I’m trying to put things in perspective here,
for myself as much as for anyone who reads this. I am NOT scared of heights. Of course, there’s the old joke that says, “I’m not scared of heights, I’m scared of falling.” Not so funny because it’s true. However, I don’t have any problems with heights in general, except that every once in a while something will trigger either vertigo (as I understand it) or something else that makes me feel like I’m going to lose control and fall over or worse.
Because this feeling is induced by heights, for the longest time I thought I was afraid of heights and I stuck to the ground as much as possible. But over the course of time, too many things have happened for my problem to come from the fear of falling.
Vertigo as I understand it:
I somehow fear that my body will lose control. There’s no actual fear played out, I don’t feel dizzy, I don’t feel like I’m going to fall over, there’s no “end result” that I’m scared of. It’s hard to describe, I just feel like I might lose control of my body. I also have a physical reaction, a not quite painful feeling throughout my body that I can only describe as sharp. I feel it in my legs, stomach, groin, and arms. It’s the feeling I get when I’m going down a hill in a roller coaster, but it happens when I’m standing still.
The internet is full of articles, but vertigo is always described as dizziness or the feeling that one might fall over. None of the descriptions of the problem have ever been close enough to my own symptoms for me to feel comfortable diagnosing myself with the word.
When vertigo “kicks in”:
When I am up high, like in the mountains, and I am trying to walk closer to the edge. Even if the edge has a fence and there is no way that I could ever accidentally fall, the vertigo still rears its ugly head. I was in Washington just a few days ago at the Columbia River, and we pulled over at a scenic viewpoint to take some pictures. I did okay…
If you see the plaques on the lower left and right hand sides of my photo, you will understand that this “edge” is a tourist attraction, and people are meant to walk right up to the plaques and read them. I couldn’t do it. This photo was taken with my iPhone about 10 feet away from the edge. I just wanted to walk up and touch the stone at the lookout point, and I took steps towards it, but just couldn’t finish because each step got more and more painful. But it’s not only being up high that causes my vertigo…
When I look up at a high object, even though my feet are solidly on the flat low ground. The higher the object, the more intense the feeling of vertigo.
One time I was (as a car salesman) carrying helium balloons outside to affix to the cars in the morning. I was actually scared to carry them to the car because I had the feeling that if one of the balloons got away I would experience that loss of control. The thought of watching a helium balloon go up and up and up triggers the vertigo.
Nothing to fear but fear itself…
As I was driving through the mountains the other day I realized that I wasn’t scared of driving through the mountains. I wasn’t scared of going off a ledge and dying. I was scared of experiencing that loss of control that comes with SEEING the heights, and the expanse of nature. I have the same exact feeling if I’m on the low ground and see a huge mountain next to me, and I’m scared of that, too. So it’s not heights… But it does create a lot of fear – I’m scared of the vertigo, the problem, itself.
So when I head towards the mountains again on the way home, I will be scared, but not scared of the mountains.
WebMD on Vertigo
Wikipedia on Vertigo
Wikipedia on Acrophobia (fear of heights) with special guest star, Vertigo
This represents three of the sites I used to look for my specific issue, but I researched quite a few more that all said about the same thing.