This was the view from our hotel in Honolulu which I couldn’t enjoy without fighting the urge to jump.
I am not suicidal. In fact, I rarely even suffer from depression. And I don’t have these urges every time I’m in a high rise. I worked on the 25th floor of this building for ten years with nary an urge to jump. Of course, there were no balconies and the windows didn’t open which could have helped.
Acrophobia (or the fear of heights) is an anxiety disorder having no known cause. The only treatments are behavior modification and anti-anxiety pills but since I’m not planning on becoming a tight-rope walker I think I’ll pass. Acrophobia is often confused with vertigo, the sensation of swirling and imbalance made famous by Hitchcock’s film of the same name. However, vertigo has been linked to inner ear problems and is therefore treatable.
Some psychologists equate acrophobia with flunking a field sobriety test.
Only oxygen (and not alcohol) is the culprit. On a very basic level, proprioception is the ability to locate your limbs in space. Not outer space, mind you, just the space you inhabit at any given moment. If your proprioceptors are impaired by too much oxygen or too much alcohol then you lose what is known as “muscle sense” and can’t accomplish such tasks as touching the end of your nose with your eyes shut. Or you feel disconnected from your body and unable to control it.
In college I annoyed the heck out of my doctor by running into his office on a busy day shouting: “I’m having a massive stroke!” My hands didn’t belong to me and my speech was slurred.
After taking my blood pressure he sighed. “You are only having a panic attack.” He went on to explain I’d been hyperventilating for so long there was too much oxygen in my bloodstream, causing a lack of muscle sense.
“But,” I said, “things are going fine! I was stressed at the beginning of school but now I’m fine.”
“Stress builds up in the body,” he said. “You could go through a stressful time and then have a panic attack months later. Often when you’re least expecting it.”
Like on a balcony seven floors above the infinity pool?
I found it hard to believe that merely breathing into a paper bag will end my nightmares about heights. So I decided to do some research just in case another set of experts had another set of opinions. What I learned is that people who suffer from acrophobia frequently report having Out-of-body Experiences (OBE) and sleep paralysis. Such people are “fantasy prone personality” types with something called schizotypy.
From Psychology Today: schizotypy is a watered-down version of schizophrenia, consisting of a constellation of personality traits that are evident in some degree in everyone. High levels of schizotypy are typically found in relatives of individuals with full fledged schizophrenia.
Good grief. How about you? Does the thought of scaling Half Dome or standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon fill you with dread? If so, I would suggest not self-diagnosing the problem by using the tools of the internet. You may find out you’re crazier than you think!