Friday, September 17, 2010

over the edge, part one

1. Conquer a fear - DONE!!!!!!!!!!!

I know some of you have been eager for the story of the rappel.  When I say it was the most frightening experience of my life I am being 100% truthful and not dramatic in the least.  I really do not understand how some people (including Nick!!!!) can make it look so easy when I was petrified every single moment.  I must just be wired differently, that's the only conclusion I can come to.  In either case, I'm going to do this in two parts---the actual story (part one) and then my analysis of the experience (part two). Doesn't that just sound so official???

Okay, so here are the facts...just the facts and the story.

There's Silo Point in all it's glory....

Wednesday morning I woke up scared.  I got down to Silo Point around 8:45am (after making a wrong turn and getting lost on the way--blame it on my nerves!) with Sadira to find my mom waiting outside.  We were greeted by Jan who was event coordinator since Rene was extremely pregnant and actually due that very day.  Jan ushered us into the breakfast reception where they were giving a brief presentation on the work that Gaudenzia does. 

The presentation featured the Governor, CEO of Gaudenzia, and finally some graduates of the Gaudenzia program.  At the very end, parts of Gaudenzia's mission flashed across the screen, as people spoke the words in the background:

"We are here because there is no refuge, finally, from ourselves.

Until people confront themselves in the eyes and hearts of others, they are running.
Until they suffer others to share their secrets, they have no safety from them.
Afraid to be known, they can know neither themselves nor any other; they will be alone.
Here, together, people can at last appear clearly to themselves-not as the giant of their dreams, nor the dwarfs of their fears – but as individuals, part of a whole, with a share in its purpose.
In this ground we can each take root and grow, not alone anymore as in death, but alive to ourselves and to others."

I can't tell you how instrumental some of these words became for me later on in the day.

I thought about that last line: "In this ground we can each take root and grow, not alone anymore as in death, but alive to ourselves and to others."  I thought about my Aunt Gabby, alone in death, and how things could've been different.  I remembered memories of her and how alive she was to herself and others in my memories, and how much I wished that was still true.  I thought about how if by me doing this fundraiser we are able to help just one family avoid what our family felt when we lost Gabby, then it was a success.

And in that moment, I was not scared.

At the reception they acknowledged the top 4 fundraisers.  I was honored that I was the top fundraiser.  Everyone kept coming up and congratulating me and all I kept saying was, "I really didn't do this. The outpouring of support from my friends and family did this.  It was really amazing."  I must've said it 10 times.  I still can't believe it, and I still can't say thank you enough to all that contributed.

I won a pretty sweet prize though!  A party at the SkyLounge (BEEAUUUTIFUL 19th floor event space) for up to 6 hours and up to 50 people.  I've been considering my options...graduation party, bday party, SuperBowl party...we'll see!  More info on that to follow for sure. :)

We had some snacks and cupcakes.  Sadie was anxious all moring and clung to me like a baby monkey.  Finally a cupcake from Gannie pryed her out of my arms for a few minutes.  My mom's dear friend (and my friend too!) Ginger showed up to cheer me on.  It was great to see her!  I texted Nick, and he was on his way.  I watched a few people start their rappel, but I really still couldn't comprehend that in an hour or so, I'd be doing that too. 

Soon Nick got there and we decided to go relax on the 19th floor for a bit.  Typically we weren't "allowed" to be up there, but Sadira was in such an anxious state, Jan offered it and we quickly accepted.  On the way up we ran into Lauren and (a very pregnant) Rene, and they came up with us.  As soon as we got up there, though, Jan said, "alright are you two ready?  We need to get up there to fill out paperwork."

Even as Nick and I rode the elevator up to the 23rd floor, I knew we weren't going to be taking those elevators back down, but I still wasn't feeling FEAR.  I was nervous and excited, but everyone was being so NICE to us, it was kind of hard to be afraid!  I still felt like we had all the time in the world.

We got to the registration desk and I saw Teal, a friend of Lauren and Rene's, and it was great to see a familiar face.  We chatted for a bit, she asked about the baby, and Nick and I signed our waivers.  I didn't even really think about the fact that I was initialling next to a statement that said, "I acknowledge that engaging in this type of activity could result in injury and/or death." that was bold and all in caps.  I didn't have to be scared yet, this is all fun, right?  RIGHT?!

Next we got fitted for our body harnesses.  Brian was the guy who helped us out and he was great.  Full of jokes and lots of fun.  Again, I was feeling nervous, but nothing close to fear.

