On Wednesday I went to a high ropes course. I’m a bit of a strange one. I’m terrified of heights, but I always want to give everything a go. When it was suggested, I said I was afraid so shouldn’t go. ‘We’ll look after you,’ came the response. I could hardly turn down then, could I!?
I did okay though. At least, I did a lot better than I ever remember doing as a kid. I went third, out of five. I stepped onto the first wire tentatively, but no problems. I was distracted on the first bit by shouting ‘This is mildly terrifying!’ and the man misunderstanding my accent and commenting on the fact it was a good job that I wasn’t doing an English degree because ‘madly terrifying’ didn’t make sense. So, that puts me 1/7 of the way there. Second obstacle was a wire to walk along and hanging ropes to grab. That one made my heart lurch, but no problem. 2/7 of the way there. I sat on the weird swing like device and pulled myself along. Okay, it was weird and my upper body strength was only just up to the job, but I did it! By this point, this first person had finished the course and was shouting encouraging words at me. I commented that it felt like life coaching. I laughed. 25 meters off the floor and I actually laughed. Convincing myself that the next obstacle wasn’t much different from the first, I made it to the furthest corner from the start point. That’s when things started to go downhill. I stood for an undefined period of time at the wobbliest corner, staring at the rope loops and the hanging wooden logs, only large enough for one foot. I told that girl who was shouting encouragement at me that I hated her. She was the one who had persuaded me to do this. It took a while, but once I started, I asked about the bridge that I could see in the distance, walked slowly across and hugged the next pole like my life depended on it. Suddenly, I was 5/7 of the way there. The next obstacle is a bit tricky to explain without rambling on for hours, but after being convinced that I could hug the poles all I wanted and they were pretty sturdy (and they didn’t lie, they were sturdy!) I made it across, took one last leap, and reached the final post! I was so close! I was still telling the girl, we’ll call her Y, that I hated her. The last obstacle was always going to be a problem. It was just a beam, all I had to hold was my own rope, and I had to get myself across. That took a lot of coaxing. I was definitely definitely scared, and whilst I’d been making a conscious effort to control a panic attack since the weird rope loopy thing, I was now REALLY making an effort. Eventually, I went. My stupidly large feet didn’t betray me, I didn’t trip (as I do probably 15 times a day on flat ground!) and I was back! Yeyyyy! Although she’d been taking it all the way around, Y did just have to clarify that I didn’t hate her. Of course not! She gave me a hug, and for a second, I got that sense of security that I love about a hug. Boom, relaxed.
Somehow, they psyched me up to go again. This time, Y said that she’d follow me. After all, you can have two to a platform, and she said she’d be able to help me. Okay, no problem, I can do this, I’ve done it before. Next thing you know I was clipped in and standing once more on a precarious looking wire. Zip, zip, zip, I made it past the swing. I held onto the pole super tight while Y decided she was going to push off the pole before me to make her swing ride easier. Of course, that made the whole course shake. I climbed along the next wire, and suddenly, full of adrenaline, and laughing, I found myself back at that far corner pole with the weird rope loops and logs. Once again, I froze. Y decided to do the obstacle I just had done on one foot. That of course meant her jumping around on the rope, and really really REALLY making the pole wobble. By the time she reached me, I was full on panic attack, 25 meters in the air and no way back, with someone that whilst I know is a lovely person, I haven’t really known her very long at all, and I definitely never intended for her to see me like that. I was holding that corner so tight that I couldn’t let go, no matter how hard I tried. She was absolutely amazing. I’m sure it comes from being a cub leader. Or maybe that’s just why she is a cub leader. Somehow, she made me change my mind. I took the first step, my heart lurched, and slowly but surely, I made it across. The next bit was easy, the one where I could hug the poles!
And finally, I was back at that last platform, and the last corner. I was back at the bar with nothing to hold but my own rope. By the time X reached me, I was in tears. I wasn’t sure why. A mixture of fear, adrenaline, and disappointment, I guess. And a realisation that student scouts and guides is where I fit in. I feel safe, I feel like I can be me, and it’s beautiful. I’ve finally found my home at university, but I didn’t realise until I was up on that high ropes course with them, completely terrified with no way out. Even so, I didn’t want her to see me cry. I thought if I could stare hard enough into the distance and look deep enough into the mountains I could stop it from happening, or that somehow she wouldn’t notice. Of course, I was wrong. Again, she knew within seconds and climbed around the platform to face me. I turned the other way. ‘It’s okay, I don’t mind. You can’t hide from me anyway, the platform is tiny and there’s two of us on it! I really don’t mind, it’s okay. I know it’s hard if you’re afraid of heights, but I’m proud of you for giving it a go.’ I’m not sure if that made me feel better or cry more. Pride. You may know by now that pride is a tricky subject. It’s tricky for me to be proud of myself and it’s tricky for me to accept that others are proud of me. It makes my heart swell. It made me cry more. I don’t even feel like my parents have ever been proud of me.
She stayed there with me (admittedly, what choice did she have, but we can at least hope it was through caring!). Somehow, she made me laugh again (definitely she made me laugh an awful lot, I seriously don’t know how she managed it and I’m not sure if anyone else I know could have done!) and soon, with gentle coaxing, she helped me turn away from the pole. She held my harness tight, she reached for my hand and promised that she wouldn’t let me fall. Of course I know that if I slipped she wouldn’t be what would stop me from falling, but it made me feel safe. It still took a while but soon I was stood at the edge once more. I put the first foot on the beam, let go of her hand in favour of my rope, she told me that it was just baby steps (again, resisting tears here – that’s something my best friend says to me on my hardest days, and I miss that girl so much!), I shut my eyes and started walking. She didn’t let go until I was so far away that she had no choice.
I’d made it to the end. I was relived. I wasn’t sure why it was so much worse the second time, perhaps the adrenaline had worn off. I sat, away from the instructors and pulled my knees to my chest. Seconds later she sat beside me, checked that I was okay, told me once more that she was proud of me, and within minutes, had me laughing so hard that I couldn’t breathe. She said later that as long as I was laughing at least 51% of the time (which I sure as hell was!) then she had achieved what she was aiming for.
We did Jacobs ladder that afternoon. Me, her and another girl went up. Three rungs from the top I wanted to go back down. ‘Just one more?’ Suddenly, we were at the top. I’ve done high ropes and Jacobs ladder before, but I’ve never ever made it to the top of the ladder. Until this week.
She was lovely, all afternoon. Sadly my panic means that I can’t remember everything that she said and did or the timings, but I remember the important bits – the bits that made my heart flip. Sadly, I never got a chance to say a proper thank you. Of course I said it as I got out of her car, but somehow it didn’t quite feel right. But I am thankful. And I’ll always be thankful, to everyone out there who cares and loves, because they’re the most beautiful people in the world.