Category: Losing Control

Okay.  I know, I know.  I’ve feared your wrath for several weeks now.  Dear Scared Witless readers, forgive me, for I have sinned.  It has been nearly two months since my last blog post.  But in my defense, online holiday shopping, travel, binge eating, One Tree Hill reruns and a mad rush of projects at work kept me from conquering my fears at the end of the year.  I apologize and pledge to write more frequently this year – even if it means giving up my addiction to the cheesy, melodramatic CW soap opera I love to hate.  (Don’t judge me!)

I do, however, have exciting news.  This past weekend my friends and I finally got around to having that 14-lap go-kart race I mentioned way back in October.  My trusty Living Social coupon clutched in my sweaty fist, I reluctantly trudged into the giant indoor facility.  The smell of fresh tires did nothing to assuage my fears.  In fact, it reminded me of the nearly $2,000 I had to drop to get the transmission fixed on my car last month.  I think it may have even induced a little financial distress heartburn.  Continue reading


I have NEVER liked going fast.

I was slow to tie my shoelaces, forced to take home the static-ridden preschool class record and practice along with the loathsome bunny song.  I was slow to ride my bike, preferring training wheels until I learned how to balance in my basement at age 8.  I was slow to do my own hair, keeping my personal hairstylist (Mom) in business until I was much too old to be doing so.  I was slow to date, not really quite getting the hang of that whole scene until college.   I was (and for the most part still am) slow to adopt trends in fashion and pop culture.  And when it comes to game nights with friends, if it’s not a word game, my brain is abnormally slow at adopting the concepts and rules, such that sometimes I’m forced to sit out rather than make my friends explain it all again and again.

I suppose I’m not slow at EVERYTHING.  I am quick-witted; a rapid typist; a speedy sprinter; a quick learner (at least when it comes to things other than calculus, reading maps, and the afore-mentioned complex games). 

But when it comes to being inside a vehicle, I’m a steadfast supporter of “slow and steady wins the race” or, alternatively, “slow and steady keeps on breathing.”  Whenever I notice my own speedometer creep over 70 on the freeway, I instantly lay off the gas, preferring granny-like speeds of 60 to 65.  And when I’m a passenger and I notice the driver changing lanes too swiftly or getting too close to the car ahead, I involuntarily put my right hand to the door, as if I can pull a hand-brake.  It’s my own cautionary thing.  It’s more for my comfort than anything else, though sometimes I think that when the driver peripherally notices my hand move, they slow down. 

Roller coasters are my arch nemesis.  Most of my friends love them.  They live for places like Magic Mountain and Disneyland, while my favorite theme park ever was called Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.  (I’m so hardcore, I know.)  During a high school band trip, I visited this park and was delighted to find that its focus was not on thrill rides, but on history, games, shows and other entertainment.  They had great shopping and a slow coal mine ride that took us down into a real cave for a tour.  I didn’t feel like a wuss for not riding rides.  I was just like everyone else exploring the fun and the focus wasn’t on me and my fears.  It was nice for a change.

For the record, I have been on one roller coaster before.  It was at another rip-roarin’ popular theme park, Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  I was around 9 or 10 years old at the time, adorned with a pair of red plastic-framed glasses two sizes too big for my face.  I was average height and weight for my age.  And I was excited about the indoor ride I was about to go on.  Its name, I believe, was Blazing Fury.  I figured it was just a ride that moved you along in spurts past fun animatronic characters, Disney-style. 

When my dad, brother and I got on the metal ride, a single bar was pulled down that missed securing my body by at least 6 inches if not more.  But we didn’t worry.  This was just going to be like Small, Small World on wheels, but with Southern belles and fire. 

WRONG.  I don’t remember when we started going fast but it was up and down and all around as my body knocked around from side to side, back and forth.  I lost my glasses which meant I could barely see.  And I started crying and shaking.  When I got off that ride I could barely walk.  Luckily, the man sitting behind me had caught my glasses, otherwise I’d have spent the rest of my vacation squinting, or would have had to get new glasses in some po-dunk town like Sevierville, where my mom later ended up in a fly-swarmed clinic with chest pains.  (But that’s another story.) 

I will never forget that ride.  But it’s not just that old rickety ride, which by the looks of the website, has since been modernized.  It’s the log ride I went on during junior high with friends at Six Flags Great America.  As we sailed down the slope, I realized I couldn’t breathe.  I tried and tried and tried but it was like my lungs had both collapsed.  When we finally stopped moving, I gulped in air like I’d never taste it again.  It really scared me.

Here’s my feeling about speed:  if I need to close my eyes and squeeze my fists and keep my mouth shut so I can breathe, or alternatively let out a blood-curdling scream, I don’t generally find what I’m doing fun. 

