The Fear of Falling

The first time I did a top-rope route on the rock climbing wall back at GV, I was terrified.  Not because of the heights – I’ve never particularly had a problem with looking down from very up high – but because I felt that at any moment, I might slip or miss a grip and my body would go tumbling down the wall.  There are a harness and rope to keep that from happening, of course, but I just couldn’t quite convince my brain of that.  I suppose that’s one of the reasons I always stuck to bouldering, challenging myself to finish routes which required strength and technique without extending past a height of four metres.  The imagined pain of breaking an arm or spraining an ankle to catch my fall was enough to convince me that I belonged close to the ground.

I’ve come to face situations while in Slovenia in which I’ve seriously asked myself if I’m capable.  Living in another country continuously presents challenges, and it is part of the experience to realize how you approach them.  It’s happened when I get frustrated at the pace at which I learn Slovene, and especially during my first semester of classes when I felt very lost and unprepared while attending lectures and completing exercises for a complex technical program which I had not previously studied (that was taught in Slovene).  I have always had the idea that if I set my mind to it and put in the work, I am able to accomplish whatever I want.  Honestly while studying geodesy, I think one of the best things that I learned is that I have limits.  I did pass the classes, I did in the end accomplish what is necessary, but it took a lot of time and effort to achieve this especially when I figured out that I actually wasn’t so interested in the technical part of it.  My IR and GIS courses did not exactly prepare me for this course of study, and for once I felt what it was like to jump in feet first and find myself standing in a pool.  Slovene has been an uphill battle, coming to me much slower than Spanish ever did, but the more that I learn it the more that I want to succeed.  I can see myself improving day by day, and always take delight in meeting people here who are both shocked and excited to hear a foreigner putting in the effort to learn the local language.  I do not regret at all taking the courses which I have studied here; while difficult, I am always glad to be exposed to new information and ways of processing it, and as you can tell I don’t back down from challenges very easily;  but I am now more willing to step back before making a decision and thinking – I can do this, but is it right for me?

Slovenia has in some ways helped me identify certain thresholds, and at the same time has helped me overcome uncertainties.  Take for example climbing; for over two years I refused to do anything but boulder, and then one day a friend invites me to the mountains where we end up having to scramble our way to the top along a steep face using iron pegs and holds in the rock.  Here there is no safety net.  Here I am not four meters into the air, but two thousand.   No ropes means no harness, though I do have a few kilos in the pack on my back.  I follow the rules of three-point contact, keep the hips in, maintain steady breathing as I ascend the wall.  I’m not going to lie, I was freaking out the whole time.  Even at the top I thought, that was great but I don’t need to do it again!  But then last week I find myself back on a ferrata route and think, if I did it once then I can do it again.  And you know what?  Staring at the steep drops on my right side, scrambling up cracks in the rock, taking a peek at the path below as I ascend the one short but completely vertical part of the climb, I realize that I am no longer afraid.  I actually find it exhilarating.  My heart is pumping not out of fear, but out of excitement with the confidence that I will make it to the top.  Of course, I am still just as careful and listen to my gut!  I also went outdoor rock climbing for the first time recently and was amazed to find that the fear of suddenly falling no was greatly diminished in that environment.  I trusted myself and I trusted my belay person, I gave him a heads up if I ever felt unbalanced or unsure if I would make the next hold, and simply focused on the climb.  Maybe it’s the positive environment and the encouragement of the people who I’m with, though I always had this back home; maybe it’s the thrill of a new experience overshadowing doubt; but since coming here, I have learned to accept and find a way through this fear of falling.

So what do I want you to get out of this post?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe it is just for me to put into words what I’ve been thinking about over the past few months.   I would just say that through study abroad, or putting yourself long term in any sort of unfamiliar situation, you will learn both about finding your limits and how to push beyond them.

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