Afraid of the Fall

A few years ago, while visiting one of our closest friends in the Outerbanks, we decided to go paddleboarding. This was my first time paddleboarding, and leading up to the event, I was nervous. My Monger had some objective evidence about my lack of athletic abilities, so she was chatty. In true High Functioning Anxiety style, I didn’t share my anxiety or doubts with anyone. I spent most of the morning in my head jumping back and forth between dreading the event because I was going to be so bad at it and beating myself up for being so rigged and unable to go with the flow.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and we arrived at the rental place early and ready to go. Because of the water temperature, we had to rent wetsuits. I stood in the dark dingy back room, designated the dressing room because of the shower curtain hanging from the wall, attempting to squeeze my body into the wetsuit (which is like squeezing toothpaste back into the tube). My Monger was going crazy. Here was proof that I couldn’t do this activity; my body was too big to squeeze into the wetsuit. My lovely husband assured me everyone struggles with wetsuits no matter their size, which was kind but no match for my Monger.

We arrive on the Sound, board in the water, and myself successfully paddling out, on my knees. I was comfortable on my knees and enjoying myself. But my High Functioning Anxiety was not ok with just being on my knees—I had to be standing! I wasn’t good enough to just be on my knees. I need to get the full experience. I managed with much trepidation to make it to standing. We all celebrated. I DID IT!  YAY! I was up, and I was paddling, and I hadn’t fallen in.

And then my feet started to hurt, and I was very nervous about making the move back down onto my knees.

This is where High Functioning Anxiety is so tricky. On the positive side, pushing beyond my anxiety got me out on the Sound, it pushed me through the wetsuit, it pushed me through the getting on the paddleboard, it pushed me through moving from my knees to my feet. All appearing to be positives. But the downside is it got me there through shame, through beating myself up. I was white-knuckling my way across the Sound. This is where HFA did me wrong. Because rather than being fully present with my husband and friend on a beautiful day, I was in my head. I was viewing the whole experience as a challenge, an event to white-knuckle through. Because I told myself I could never do it, when I had success and could paddleboard, rather than enjoying it, I start to get scared it won’t last. So here it is I was doing the thing I didn’t think I could do, and I was doing it well, but I was so focused on doing it perfectly I had lost perspective that this event was supposed to be fun.

It was a beautiful, warmish sunny day. The Sound was glorious and flat, and I was hanging with 2 of my favorite people. Yet, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I was frightened by every little wave, every wrong paddle. The longer we went, the more afraid I became.

Finally, my feet couldn’t handle it anymore. I decided to try to get back on my knees again. With my husband and friend cheering me on and after many tentative attempts, I was finally able to –splash! I fell in! Before I knew it, I was completely immersed in the freezing, take your breath away, filled with muck water.

As I climbed back on the board, I couldn’t stop laughing through gasps of air because the water was so cold I kept laughing. It was as if everything shifted. Suddenly the fear was gone; the worst had happened. I practiced getting up and down a few times, knees, standing, knees, standing, and then off we went. I had the best time. The worst was over–I had made a mistake, I had fallen, and I had survived!!

Afterward, my friend said to me, “it’s too bad you didn’t fall in right away, so you could have just gotten it over with and had more time to have fun.”

So true. But in reality, had I just jumped in or forced myself to fall in, it wouldn’t have felt the same. The reason it was so powerful, so mood-altering, was that I was TRYING, and THEN I fell. I didn’t just fall in–I was trying something new, I made a mistake, I fell in, I survived. Rather than just jumping into the water from the get-go, I wish I had taken more risks earlier, tested my balance, pushed my limits.

But more than anything, I wish I had been kind to myself. I wish I had been loyal to myself. I wish while standing in the dark, damp back room, stuffing myself into the wetsuit, I had said to myself, “It is ok to be scared. It is ok to be anxious. This is all unknown, and you are with people who love you. Perfection doesn’t make it fun; being present does.” Because if I would have been kind to myself, taking more risks earlier would have been easier.

I have countless stories like this one—where my HFA pushed me to try something new despite my anxiety. This is the challenge of HFA. It pushes us. It challenges us to push past our anxiety at the price of our self-loyalty, at the price of having fun. The moral of this story isn’t don’t push yourself. The moral is when you push yourself be kind about it. Have your own back—practice self-loyalty.

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  • Comment by Catherine Lawson at October 30, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

    Thank you, working on my hyper vigilance in case in case!! we do miss quality of life when we are scared and sometimes we don’t even know what we are scared of… hmm just in case something might happen… well it might be a nice happening too…. I liked your story. Catherine

  • Comment by Nancy Jane at October 30, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

    Thanks Catherine! Vigilance is definitely something I deal with (obviously from my story–ha!) But I have come a LONG way and I know that being aware of my vigilance and my tendency to miss out on life because of it has helped me slowly, diligently overcome it. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.