That one step is all that it took.
The other Encompass members had their hooks ready and were stepping from off of the cliff top, swinging their legs over a metal ladder, and putting their foot on the rung below it. Down they went, with their heads soon sinking below the rest of our lines of sight.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I decided to go next. Clamp onto ring, lower self down, hang onto ladder. What I didn’t expect was the fear. The feeling of volatility, of uneasiness. “If you unclamp, you die,” the instructor said. Maybe over dramatic, but made a point.
Here I was, connected to a rope connected to a harness, standing on rungs jutting out of the side of the Via Ferrata. Rungs to hold onto with hands protected by a thin layer of gloves. Rungs that if I slipped and fell, something serious could possibly happen. The sinking, uneasy feeling hit the bottom of my stomach, and I thought of possible outcomes of this task that I faced. It was an intense sensation of fear. But I’ve felt it before – I sometimes get panic attacks.
Standing on that ledge, a sick, devastating amount of memories came back. Emotionally, the memories of the panic attacks, the dread, the uneasiness, the short-breath, the unknowingness of what to do next. That fear. That fear. I had felt it before and I never wanted to feel it again. Being on the Via Ferrata, I didn’t have a panic attack, but I cried because the memories of the attacks all came back to me. They flooded into my brain and they made me feel so hopeless, so helpless. I feel like I have lost all courage whenever I have an attack, and I didn’t feel brave in that moment when I was crying on the side of the cliff.
But I wasn’t alone this time.
“Claire! You’re kicking ass!” Salahuddin said to me.
“You can do it Claire! Just keep moving!” Sanah said to me.
“Are you okay Claire?” Angga asked.
I was surrounded by one of the best support networks I had ever been introduced to. These were young people from Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, Britain, Indonesia, and us students from America. Here were people that I had known only for a couple of days but I could already feel like I could trust my life with. These were people that I appreciated and respected and vice versa. We all were looking out for each other, and they wanted to see me finish the climb.
So I did. It wasn’t easy. I would have to stop periodically and breathe deeply or cry some more. The further along I got, however, the more I talked. To Sanah’s every “are you alright, Claire?” I would respond, “I am doing better!” I would talk to myself and say things like “alright, time to put my leg up,” knowing that no one would care that I was talking to myself.
By the end of it, I was drained and relieved. I had done it. I had faced insurmountable fear, but I had done it. And this time, I didn’t have to be alone.
Claire, November 2013