How I Faced My Fears on Summer Vacation

This is a re-run blog from 2014.  We now visit Basin Head every year so I get to face my fear over and over again.

Although Calgary is my home, Prince Edward Island is my real home. I was born in Canada’s smallest province, and it was home until we moved to Calgary permanently in 1998.  We make the trip home to PEI every year, and a few years ago I had an experience on a beach there that has become a perfect analogy for facing fear.

In 2013 we visited a beach called Basin Head.  This beach is often on top ten lists as one of Canada’s best beaches, and yet we had never spent much time there. This beach has two thrills for visitors.  One is that the sand squeaks or “sings” under your feet – the famous singing sands.  The other is a wharf where you can jump into a narrow canal of deep water.  The jumping is not officially allowed, but the lifeguards don’t seem inclined to stop anyone.  You can jump into the canal from either side as well as from a narrow metal bridge that spans it.  The height down to the water is about 10 feet.  The water flows in or out of the harbour depending on the tide.  You can either float along till you reach the shore or you can exit quickly up numerous ladders along the sides of the canal.

We first visited Basin Head when my son was 11.  As we headed to the beach, there was no question that he was planning to do some jumping.  I hadn’t given it much thought but I figured I was going to jump too.  It didn’t occur to me to be scared – we are both good swimmers and I knew there was no danger.  I used to spend childhood afternoons jumping off wharves with my friends. It never occurred to me that the actual act of jumping would be a problem for me.

When we arrived there were already people jumping from the wharf and the bridge.  What a great people-watching opportunity - everyone from kids to adults to grandparents taking the plunge!  It’s a great place to show off your moves, so lots of people do fancy flips, or climb onto the bridge railing for a slightly higher leap.

We watched for a few minutes, and then got ready to jump.  But as it came time to step off the wharf, I couldn’t do it.  My son waited patiently for a few minutes while I tried to master my fears, but eventually he went ahead and jumped without me.  He loved it!  He was quickly back on the wharf and encouraging me to jump too.  I stepped to the edge again and again, but I could not overcome my fear of jumping.  I couldn’t believe it – I was physically too afraid to do it!  My son jumped and came back over and over.  Fifteen minutes went by.  My back was getting sunburned from standing there dithering!  I started to observe my fear, and talked to my son about my worries.  What if my bathing suit flies off? (it won’t, he laughed).  What if I scream when I jump and people think it’s funny? (so what? he said).  What if the water is cold? (it is, he said, who cares?).

Logically I knew that there was no way I was leaving Basin Head until I did this jump at least once.  I’m way too aware of all my regrets in life to add this wharf to the list.  But I could not jump!  I was so surprised by my fear – it was controlling all my rational thoughts.  Nothing anyone could say would have any effect on the huge fear inside me.  I knew I had to overcome this in my own head, with my own courage.

A woman came and stood near me with her very young daughter.  The little girl asked her mom if she was going to jump in the water and the woman said no, not today.  My son came back from his 12th jump and continued trying to convince me to go for it.  The woman beside me heard this and asked, “How long have you been standing here?”

I laughed, feeling a little foolish, and said, “Oh about 15 minutes.  I just can’t seem to do it.”  She looked at me for a moment and then started peeling off her shorts and tee shirt, revealing her bathing suit underneath.  “l’ll jump with you”, she said.  I protested, saying I had heard her say she wasn’t going to jump today.  “Yeah”, she said, “I wasn’t, but I can’t leave you here like this.  Let’s go.”

Suddenly I knew there was no chickening out.  If this woman, this stranger, was willing to jump with me, I better not let her down!  My husband arrived with the camera and on the count of three, my new friend and I stepped off the wharf. 

The adrenalin rush was amazing!  As soon as I jumped I realized how simple it was.  Yes the height was enough that I had time to realize I was in the air, which was a bit scary.  But the thrill of knowing I’d done the thing I thought I couldn’t do was beyond amazing.

My new friend and I climbed up the ladder to the wharf. I thanked her profusely, and she went off to join her friends on the beach.  In that small moment, she had changed my life! 

I only managed to jump twice more that day, but that was still a big accomplishment for me.  It was so much fun to jump and let the fast-flowing water take you to the ladder, and to be partaking of this adventure with the rest of the crowd.  I knew there was no way I could have left without doing the jump, and once I had conquered my fear, I couldn’t believe that had even been a possibility.  As soon as it was done, it seemed so easy to do, but back up on the wharf, I needed to summon all my courage to overcome the fear and do it again.  It actually didn’t become any easier to jump each time, but I became more focused on the reward and less on the fear.  What a concept! 

Before we had even left the beach, I had started to apply this situation to the rest of my life.  There are so many situations where this principle is true.  You know you must do it, you don’t know how you will ever do it, but once it’s done, you can’t believe you even considered not doing it.

This year we went to Basin Head again – how could we not after the adventure we’d had last year?  My son immediately jumped in the water.  I stood on the wharf, contemplating.  The tide was going in taking jumpers to a sandy beach.  The water was warm and clear.  The day was hot.  I contemplated the jump for about five minutes before I realized that taking that first leap was the only way to begin enjoying the experience.  I did it.  I jumped. I screamed as I fell toward the water. The fast-flowing tide took me to the beach, my son swimming like a fish beside me.  I floated on my back, looking at the sky and the crowds of people, and I knew for certain that when there’s an opportunity to jump off a wharf in this life, you just have to feel the fear and jump anyway if you want to get to the reward.

I jumped 7 times and my son did 31 jumps.