Facing our fears: Acrophobia (fear of heights)

From the July 26, 2012 edition

The summer between first and second grade, I spent most afternoons at Westerville’s Jaycee Swimming Pool. My sister A.J. and my cousin B.J. (real names) loved jumping off the high-dive, but every time I approached the ladder, I froze. A few times I trembled my way to the top rung before slowly, cautiously descending.

I eventually took the plunge, but by the next summer I was petrified again. Another 20 years passed before I jumped off a high-dive again, and only after much prodding.

I’ve always been afraid of heights. Getting close to the edge of my roof terrifies me. When debating the best potential superpowers, I never choose flight.

That said, standing on enclosed glass protruding from the third-tallest building in the world seemed relatively painless while planning a trip to Chicago. “At least they aren’t making me go cliff jumping,” I thought.

I still felt that way when I entered Willis Tower. Waiting in line, I shrugged upon learning that the building formerly known as Sears Tower stands 1,450 feet tall (or 313 Oprah Winfreys, which actually sounds even less imposing). I wasn’t fazed as the elevator climbed all the way to the 103rd floor. When I stepped out of the elevator and rounded the corner past one of many gift shops, I did it nonchalantly.

Then I approached the Ledge. Chicago stared back, shaking its head. As usual, I froze.

After a few deep breaths, I slowly moved one foot out across the glass, planting it as tentatively as possible. My knees were weak. My body was shaking.

The other foot. Another deep breath. Complete paralysis. But I was alive.

After a few minutes of statuesque resolve, I thought I had conquered my fear. Then I stepped off the glass and back on it, and my knees trembled like new. No matter how many times I stepped into the Ledge, I felt freshly terrified.

But you know what? I did it. Just please don’t ever make me do it again.