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Disabling fear of heights is stopping me from living a normal life(17 Posts)
I have dyspraxia which may be the cause, GP said spatial perception is all off and my core strength is crap - so poor balance .
Since I was a child I have been absolutely terrified of heights . Staircases, windows, hills, mountains, cliffs, the sky, street lamps, towers, monuments, shopping malls, theatres, cinema, rollercoasters, bridges, hotels, large windows, churches, balconies, trees, tall buildings - I am absolutely petrified of the lot...
I have left a degree because I couldn’t cope with the fact that my classes were in a 17 floor high rise . I’ve left a job because it was a hospital with 12 floors . I’ve never flown, or been on a boat, or anything like that .
I’m quite used to going to buildings and having to crawl out or go downstairs on my bum . Even at seventeen on a school trip to a castle I remember my teachers having to hold my hands to guide me back downstairs.
I actively avoid pubs, etc, in case they have big ceilings .
It’s become a bigger problem as I’ve gotten older as people are less understanding, you have to go to heights to fit in with the rest of the world but I’m struggling immensely . I think nothing of paying £50 for a taxi so I don’t have to use the bus station which has four floors . Order all stuff online so I don’t need to be in a supermarket . Don’t visit the city so I don’t need to see tall buildings.
Sometimes people do want to help but with my degree, they said it would be absurd to expect them to do all my classes on the ground floor (understandably - it was the disability service who asked) . I’ve been told I can go back (on pause) to complete my studies but I don’t know how I can, when I can’t go into the classrooms without a crippling fear .
It’s a completely irrational thing that takes over - my legs wont move, my heart pounds/flutters, face flushes, my ears ring, and I have the horrible feeling that I will collapse and die or gravity will reverse and I’ll float up - or in some cases I get a horrible urge to chuck my handbag or myself over the edge .
I’ve had psychotherapy before and they said force myself up to tall buildings and sit until I calm down, but that’s not something I feel able to do - I’m scared that’s the only cure, I’m desperate for this to just go and get a normal life . What can I do ?
I have dyspraxia and am a bit scared of heights but not to the same extent. I know how it feels to not really trust yourself and picture falling and hitting the ground and just wanting to completely avoid any situation linked to that. I think you can probably live a lot of your life avoiding high places and eg live in a bungalow in the countryside in a flat county and pursue distance learning or studying from a small college associated with a university etc. It's limiting though and you recognise that. Would you be able to go into say a 2 storey building if someone came with you and held your hand and you went upstairs just a floor without going near windows and then came back down carefully and you knew they'd catch you ok if you did slip. Then a big treat after for being brave. If you built it up like that little bits that aren't easy but you did it then you could potentially get to the point where it's manageable on the odd occasion when it's necessary and you'd be able to remind yourself that you did it ok last time and have that positive reinforcement. Funny question maybe but would you be ok somewhere wearing a safety harness? I'm ok when I know I'm definitely safe even if I trip and fall, I'm more scared on eg steep stairs than I would be next to water where I wouldn't hurt myself if I fell in or on a ropes course wearing a harness so I know I'd be safe. If you never push yourself to do a little bit more your life may get smaller and smaller or you may one day have to go in a tall building and really find it difficult if you've stayed completely away for years.
The therapy sounds rubbish. My armchair diagnosis as someone who’s successfully been treated for social anxiety (and I don’t mean a bit of shyness, I mean full-on fight-or-flight response) is that you need cognitive behavioural therapy. Mine started with a full discussion of my background, relationship history etc and went from there, not by telling me to go to new places and stay there until I calmed down!
What are the therapy options where you are? I’m not in the UK so my experience will have been different. But as I say my absolutely non-professional armchair diagnosis is that this is something that could be greatly improved and controlled to the extent that you can live a more or less normal life.
Have you tried EMDR, maybe it's connected to a traumatic event as a child? Think you need a therapist who would also work with you on your fears in these environments?
What your therapist was instructing you to do is known as Exposure Therapy and studies have shown it’s actually the best way to overcome phobias. The unpleasant sensations you’re having when in the vicinity of tall buildings, etc. - you’re having panic attacks. And the thing with panic attacks is that they run out of steam quite quickly because they use up a vast amount of energy (which your body / mind doesn’t really want to use!). You’ve got to train the primitive part of your brain (the one we have no direct control over) that there is really nothing to fear. The best way to do this is to enter the fear-inducing location and stand your ground UNTIL THE FEAR LEAVES YOU and not you leaving because of the fear. It takes some courage and perseverance but it 100% works. By avoiding these things, you’re only reinforcing your fears further. The only way over panic is through it. I wish you the best of luck
So sorry to hear this OP, sounds so debilitating. I don't have any advice on therapy or coping techniques but could you see whether you can complete your degree via online distance learning, even if that means transferring to another uni?