Which is, I guess, why I am announcing my third feardom-fighting challenge.  Nope, it’s not a roller coaster.  I’m not ready to tackle that fear just yet, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

Instead, I’ll be fighting my fear of speed by competing against my friends in a 14-lap go-kart race on November 20th.  Okay, so it’s not a NASCAR experience.  But if you had been inside my body, feeling the sore arthritic finger pain that crippled me after I white-knuckled my way through my last go-kart riding experience, then you’d understand how big of a deal this is for me. 

So, wish me luck, and in the meantime, I’ll continue sharing my fears with you.  Because I think that in addition to helping myself, I’ve got a real chance to help others.  One of my friends recently told me she faced her fear of riding horses after reading my blog.  And I’ve looked at the search terms that have randomly led strangers to Scared Witless.  More than once I’ve seen the phrase “scared of ziplining.”  And whether those strangers went on to go ziplining or not, I hope I was able to make them feel a little less alone.

After about three practice zips – that got progressively longer, mind you – I was feeling completely confident.  But you know, because I’m such a polite person, I thought I’d let someone else go first as we hit rappelling experience #1.  Attached by your harness to a rope hooked to a cable hooked to a tree, your job is basically to ease yourself down slowly with your hands.  Kim bravely stepped forward to take on the challenge first.  She sat in her harness, swung out from the platform and then just…got smaller. 

As Caley and Sean prepared the rope for my own descent, I watched Kim sit down on a rock, head in her hands.  Crap.  This is a girl who has parachuted from a plane and is going to be lowering herself from a 16-story building in October.  If she couldn’t handle the rappel, how could I? 

In retrospect, the scariest part of rappelling was not the height or the rappel itself, but the way the cables above swung us out and away from each platform precariously before we controlled our descent.  But my feet were on the ground before I knew it, and I gave Greg the thumbs-up sign from below.

That’s when I noticed the giant black rope stain right across my boob.  Gah!  Not my cute ziplining outfit!

This isn't a green screen, we swear!

At some point during the beginning of our canopy tour, we took a little nature hike to our next series of challenges when Sean pointed out the location of the San Andreas Fault.  Because there’s nothing you want more when you’re already freaking out than to hear that your risky adventure course is located directly over the most notorious ready-to-burst fault line in the western United States.  Awesome.

Soon I saw what I guessed would be my favorite activity:  climbing the Sky Stairs, a steep sloping rope bridge made up of cut logs.  Totally jazzed, I waited for Sean, Mitch, Kim and Greg to climb across first.  One wrong step on the Sky Stairs meant…well, nothing, really.  There was no point on the canopy tour where we weren’t safely clipped to a line or cable from above.  So even if hurricane-force winds rocked the bridge and knocked us all out like dominos, we’d just hang out in our sexy harnesses before climbing back on. 

Kim, Greg and me on the Sky Stairs

Luckily though, this didn’t happen.  And sadly for me, the Sky Stairs were a lot scarier than I’d imagined!  Once everyone else was ahead of me, I strutted my way across the first several logs on the bridge.  No big deal!  I slid my hand from knot to knot on the ropes, carefully watching my feet and trying to block out the fact that we were something like 200 feet above the ground.  But suddenly the bridge started to wobble under the movement of my friends as they neared the upward slope at the end. 

And then it began to vibrate.  Why is it vibrating?  Oh…that’s just my legs, shaking in fear.  “Hey Jenny, look up!” Greg said, trying to film me.  Um…look UP?  But then I can’t see my feet!  Where will they go if I’m not looking at them??  Oh fear, you are so irrational.

On the narrowest bridge

Onward and most definitely upward we traveled after the bridge until we were peering out at a zipline that sloped downwards and appeared to be heading straight into some branches.  Up until this point, I could see each platform on the other side and focus on Sean’s yellow helmet, his hand signals telling me when to put my begloved hand on the line and brake.  I squinted and searched the forest, but couldn’t make out anything past the long line disappearing into the trees.

It didn’t help that Sean took this particular moment to reveal the zipline would be our fastest…somewhere around 40 mph.  My cohorts weren’t exactly helping me either.  “Jenny, you should look down at your shadow – it’s awesome!”  Um, look DOWN?  Are you kidding me?  I was having a hard enough time keeping my eyes open – though I did – to take in the amazing trees surrounding me.

With everyone on the platform cheering me on, I leaned back, took my signature two deep breaths, and cannon-balled off into the forest, a couple of giant metal hooks the only things keeping me from receiving last rites by an army of woodland creatures below.  I stared up at my fists gripping the handlebars and concentrated on breathing. 

Yabba Dabba Doooooo!

