Sunday, 14 September 2008

Slaying demons

Breathing slowly and steadily.

I stood admiring the view: it was a glorious day. A man walking his dog stopped nearby, and he remarked upon how nice the conditions were.

Me: isn't it just? Think I chose a good day to go walking.

Man With Dog: Whereabouts have you been so far then?

Me: Oh I started off going up the high street, then cut sharply upwards towards the Heights of Abraham, all the way over the top and then down into Matlock. Along the road for a while and then up to Riber, then back down the hill and up to here.

MWD: I'll be doing similar with a group of people next week, but we're starting off at Cromford and walking the first stretch down by the Derwent - it seems to be a part which is really overlooked.

Me: I know that one, I went camping down there about 20 years ago at Cromford Meadow, and I would walk along the Derwent to get into Matlock. Seem to remember it being really nice.

Dog: woof.

MWD: It is. Do you know it round here then?

Me: I grew up not too far away, we used to come down here pretty regular. I tend to come back every so often just to do some walking and to have a change of scenery.

...and so the conversation continued for a few more minutes (me having the pleasure of inadvertently lapsing back into my broad Derbyshire accent - something I'm rarely able to do if I'm to have any chance of being understood): remarking on various walks we had done or intended to do, a few general observations about life, and of course about the weather. It was glorious, after all.

Calm and relaxed, I remained at the same spot for a few minutes more once the man and his dog had gone on their way. I felt like I had just gone a long way towards conquering one of my fears. Not - I hasten to add - a fear of engaging in conversation with men walking their dogs.

The point is, I was stood just a few feet away from the sheer drop at the top of High Tor. For whatever reason, in recent years I've found myself increasingly nervous about the prospect of such heights (or drops). Not unreasonable in itself maybe: but as someone who enjoys walking in the hills and mountains it feels like a bit of a handicap, the extent to which it has affected me.

Back in February I had travelled up here and walked on a similar route which took in this particular spot. As I'd got nearer, my legs had the sensation of being made of ice, but with large dollops of electricity coursing through them. I'd felt dizzy and more than a little unsteady, and I'd had to slow down. The closer I'd got, the more it felt like electricity was coursing through my brain as well. It wasn't safe - I didn't feel safe, but I'd forced myself to at least try and stand there for a minute or so. I managed to take a few photographs whilst feeling like the ground might fall away beneath me at any moment.

It had felt like a very dark moment as I edged closer, fear mounting, thoughts racing. Darker than I could handle, in fact: I turned round and walked away, rushed away. Even just the knowledge that I was still on the crag itself (though well away from the sheer face now) was unnerving, like I was being goaded. I couldn't stop until I was back at ground level. The sense of vulnerability was deeply shocking, nasty, raw - and it seemed as though the further away I walked from this particular place, the less in touch with those feelings I would be.

It had left me feeling rattled. I'd visited this spot again in the spring and I fared better, at least to an extent.

So how pleasing it was yesterday to be close enough to the edge to peer over and have an amazing view down towards ground level: close enough, but not enough to be in danger. I felt much stronger, more secure, less vulnerable. A cliched phrase I know, but it does feel like I've gone some way towards slaying a demon. I wonder how much it's about the external fears themselves, and how much it's about a general sense of my own well-being.


Pamela said...

Wow! I blackboxed to here and am so glad I did. You explained how a fear of heights feels to a tee. Bravo for you for trying to conquer the fear. Wish I had your courage.

trousers said...

Thanks pam for landing here and then taking the time to read and comment. I think there's as much frustration as there is fear (ie a lot) and it's the former which is a major factor in dealing with the latter.

If I don't get to your site via the black box, I'll visit via your link before much time passes :)

ejenne said...


The subtle advice given to you by the dog obviously worked its magic!

DJ Kirkby said...

Hi Trousers,
Another beautifully written post. Love the photo, is strange that you mention a new fear of heights as over the past couple of years I too, have been developing a fear of heights where none existed previously. I don't understand where mine has come from though.

But Why? said...

Lovely pic and great writing. I can't wait to get myself up north.

liz fenwick said...

I'm not sure what this says about me - procrastenating I guess by the lovely black boxes widget brought me back...

I think age and all the knowledge that that brings with it increases our fears - its like me with flying - used to love it now terrified and I have to fly all the time.......go figure!

Carol and Chris said...

Caroline's little black box just brought me to you...

I can so relate to this post!! I hate heights and you have just described exactly how I feel when faced with one!! It's really debilitating and I get annoyed with myself for feeling that way!!


hullabrouhaha said...

