I have ALWAYS been terrified of heights. I don’t think it quite qualifies for a phobia, as it doesn’t keep me from hiking mountains or visiting must-see tourist spots, but I’m the one hanging on the edge the whole time. I remember being in the church balcony or high in an arena as a kid and having this irrational fear that I might not be able to stop myself from jumping right off? Not that I’d WANT to do it, just what if it HAPPENED? Crazy? Possibly. That’s probably why I never really tell people- for fear they would take me right to the nearest psych ward for admission.
So when I look back over the past months (years) and I see lots of opportunities to choose between the safe option (read: life as status quo) or walking right up to the edge- and maybe even sticking my toes over- it’s a pretty interesting reflection for this safety-conscious girl to see the slow shift to “life closer to the edge”.
It all started (although I didn’t know it then) with some random strange medical symptoms that brought me home early from my little home in Iraq. My husband unfortunately was NOT having said symptoms, so he remained there, leaving me alone here. Over the next year, add to that a few other pretty big life stressors and what you wind up with is one exhausted, confused, angry, sad, discouraged, disillusioned girl.
Then, one day, I started hearing these little whispers. Granted, I kept those to myself for a while (see concern for psych ward admission above) while trying to listen a little harder. I quickly saw that listening required removal of some of the “noise” in my life- best done by taking long walks and runs alone in the woods, listening to quiet music, reading the Bible and distancing myself from some relationships. I began seeing- at age 36- that I better grab hold of my life if I wanted the next 4 decades to go differently than where they were headed, which I was just beginning to see- I did. I don’t mean to say I haven’t had a good life- a GREAT life- but all of a sudden, there was this incredible sense that maybe it was time for change.
I started listening to those voices that were suggesting things that still sounded pretty crazy to me, but weren’t going away. In an odd way, as I listened more, they got louder and as I listened closer, I saw that they were urging me to face my fears- heights and all.
To face my fear of the unknown and uncertainties in life, I started having to really accept that I can’t control my life into perfection. This allowed me to let go of some of the habits and rituals that gave me the ILLUSION of control without the actual control- and made me an OCD Type A taskmaster in the process.
To face my fear of being alone, I started doing things by myself- going to movies and concerts and meals alone, choosing a night at home instead of out with friends. I joined a running group and a church where I knew not a single person.
To face my fear of “what ifs”, I started journaling more again, researching things and prioritizing what was important to me- really important. I started playing all the “what if’s” out to their possible conclusions and realizing that none of them were the end of the world. Painful maybe, but survivable.
It was during this time that I started really figuring out WHO I AM, although it would take a while for that to really become clear. It was also during this time that I began the ledge-walking. I started thinking, and sometimes acting on the thoughts that included things like:
- Getting out of the Army
- Getting out of the Medical field
- Traveling more
- Researching ways to be more giving and helping
- Letting go of my over-scheduled life
- Running a marathon
- Getting a tattoo
- Letting go of toxic relationships
Some of these may sound bigger than others, but I assure you, to me they each represented HUGE shifts in my thoughts and actions, my life. But as I began to address them prayerfully, mindfully and slowly, I developed this incredible sense of “right-ness”. Like I was on the right track. The more I listened and began to act, the more PEACE I felt. So I kept walking and skirting right up to the ledges for a peek over. Followed by more peace. Which made me walk faster.
Which brings me to today and the fact that I’m walking up to the ledges so fast these days, some might call it running. And I’m ok with that.
The ledge walking has led me to some pretty big decisions and taken me some unexpected places.
Decisions like signing those papers to separate from the Army and giving myself permission to take a break from traditional medicine. Places like Guatemala and bouldering in Utah.
Decisions like taking an official writing course and submitting articles to people. Places like Sun Mountain in WA where I learned to cross-country ski (alone) and Big Sur, CA where I ran a marathon.
Decisions like applying (and getting accepted !) for a fellowship in Integrative Medicine, training for a 50K and taking a year off from “normal life” to experiment with all of this.
Places like Bali (more to come!) and back to Guatemala!
I’m learning that it’s ok to walk on the edge, even if you’re alone- which you almost NEVER are for long. In fact, I’m learning there is this whole HUGE group of people walking on that ledge- most of them out WAY further than me, and I’m learning LOTS from them. (You can check out some of them under my tabs above).
I don’t know exactly where I’m going on this new path. I have some ideas and I’m spending 2014 chasing those ideas down. (The word on the street is that one of my 5 brother-in-laws is quite worried about this, which I find sweet, hilarious and understandable. To him I say thanks and I’m sorry for the worry but grateful for the prayers). I’m sure some of my ideas won’t work out, and I have a suspicion there are more to come, but I am pretty certain of a few of them that are already starting to be confirmed from different directions at the same time. So I’m taking a leap off the big ledge and lots of little ones and I’m going to see what happens. In fact, one of those “co- ledge walkers” I am honored to call mentor and friend, recently wrote these words that were some final confirmation I need to hear:
“….And it’s been my experience that when you have a lot of questions but also a strong sense you need to move forward, then you’ve found your calling…..”
So here in Washington, I’m finding that I like the view from the ledge.
My heart still beats pretty fast, but I’m seeing some INCREDIBLE views, meeting some amazing people, learning more about myself and about trust and faith and how to be a better wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I’m learning how to be a better me.
How about you? Won’t you please please tell me about any ledges you’ve been avoiding, toying with or jumping off of? I find others’ experience so encouraging and maybe someone else will too!