Once I hit the lowest part of the line, something incredible happened.  I relaxed and started to have fun.  The wind whipped around my face, the trees around me gently swayed in the breeze and I was alone, reveling in the majesty of nature.  I focused on the calming sound of the line and even looked around a little at the thick forest.  And just fifteen seconds later, I was on the platform again.

Oh how I loved being on the platforms, except for when we reached our second rappel.  The tree we were descending from was so tall it had two platforms on it – we’d be rappelling to the one below instead of to solid ground.  The tree literally swayed each time someone landed on the lower platform, throwing off my center of balance and giving new meaning to the term “tree-hugger.”

In the hours to come, we’d zip several more times, take a running leap from a Flintstones-style platform, climb across three more harrowing bridges and become hunchbacks under the weight of our harnesses.  It was truly unforgettable.

I learned many things from my ziplining experience.

  1. I am apparently a mute.  My cohorts would whoop and holler as they sailed into the distance; I preferred contemplative silence that was mistaken for a lack of enjoyment…ha! 
  2. No matter how scared you are, it’s tough to pee yourself when you’re dehydrated.
  3. No one looks good in a ziplining harness that accentuates the crotch.
  4. Just one zipline cable could have held everyone on our tour simultaneously along with the Unimog without breaking – now that’s security.
  5. Ziplining is fun!  Ziplining is fun!  I would most definitely go again…but after going with Navitat, would probably trust them over any other canopy tour company in the world.  Their green construction process is also admirable.
  6. I’ve never felt more invincible than I did the moment I realized I conquered my fear.

And because of number 6, I’ll reveal that my fear-conquering journey is not over.  I’ve already decided on my next challenge…it’s just a matter of making it happen.  But I’ll save that story for another day.

Until next time, this is just your friendly neighborhood Feardom Fighter, signing off….a little less scared.

"Nooooo..." "YEAH!"

9:01 pm

Control Freak

T minus 6 days and counting until I humiliate myself on assignment by wetting my pants on southern California’s newest zipline attraction.  Don’t laugh – this is a legitimate fear! 

Because I was probably something like 3 years old at the time, I can’t recall the last time I actually peed myself.  Which is why it was weird when my friend’s 10-month-old baby leaked on my jeans yesterday.  It was if she knew, as if she was saying, “See, Jenny?  There’s nothing to worry about.”

I briefly considered buying and adorning myself in crunchy adult drugstore diapers, but then, like a toddler in training pants, I remembered that I do in fact have complete control over my bladder and laughed that idea off Liz Lemon-style.

My plan for next Saturday is this: 

  1. Get up.  Pee.  Avoid drinking.
  2. Eat breakfast.  Pee.  Avoid drinking.
  3. Brush teeth.  Pee.  Avoid drinking.

You get the picture. 

I am somewhat comforted by the thought that even in the unlikely event I do soil the cute ziplining outfit I’m sure to put together, I can probably work myself up to a good enough speed that I’ll quickly air-dry.  So at least I’ve got that going for me.

So, besides the fact that the line could break, plummeting my freshly pilates-ed buns to the earth below, why am I afraid of ziplining? 

I have hiked to 8,000 feet above sea level, climbed ladders to TV studio ceilings and can most often be found in the window seat while flying so I can stare out at the landscape below.  Ergo, it’s not the height that frightens me. 

What scares me is that I have to be the one to take that step off the platform.  I have to both mentally and physically make the decision to let go, trust the line and accept what’s to come.  I have to forfeit control.

Am I a control freak?  I’m not sure how my friends and family would respond to this question, so feel free to offer your opinion (in the least offensive way possible, mind you) by commenting on this post.  It’s a tough question for me to answer too.  I don’t necessarily see it as a positive or negative trait….just a state of being.

I really like to know what’s going to happen, but I don’t have my whole life planned out year by year, or each day planned out minute by minute.  I let my husband take care of scheduling our recent vacation and I love it when he surprises me – he’s really good at that. 

But I do like to think about what I’m going to make for dinner, sometimes hours before I’ve eaten lunch.  I like to make lists of what I need to buy at the store.  And I find it really disruptive when plans change at the last minute.  It sort of throws me off-balance.  Sometimes I even melt down a little, a personality flaw that I am definitely not proud of. 

I realize that I’m not autistic, but I’ve read a lot about autism and observed several children on both ends of the autism scale, from nearly unnoticeable Aspberger’s to full-on uncommunicative kids, stimming 24-7.  And to a certain degree, I share this trait with them.  It’s not like I throw myself on the ground screaming when someone I was going to hang out with cancels, and I don’t become violent when my husband has to stay late at work.  But I do have a problem with flexibility, spontaneity and situations that are out of my control.

So what better way to fight against this than to put myself in a situation where I only have control over that first step?