So far this seems like a walk in the park, huh?  Easy Peasy! LOOK AT ME IN MY HARD-CORE FULL BODY HARNESS!!!  I WAS BORN TO RAPPEL OFF OF BUILDINGS!! YEAH!!!!

Don't get ahead of yourself there, Sparky.

So out the door we went to our "ropes clinic."  Which really should be entitled, "how we convince you that you're not going to fall off the side of the building."  They showed us how to use our release and how to hold the slack (holding the rope in your right hand near the small of your back makes you "look cool."  Who would've known?).  They showed us the "asap" rope and demonstrated how it works to stop you if you start to rappel too fast, and how to unlock it if that happens.  Finally she showed us one additional rope that would keep us tethered to the ground so if all else fails, there is someone on the ground to slowly let you down.

Great.  I feel....fantastic. This is gonna be...great.

I started to get more than nervous at this point.  Even as I sit here writing this blog and remember how I felt, my pulse is increasing a little bit and my palms are getting sweaty.  Unreal.

It was at this point that we walk over "to the edge."  There were actually two separate rappels we had to do.  The first "practice rappel" was from the 23rd-19th stories.  That was 30 feet of rappelling.  You landed on a platform on the 19th floor and got all set up to do it again the rest of the way down.  The way they had it set up, there were two guys directly helping whomever was going over the edge at that moment.  There was a stepladder set up on each side of the railing so you could just conveniently walk over. 

How convenient.

So as we walked over we introduced ourselves to the two guys, they each did another check of our equipment (we were checked a total of 4 or 5 times).  Guy #1 (who's name I can't remember) said, "Alright, who's going first?"  And without hesitation I said, "Nick is."  Next thing I know, Nicholas is walking over the railing and they are helping him to get in the proper position to rappel.  I remember standing there thinking, "Holy shit! Nick's STANDING ON THE EDGE OF THE BUILDING!!! THIS IS INSANE!!!!!"  I especially thought this was so crazy because everyone else was acting so calm---like this type of behavior was completely normal. (Now in my defense, I KNOW that's what we were there to do, and that these guys do this every day, so it IS normal to them. And obvi, they need to stay calm and not make a huge deal out of it. But to me, it was INSANE.)

To give you an idea of what this insanity looks like, here is a pic of Rene's boss Gadi doing the "lean back."  He was getting set up while we were getting harnessed. 

Guy #1 looks at me at this point (imagine him having the voice of like a California surfer-dude type) and says, "Ya know, this is such an awesome opportunity.  You have to remember at some point while your rappelling to just look out and enjoy the view, cause you're never gonna see a view like again! It's awesome!"

I just nodded along, "yeah, sure dude.  I'll remember to keep that in mind." (NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.)

So Nick is taking orders like a champ.  I'm watching him in complete awe (plus I can see the ground far far below him, which he cannot) not really remembering that I have to do this in just a few minutes.  They direct Nick on which ropes to hold and how to lean back, and next thing I know Nick is walking down the building.  Just walking right on down like, "this ain't no thing."  And then he landed on the 19th floor platform, 30 feet below.  I was so so so excited and proud of him.  I remember leaning over the edge and screaming, "YEAH NICKY!!!! YOU DID IT!! AWESOME JOB!!!!" 

I didn't get to celebrate for long, however, because then Guy #1 looked at me and said..."Kay, you ready?"

What a loaded question.

Are you serious?

Am I ready?

You mean I have to do that now?

Please don't make me do it.


I looked at him and said, "I have a two year old daughter down there on the ground.  Please make sure I'm safe, I'm really really scared."

And that's when the tears started.  I really didn't want to be the sissy girl crying, especially around all these hardcore adrenaline junkies, but I couldn't help it.  All of the sudden I was scared.  And it was the type of fear I've never ever felt before.  It was breath-holding, body trembling, paralyzing fear. 

Guy #2 (I think his name was Caleb, and if it wasn't, we'll just pretend it was so I'm not calling him Guy #2 for the rest of this story) came over and took my hands and said super calmly, "You can do this.  We will help you do this.  You have the ropes to support you.  We will talk to you the whole way down.  You only need to go 30 feet.  Just 30 feet.  YOU GOT THIS."

I wanted to tell him that I started this project to conquer a fear, not because I thought this type of thing was fun.  I wanted to tell him that I was more scared than the average person.  That people with my level of fear don't normally do things like this.