CBT for OCD with intrusive thoughts might help. I have a severe fear of heights through OCD and CBT has taken the edge off it. People don't realise how debilitating it can be.
Thete was a tv programme on recently but on a slightly obscure channel, dealing with phobias, the one I watched was phobia of heights. It was very much exposure therapy and the group of people involved made incredible progress quite quickly. One woman wouldn't stand on a chair I think but by the end she had scaled scaffolding and had been to the top of skyscrapers. Would you consider this type of therapy? Or even apply to be on the programme?
Also with Exposure Therapy, a good therapist will encourage you to make a list/hierarchy of things that trigger the fear response. You then start with something at the mildest end of the list.
I did it with claustrophobia, and it definitely helped. That, and educating myself about the physiology of fear.
Building your core strength with yoga or pilates might help with physical confidence and feeling more stable. Yoga with Adriene has a multitude of videos and there are a lot of gentle ones low to the ground that don't require much balance to begin with.
I know a couple of people who've used hypnotherapy to manage phobias/ anxiety triggers. DB was regressed to childhood to the source of his wasp phobia and by the end of it, he could hear the sound of buzzing and calmly walk away, rather than instant panic, flapping and fleeing. He sought help prior to driving lessons as he sensibly realised that he was at high risk of crashing if he heard a buzz. He still hates the things, but his fear is now in a normal, managable range.
Nobody wants to fall, and most people have a healthy level of fear of heights where they recognise their risk of a fall and the safety measures of their surroundings e.g. bannisters, window panes, walls. For some reason, your boundaries of fear have shifted to a very inhibiting position and need to be moved back to normal range.
Would you consider moving to another part of the UK? Not all places have multistorey buildings. I live near Middlesbrough, the local hospital has two floors if that would help. You could look around for a location that fits you better.
It sounds like you had a terrible therapist. It might be better if you can get someone who will work with you more gently and explain some of the background of why a particular therapy might work.
There is hope though. I also couldn’t work in buildings or stay in hotel rooms above a certain height, couldn’t step into a lift, and couldn’t figure out the kind of evil architect who would create glass floors or office blocks with glass railing over a central multi story void. I am now mostly OK in those scenarios. I’ll never love them, but I can deal with them.
Working with someone you trust is key.
Not the same phobia, and less severely than yours, but I had a very good experience with a hypnotherapy-based course at London Zoo for a spider phobia. The started with some hypnosis exercises and a theory session about spiders/the fear rwsponse and then did grafual exposure, ending with holding a large tarantula in your hand. It didn't completely cure me, but it was very effective in removing the fight or flight response and physical stress any time I saw a spider. I still don't love them but can deal with them well enough and even ignore them as long as they aren't enormous. I'd see if there is anything similar on offer.
I'd for be pursuing a different therapist! CBT for a start and as another person said, yoga or pilates to help with core strength.
I saw a show where they were helping phobias, including heights, with a VR display headset.
The therapy described to you was (badly explained) exposure therapy. It really does work if you are prepared to do it. DS1 did it for fear of heights so that he could join the Navy, he managed to pass the climbing on high ropes bit of the training, it wears off if you dont keep doing it though.
There was a good TV series a few years ago about people undergoing exposure therapy for phobias, can anyone remember what it was called?
I also believe that Virtual Reality is being used to expose people to pretend but very convincing environments to overcome phobias.
I get you 100% op.
I don't like heights. I don't like to use the word fear, because I'm not afraid as such. I know I won't fall off. But it's an actual physical (or it feels that way) reaction, everything swims, nothing appears quite where I think it should be, I can't seem to get my bearings. That's what frightens me, not the height.
I think exposure therapy sounds like it might be a good thing. But I don't think it would be brave enough.
I also find people don't really understand it. They think I'm making it up or exaggerating.
I hate sitting upstairs in a theatre. I hate looking up and I'm in line with the massive ceiling chandelier or the statue, gargoyle things round the edge of the ceiling. My brain knows I shouldn't be the same height as these things and it panics.
My brain also can't cope with statues of people who are much taller than real life, I can't process their size at all.
And I absolutely relate to your fear that you might throw yourself off. I'm glad you said that, I don't k ow anyone else who has that feeling.
So I have no advice, sorry, except to say you're not the only one.
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