Acrophobia or Schizotypy?

This was the view from our hotel in Honolulu which I couldn’t enjoy without fighting the urge to jump.

IMG_1344

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.

Kaiser-Center-2012

From Wikipedia – the Kaiser Building in downtown Oakland

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.

Vertigo

Use your ear drops Jimmy and quite your belly aching!

Some psychologists equate acrophobia with flunking a field sobriety test. 

Sobriety

“the initiation of proprioception is the activation of a proprioceptor in the periphery – in other words, you’re drunk.”

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.   

Panic(Note to all doctors: There’s nothing “only” about a panic attack. I honestly thought I was going to die.)

“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!  

22 thoughts on “Acrophobia or Schizotypy?

  1. Listen Jan. I got a panic attack reading your blog and had to get off the chair and sit on the floor. (Thanks for that!) I’m very impressionable. When I got to the end of it I realized it was like that time in the doctor’s waiting room when three women talked for ages about their main ailments and I had to be helped into the surgery.

    Ignore all that. It’s just me trying to be funny.

  2. Oh I have terrible bouts of vertigo. The dr says that it may be from a concussion I sustained years ago, but I’ve had the vertigo along with anxiety as well. Now sometimes I wonder if the vertigo triggers the anxiety or the anxiety triggers the vertigo. I hasten to say a bit of both. I do the head exercises. Panic attacks are not just, you got that right.
    I didn’t used to be afraid of heights AT ALL, but now I totally am. No more roller coasters for me, either. Glad I got my fill before anxiety disorder came to call.
    Fascinating post, Jan.

  3. Thanks Joey! I’m not an expert in anxiety or vertigo but from what I’ve read, it’s highly likely that a concussion would cause vertigo which of course would bring on anxiety!

  4. Thanks Jet. It was impossible to get a spot on the beach but at least we could go in the water on the southeastern end of Oahu without being yelled at by the life guards!

  5. I often test my fear of heights by climbing atop high places. Each and every time, I curse myself as I start to hyperventilate and try to figure out how I’m going to get down. I remember getting to the top of the Duomo in Florence and plastering myself against the side of the building. A guy with a heavy NYC accent looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong with you?” I replied, “I’m afraid of heights.” He said, “Then what the hell are you doing up here?” I started to explain that this fear isn’t real and I’m hoping to conquer it one day and blah, blah, blah. He shook his head and walked away.

    • What a creep that guy was! It would be interesting to find out if anyone has successfully overcome acrophobia. I think it’s just something you learn to live with.

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