Then something magical happened.  I believed him. I was still really scared.  Petrifyingly scared, but for some reason, I trusted Caleb.  He promised we'd take it slow and he'd talk me through it.  And somehow I grabbed his arm and walked up that step ladder, over the railing and onto the ledge.

I consider it a success that I just got to this point, for the record.

As I stood there on the side of the building, gripping the railing, I actually felt my fight-or-flight mechanism kick in.  It was like I was in Intro to Biology class again and I was the experiment---like I could physically FEEL the neurotransmitters surging through my body.  Like I could hear Dr. Bonner cheerfully lecturing, "this is occurring due to the animal's stress response that is being engaged due to a perceived threat!"


I think Caleb saw that he was losing me cause next thing I heard was, "Nas, look at me."

"I can't look at you, you have mirrored glasses!"

He threw he glasses off and he had the greenest eyes I've ever seen.  "Look at me."

I obeyed.

"You are safe.  The ropes have you.  All you have to do is lean back and go down 30 feet.  Nick is down there waiting for you.  These ropes can hold up to 7,000 pounds, and I'm fairly certain you're nothing close to that right?"

I shook my head.

He continued, he was firm but he sounded so confident in me, "You're gonna be scared, it's okay to be scared, but you are SAFE.  We will help you.  All you have to do is lean back."

"But that's the hardest part.  I'm scared to lean back..."

"You just went and saw the Ravens play the Jets AWAY!  That's more dangerous than this!  And you're wearing a Ray Lewis've gotta be tough to wear #52!"

(He had a point.)

"Okay, just tell me what to do and I'll do it."

He told me where to put my hands (even though I had been told 3 times already) and how to squeeze the release sloooowly, slooowly at first, and coaxed me into leaning back.  I was officially hanging off the side of the building. The fear was all consuming but I was surprisingly calm.  I took a step and then another. I didn't want to make one false move, I focused on the release, squeezing the release and watching the blue rope thread it's way through bringing me closer and closer to the ground at the 19th floor.  I heard Caleb's calm voice up above and coming through the radio, "You're doing it Nas! You're doing great! You're awesome! Keep going, you're almost there!"

My own thoughts in my head were going crazy.  I'm a Gemini and I felt like both sides of my crazy Gemini were at battle.  One side would say, "THIS IS CRAZY!!!! GIVE UP NOW!!! GRAB ONTO THE SIDE OF THE BUILDING AND CLING FOR DEAR LIFE!!" but then the other side stayed calm and reassuring.  It would say things like, "You are doing this for a cause bigger than your fear.  You have so many people supporting you.  You CANNOT stop now.  Give into the fear, because it's not going away, but don't let it stop you.  Don't let your fear stop you."

I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.
Give into the fear, but do not let it stop you.
I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.

Pretty soon I didn't hear Caleb's voice anymore but instead heard the people below on the 19th floor landing...the guys there to help me, Nick and most important, my Mom. 

"Nas, look over here!"  I heard my mom say.  She wasn't supposed to be out there, but she snuck out, camera in hand.  I couldn't look at her, I was too scared to look in either direction, cause I didn't want to see how high up I was and lose my nerve.  Soon though, I felt someone's hands on my back.  They helped me down and unhooked me.  I look over and there's a smiling Nick, "Good job, Snazzo!"

Damn him for being so calm.

I was a hot mess, sniffling, crying, shaking, and worst of all....I knew I was going to have to do that whole over the edge/lean back thing again.  UGH.

These guys did not have the awesome bedside manner that Caleb did.  They were all business and getting me hooked up to the new gear.  I glanced in through the 19th floor windows and I saw my family and friends gathering up their belongings to head down to the ground.  I saw Sadira running around topless and wondered where her shirt was.

(I later learned that she was so nervous she threw up all over poor Lauren!! Sorry Lauren.) :(

I kept telling the guys, "I'm really scared!"  but they were ready to get me going.  Later on I talked to Nick about it, and he said it made sense because they want to keep people going.  They don't want you to think of the elevators on the 19th floor as a possible escape their job is to get you back over the edge as quickly as possible.  In hindsight, I see he has a good point.

So here we go again.

This time Nick and I were able to rappel simultaneously because they had two ropes set up.  He got all ready to go, and I tried to get in place quickly.  In my mind I knew I had already done this once, so it shouldn't be so bad, right?


So once again I found myself walking up that damn stepladder.  I asked my new helper (we'll call him Guy #3) if I could hold his arm and his response was, "sure, but it's easier and more stable if you hold the railing."