Having met you in person at NMJ's launch, I thought I would stop by and say hi.

I don't have such as strong physical reaction to heights, I just tend to avoid them.

Well done you for facing up to something that was so scary. I bet you felt exhilerated afterwards.


Eve said...

Got black boxed here, and creepy weird I grew up near Matlock, well near Bakewell.

Dana said...

Another blockboxer here. Enjoyed your desciptive choices and longed to be walking along with you for the sense of calm (not to mention the scenery) imparted.
I miss long walks. How does life get in the way of simple pleasures?

Fire Byrd said...

as someone who hasn't any idea what black boxing is about, let me say well done you.
It's such a great feeling conquering a fear.Rising to a challenge and getting over it.... on the other hand.... crawling doen into a hole in the ground..ugh!
I'll have to sort out a suitable walk/climb for our next meet!

Queen Vixen said...

Ah yes - you confronted an outdated fear and came out on top (and close to the edge). That broad Derbyshire accent is lovely - and you do it SO well. Great post T - thanks for such a literary gem.

trousers said...

Hi ejenne - you noticed! The dog's advice was sage and, as it turned out, sound :)

Thanks dj. The photo was from February when I was scared to go too close to the edge...if only I'd taken my camera on Saturday when I felt able to peer over! As regards the fear of heights, liz may have it in a nutshell in her comments below.

but why?, always good to see you. What I didn't mention in this post - but what I think you need to know - is just how good the two pints of Abbot were that I had in the pub after finishing what turned out to be a 3 and a half hour walk. They were almost too good to be true, in fact.

liz, I do agree, but I think there are two sides to it - I don't want my age and knowledge to impose this on I'm perhaps trying to use my age and knowledge to give me much more purchase on the situation that I've previously allowed.

Hi carol and chris - I'm glad the description worked for you, but it's a shame it's because you know that feeling as you do. I was tense but determined when I walked up there the other day, and stood breathing slowly and steadily, forcing myself to count up to a certain number before I allowed myself to move. It was when the man-with-dog came along and we got chatting that really enabled me to relax and enjoy being there.

Hi hulla, and thanks for stopping by - it was good to meet you and nice to see you here (though I think you have left a comment before, a while ago?). Yes I did feel exhilarated afterwards, and loved the rest of the walk. And after two pints of Abbots, I felt like I was floating when I was heading back to the train station!

Hi dana, and welcome to you too. Glad you enjoyed the description, thank you! Life does get in the way..but things like this do so much for my sense of equilibrium, I feel I can't afford to let them slide.

Hi fire byrd, as regards Black Boxing, I think lady in red blogged it well a few days ago, it might make more sense after that. Thanks, too - particularly after all that you've blogged about conquering fear and so on.

I did wonder whether any of the walks round there might appeal to you, though the one I tend to do does have some stupidly steep uphills to contend with. I look forward to the next one you might come up with anyway!

qv, thank you so much! But have you heard my accent when it's really broad? Glad you enjoyed reading this, as always :)

trousers said...

Oh and eve - a belated hello, I missed your comment when I was dong my replies, though I'd read it earlier. Well yes, Bakewell's just down the road from Matlock for all intents and purposes isn't it - not far at all (and very picturesque).

I like the synchronicity of you landing here to see this post.

Posh Totty said...

The black box sent me here :o) Xx

Joe said...

Excellent post, trousers. I've struggled on and off with similar fears over the course of my life and have reached the point where I actually look forward to doing things like that - though some fear still exists.

Dave said...

Arrived via Black Boxes - delighted to make your acquaintance. I'm another who hates heights.

trousers said...

Nice to see you, posh totty!. Thanks for stopping and saying hello.

Thanks joe, and yes I know what you mean, I think - certain fears are quantifiable and so you can look forward to tackling them, with some of the fear still being there.

Hi dave, and good to see you too. If the black box doesn't land me over at yours at some point, I'll come back here and follow the link :)

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

Hey nice blog you have here!Liked the post :)

Came here through the lil black box!

Virtual Voyage said...

Called in by Black Box; would love to walk High Tor; though can appreciate your ambivalence about heights. Good photo!

trousers said...

Hi sameera and virtual voyage, thanks for stopping by, and maybe at some point the black box will land me over at your places :)

Junction Mama said...

got here through black box - i love the photography!

SSC~ The Domestic Diva said...

I am very proud of you. Oh and what a view. A picture I am sure doesn't do it justice.