Teacher Professor

June 19, 2010

Conquering Fear- Together

Filed under: Home Things,Tourette's Syndrome — Teacher Professor @ 10:04 am

Scene: Birthday party, ice cream cake being eaten, six people around the table- Ray-the birthday boy, Mother, Father, Older Sister, friend #1 and Vicki- family friend and pseudo-aunt.

Vicki: So, Ray, what is your goal now that you’re 8?  What do you want to achieve this year?

Ray: I want to be able to ride a ride at a park and not be scared.

… Poor Ray- he’s had a tough few weeks of fear.  Part of his anxiety issues is being afraid of heights, so he made it 10 steps up the lighthouse that is next to our neighborhood pool before his shaking drove him back down.  We went to the local water park a few weeks ago and he couldn’t go past the first landing for the water ride.  He wanted to, so much, but his anxiety sent him back down to earth. 

The sad thing is that he’s gone up them before- but only with his dad, who also shares his fear of heights, but conquers them so that his son can have the experience.  These past few times were with friends, with me, with his sister, who can scamper up anything with no fear.  I try to tell him that he’s being cautious, not scared and that caution is a wise thing.  That he can do it.  That, whatever his choice is- to go on or to go back- I completely understand.

Only he and I both know that I don’t truly understand.  That I kind of like the feeling of being tall.  That I like looking out and over.  That I like the feeling of flying. 

But he and James- together, hand-in-hand, they can feel each other’s pulses race.  They know that the each one is depending on the other one to encourage each other.  That there is company in facing your fears. 

Ray understands the power of support.  When I was researching summer camps, I found one that specializes in Tourette’s Syndrome.  “Oh, Mommy…” he breathed.  “I want to go there!”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I can be with kids who are like me- who are working with it just like me,” he answered.

We can’t afford it this year with such little advance warning, but next year… next year, Ray will be there.  And this summer- this summer, you’ll find James on the water slide and the lighthouse with Ray.

Where they can both climb a little higher with help from each other.


  1. I want to share with Ray my funny story. I had such a fear of heights growing up, and I know not where it came from. When I was 5 years old, and growing up in Albuquerque, my family and I were returning from a trip to El Paso, and my dad wanted to take the scenic route. So we drove up to Guadalupe Peak in southern NM. The view from there was spectacular, on top of the world so to speak. I began to cry and I got down in the floor of the back seat and refused to get up. Just looking out the window terrified me. The family made fun of me, parked at the overlook, and got out and walked around enjoying the view and the cooling breezes on that hot day. Not me. I wouldn’t get up off the floor of the car! We continued on the trip, back down the mountain, with me still crying and clinging to the floor. We went to Carlsbad Caverns from there.

    At Carlsbad Caverns, as you probably know, there is a large room with a giant black hole called appropriately “The Bottomless Pit”. We all stopped on the walkway, next to the rock wall next to the Pit, and looked over into the darkness as the Park Ranger continued his talk and described what was known about this deep pit. I backed away, hid behind my dad, and began to cry. My dad tried to quiet me, and he was embarrassed. I was relieved when the group of tourists moved on and continued to the lunch room at the end of the “trail”.

    Well, I hadn’t made much progress with my fear of heights when I embarked on my first hike up to Quartz Lake in the mountains east of Pagosa Springs, with friends and my son and his playmates; and I was 32 years old by this time. The trail up through the slide rock to the top of Quartz Ridge was challenging enough, but the tall grasses and abundant wildflowers above and below the trail helped me feel secure. Trying to catch my breath at this 12,000 ft. elevation slowed me down some. We were well above timberline. Then we reached the top and the narrow gap in the rim wall that provided the way through to the back of the ridge where the trail continued to the lake. I nearly panicked. The trail on the other side was steep and gravelly and bare of all but the scruffiest small plants. One misstep and the hiker might plunge headlong and helplessly down the steep bare slope to the grass and rocks 50 yards below the gap. The view east from that gap looks down a thousand feet into a hole that is the headwaters of the Blanco River. The Continental Divide itself rises straight up out the other side of the “hole” to more 12- and 13- thousand foot peaks. It is breathtaking — literally! And beautiful. I’ve got many pictures of it in my albums from countless hikes in later years. Some call it the Grand Canyon of the southern Continental Divide. But my first hike was only traumatic. I dropped to my knees and crawled through that gap, and my blood pressure felt like it was skyrocketing. I was wearing a large daypack with all our lunches and drinks and rain gear and fishing gear, and my fishing rod was in my right hand. What a sight I was! The kids were laughing and poking fun at me. My son Billy chided loudly, “ma-omm!” My adult friends were trying to reassure me and encourage me to quiet my fears. Nevertheless, I crawled halfway down that chute called a trail till I came to a wider, flatter section of trail with fewer loose stones and gravel. Finally I stood up. And we continued on to the lake.

    On the return trip, I negotiated the gap without falling to my knees and crawling. I was so proud! After that, I dreaded that gap part of the trail for the next couple times we hiked up there, but I never felt the need to crawl again as I grew accustomed to the scary-looking summit. Since then, I’ve been up that trail, and to the lake and back, more times than I can count, with kids and friends. I can walk right through that gap and down the chute with absolutely no fear, to this day, carrying any size pack, big or small. I even came over that summit on a return trip at a run one stormy afternoon in the rain, with huge lightning striking all around me! God let me live!! The boys were way down the trail in front of me headed for the car, out of sight in the big timber that hid the trail from sight below timberline. We made it to the trailhead and drove back to Pagosa Springs without incident, wet clothes drying out in the summer air from the open car windows by the time we arrived home.

    In summary, I hope to encourage anyone with the fear of heights to have courage. It’s not a phobia that can’t be overcome. It just takes the right circumstances, and practice, even if you are past 30 years of age before you conquer it!

    Claire Goldrick Hughes

    Comment by Claire Goldrick Hughes — June 20, 2010 @ 4:10 pm | Reply

  2. I will definitely share with him! But he prefers to share it with folks like him- my voice isn’t the right one, I’m afraid… Sounds like you’ll have to go hiking with him sometime! 🙂

    Comment by profmother — June 20, 2010 @ 5:32 pm | Reply

  3. […] time.  He rode the horse up and down mountains- mountains that he is anxious of because of the up and down heights.  His was the only trail horse (plodding creatures that they are) that was tied to the […]

    Pingback by Ride ‘em, Duck « Professor Mother Blog — July 13, 2010 @ 7:48 am | Reply

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