conquer that. I have since flown cross country several times (quite a while back, that's not exactly in the budget these days *snark*). I don't like it, but I CAN do it. Just feel really sorry for whoever's sitting next to me during take off and landing. They'll likely end up with marks from me embedding my fingernails into them.

  15. There's just life-have to say I guess the mind plays tricks because I read it the way you intended it. I swear I saw Thought! But I do that myself all the time. And Rigel, I have had many weird and scary take offs, landings, and the like and what it has taught me is that, these things can be fixed in flight. Because we are in the air we think every glitch is doom, but I have learned that it is in fact, a glitch, that can be solved. There are tons of them all over the world every day. They get solved. Look at the road stats vs the flight stats. People say "yeah but you cannot survive a plane issue" Not true. You so can. xo

  16. Ummmm, Deb, it was a bad enough glitch that we had to land at a different airport. Yeah, like it was an emergency diverted landing. That took 4 tries. That's a pretty suckass glitch.

    I was fine while it was happening (it helped that the flight crew were AWESOME during the whole thing), but I got really screwed up in my head about flying when I started thinking about it afterward. *shrugs* On a practical note, it's probably a good thing I had to fly home a week later - that whole "get back up on the horse" thing. That doesn't mean I was in the least bit happy about it! :P

    Like I said, I can make myself fly now. I just don't have to like it. LOL

    Oh, and Deb, maybe you could treat yourself to a skydiving expedition as a big celebration when your 60th birthday comes around! :D

    And, Barbara, I am so jealous of your upper body strength and your stamina!

  17. I spent the night before last at the home of a girlfriend on my way back from the city, and she wondered if I'd like to go canoeing with her sometime. I said sure, but not on a really large lake where there could be huge waves out in the middle and not on a river where there might be rapids ... and on we went, describing our ideal canoeing environment, till finally she said Okay let's canoe in a pool! Row row row - bump - row row row - bump - -

  18. I am athletic and I was conned into one scuba dive at a resort by an ex boyfriend. I will never do it again although it was wonderful but the anxiety was horrendous and I missed a lot of sights as I was fearing chocking and throwing up. I did of course choke and had to clear my mask and thought death was upon me.:)

  19. Katrinka you made me laugh so hard. Add to that the sound of the pump between paddles! Madgew I am in a friggin panic just thinking about it. Sadly water is not my thing.


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