How a bad breakup cured my fear of heights

After a long-term relationship soured, I was left in a foreign town all alone, with a shaky self-esteem and an ever-growing bucket list. I was 22, yet I felt old—sore. The end of my two-and-a-half year college relationship had spit me out of cocoon I didn’t know existed. I was carrying an extra 20 pounds of relationship weight, and an even heavier load of self-doubt. Now on my own, exposed, I realized that I had been afraid. I had been living in a pseudo-world where I was singularly focused: graduating college, moving to a new city, searching for a job. I had lost the part of me that craved adventure, liked the unknown, and was fueled by experience. I had lost me.

Everyone has some sort of fear—snakes, failure, public speaking. This is a healthy, normal part of the human condition. I too had fears, but now that I was truly on my own, I realized they had grown out of control. My 45 minute commute to and from work each day, and the certain silence that only occurs when you are sitting in a one bedroom apartment that is only half-furnished, aching for its other half to be complete, allowed plenty of time for me to discover my own phobias. When did I become the girl who didn’t want to go to a New Year’s Eve party because she wouldn’t know anyone other than her boyfriend? When had I started to hate weekends because of the loneliness of single living? Sure, I didn’t really like my job, and the average age of my co-workers was 20 years my senior, but I had begun to crave just existing among others. I looked at the lump of a person curled up in her bed binge-watching Mad Men on Netflix (Peggy Olson, you got me through some tough times girl), and I didn’t recognize her. I didn’t like her.

One night, after yet another meal portioned-for-two-but-serving-one, I grabbed my journal and started a list. First, I focused on things that were in my everyday reach: be more active, take the stairs and go for a walk; get rid of the last remnants of my relationship that I had kept for sentimentality, but really just made me sad for the girl who was trapped in that life; finally dye my hair that shade of blonde I had been coveting.

Then I reached a little further: try online dating; publish a piece; learn how to change the smoke detector batteries all by myself. Finally, I went for the true bucket-list items: run a marathon, finish my novel, and at the top of the list (insert drumroll here) skydiving. I had always been fascinated by the thought of feeling gravity, of being physically pulled to the Earth, connected in a new way than before. At this point in my life, I needed that connection. There was just one, tiny problem. My most fundamental fear, rooted in childhood angst and paralyzing every nerve in my body, was heights.

I had set out to re-introduce myself to my own wants, yet this was something that I had never forgotten. The dead-drop elevator ride at Six Flags and the balcony overlooking the city from twelve stories up were all the same. My stomach would do a wave akin to the baseball fan staple, yet I wasn’t cheering. But I forged ahead, determined to take back control of my life. I found two co-workers from my office who wanted to join in, and celebrated my birthday by giving myself the most terrifying present I have ever received. I guess I figured that if I could conquer this true, tangible, long-standing fear, then I could get rid of all the insecurities that had built up over the past few years, creating a mask that hid my own reflection.

And there I was, hanging halfway out of an airplane, taking the deepest, most even breath of my life. In that final moment before the free-fall, I wasn’t afraid. I could do anything. And in a weird way, I was grateful for the break-up. Because it allowed me to work past my fear and do something I really, truly wanted to.

(Image via iStock)

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