It’s time to face some fears!

ELLE (Canada) - - News - By Stephanie Gil­man

when I was lit­tle, I was ter­ri­fied of learn­ing to swim. At sum­mer camp, I once felt so anx­ious about that day’s les­son that I took my swim­suit and threw it in the garbage and made up a lie that my mother had for­got­ten to put it in my bag. Ex­treme? Per­haps. But this type of re­sponse was not un­usual for me, as I would do al­most any­thing to avoid my laun­dry list of pho­bias. I have of­ten wished I could be bold and dar­ing, but my brain is hard­wired to jump to the worst-case sce­nario.

This isn’t an ideal out­look for any­one who has can­cer be­cause when your worst fears morph into re­al­ity—and you can’t avoid con­fronting them—it’s a lit­tle daunt­ing. Af­ter my di­ag­no­sis, I was made painfully aware that my life could be much shorter than I had planned. Many of us fear death, above all else, and we spend a great deal of en­ergy try­ing to ig­nore its pres­ence and its in­evitabil­ity. But in my case, walk­ing around in a state of bliss­ful ig­no­rance was no longer an op­tion. Ev­ery­thing I was do­ing, all the treat­ments and surg­eries and self-tor­ture, was done with the goal of sur­viv­ing and liv­ing a long life. Yet I’m still strug­gling to ac­cept the harsh—and fright­en­ing—re­al­ity that an al­ter­na­tive fate might be in store for me.

Fear is such a crip­pling emo­tion—re­gard­less of its cause. It’s hard to move for­ward when you’re in­tim­i­dated by what may lie ahead. Peo­ple have asked me whether hav­ing can­cer has made me a more, or less, fear­ful per­son. To be hon­est, I don’t know, which is why I de­cided to face one of my other pho­bias: heights. If I could lean off a tower and stare at the ground 356 me­tres be­low without be­ing pet­ri­fied, I’d con­sider my­self truly fear­less.

Toronto’s CN Tower EdgeWalk is touted as the world’s high­est full-cir­cle hands-free walk. For some­one who is com­fort­able with heights, this would merely be a h

unique way to get a great view. But for me, this ac­tiv­ity was es­sen­tially my worst night­mare. I brought my sis­ter along for moral sup­port, which turned out to be a wise de­ci­sion; without her en­cour­age­ment, I likely wouldn’t have even made it into the el­e­va­tor.

When we ar­rived at the “base­camp,” I im­me­di­ately had a fa­mil­iar queasy feel­ing in the pit of my stom­ach. I re­minded my­self that I had been through much worse, bar­ring the pos­si­bil­ity of trag­i­cally fall­ing to my death. We changed into jump­suits, shim­mied into har­nesses and met our guide, Steven, who took us to the top and led us out onto the deck.

I wish I could say I re­mained com­pletely Zen, but the feel­ing that came over me as I looked out at the bustling city way, way be­low me was all too fa­mil­iar: to­tal panic. My heart rate be­gan to spike as fran­tic and mostly ir­ra­tional thoughts flooded my mind. “Is this rope I’m teth­ered to strong enough to hold me? Is this hook se­cure? It doesn’t feel se­cure enough! Who is this Steven guy? Why should I trust him? I won­der what fall­ing from this height would feel like. Did I re­mem­ber to turn my hair straight­ener off be­fore I left the house? Why am I do­ing this again?”

Even though I tried to avoid look­ing over the edge, I did man­age a few quick glances. My “brav­ery” was re­warded with a sud­den wave of dizzi­ness and nau­sea. My sis­ter, who has no fear of heights and ac­tu­ally seeks out thrills, cheered me on as one would a child: “You’re do­ing it! You’re amaz­ing! The hard­est part is over!” But it wasn’t. When Steven asked us to lean off the edge and let go of the rope, my mind went blank and I stood in one place, quite lit­er­ally par­a­lyzed by fear. Af­ter a few deep breaths, I inched my way to the ledge. I slowly turned around and willed my­self to let go of the rope. Was it a thrilling, lib­er­at­ing rush? Did I recre­ate my own Ti­tanic mo­ment and shout “I’m fly­ing, Jack!”? No. I sim­ply wanted to get it over with and re­turn to safety. I had hit the emo­tional pause but­ton: Any anx­i­ety I was feel­ing was con­tained. That’s the thing with fear: Choos­ing to face it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you will con­quer it. Am I proud that I did some­thing very far out of my com­fort zone? Ab­so­lutely. Have all my fears mag­i­cally melted away? Ab­so­lutely not. At the end of the day, I am still fun­da­men­tally me. And that’s okay.

Sure, I’m a bit braver than I may have been at one time, and I am learn­ing not to let fear com­pletely con­trol my life. Now, I push through dif­fi­cult mo­ments in­stead of avoid­ing them. I could worry about the many ques­tion marks that lie ahead, but in­stead I get up each day, take a breath, put on some clothes and go live my life. That is the best way I know how to say “Screw you!” to the anx­i­eties that seep into my con­scious­ness and threaten to de­rail me. But, that said, you’re not go­ing to see me bungee jump off a cliff or leap from an air­plane any­time soon. For now, I’d rather prac­tise be­ing mind­ful and en­gaged in a much more com­fort­able po­si­tion—with my feet on the ground and the sky high above me, right where we both be­long. n

Be­fore em­bark­ing on the EdgeWalk, I got some great cop­ing tips from Lauren Berger, a so­cial worker at the In­te­gra­tive Health In­sti­tute in Toronto. You can find her help­ful “5 Sim­ple Steps for Fac­ing Fear” at el­le­canada.com/ lif­ere­boot. While you’re there, check out the video footage and some pho­tos of me on the CN Tower for a lit­tle in­spi­ra­tion.

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