Fine.  FINE, Guy #3. 

In my head I thought, "Please, someone bring me back Caleb!!!!"

Guy #3 was once again coaxing me on the lean back.  I thought I was doing pretty well, but then his voice interrupted my thoughts and he said, "Nas, you're gonna have to let go of the railing."

Alright. FINE.  FINE!!!!!!  Good Lord, what more do you want from me, Guy #3!?!?!  I'm already crying and shaking, the only thing left is to pee my pants.

(SIDENOTE:  THANK GOD I did not pee my pants. WHEW!)

I looked to my left and saw that Nick had to start going down (he could only really hang out on the side of the building for so long, waiting for me). So he was about 10 feet below.  There was one big lip on the side of the building that I had to clear, so I jumped it and got my feet under me.  I had six large windows to clear before I had just building in front of me, so I focused on navigating the windows. 

I had to focus on something because I was petrified.

The whole time I heard so many different things going on around me.  I heard the guys in my radio coaxing me on, telling me I was doing it, and to just keep going.  I heard Nick several feet below me giving me tips, "Keep your knees together! Just one more window to clear! Lean back further, you're doing a great job!"  and I heard the sound of my own breathing...super shallow and quick.  I reminded myself several times to just stop and take a couple deep breaths so I wouldn't hyperventilate.

I was so so so so scared.  I was still fighting my body's own natural biological response to NOT DO THIS! At one point I lost my footing and swung out about two feet to the right.  I had to fight myself really hard on that one not to panic.  But the loudest sounds I heard were the sounds within my own head.  I kept thinking about all of the positive messages that everyone had sent me...I kept thinking about conquering my fear...I kept thinking about why we were doing this in the first place...

The good part of my Gemini brain started to take over:
Everyone believes in you, just believe in yourself.
I am doing for a cause bigger than my fear.
I am doing this to help those who cannot help themselves.
I am doing this for all of the Gabbys out there.
You can do this.
I am doing this to conquer my fear.
I am doing this for a cause bigger than my fear.

I thought about Gaudenzia's philosophy that I heard earlier in the day:
Until people confront themselves in the eyes and hearts of others, they are running.
Here, together, people can at last appear clearly to themselves-not as the giant of their dreams, nor the dwarfs of their fears – but as individuals, part of a whole, with a share in its purpose.

I kept thinking all of this over and over again.  Soon the other sounds around me quieted and it was just me, my thoughts, and the rope.  I didn't take my eyes off that rope.  I watched the blue rope feed through, and realized that if I used my right hand to push the rope through I could go down a little faster (but not so fast as to lock my asap rope).  So that's what I did.  I heard the guys come over my radio and tell me to keep my right hand behind my back.  I said, "Okay!" but I still kept feeding that rope through.  Now I was making some progress and getting down that building!!!

At one point I got far enough down that I couldn't get my feet to stay on the building.  Even though my feet weren't doing anything other that keeping me facing in the correct direction, I freaked out when I couldn't touch the building.  No matter how far I leaned back, I could only get a toe on the building.  And like he was in my brain, I hear Nick yell up, "Nas, your feet don't have to touch! Just sit in your harness and keep going." 

So I did.  I let my feet hang and kept going down.  At one point I asked Nick if I was halfway there yet and said yes, definitely.  A few minutes later I heard him yell, "fifty more feet!"  At that point I cautiously looked to my left and then to my right.  When I looked to my right I saw everyone down below cheering me on.  I could heard them yelling for me and I heard Sadie's screams of, "Go Mommy!"  I remembered what Guy #1 had said alll the way back at the top about stopping for a second to look around and enjoy the view, but in that moment, I didn't want to enjoy anything except the ground beneath my feet!  And seeing my baby down below made me go even faster.

So I booked it and I was still just as scared as I was standing on the side of that building as I was when I was hanging 50 feet above the ground.  And when I hit the ground I wanted to hug everyone I saw, and I think I did.  The guys helping to unhook me got lots and lots of hugs.

From that point everything was a blur.  I knew that biologically there was so much going on inside, but I honestly felt like I had taken some kind of mind altering drug I had such a heightened awareness.  Within seconds of becoming unhooked there was a camera and microphone in my face.  I remember telling him why I did it, that Gabby was my motivation and that I was so so scared, but that this cause was bigger than my fear. I answered a couple more of his questions but all I wanted to do was hug my kiddo, who was in Lauren's arms looking at me like I was a superhero.

The way Sadie was looking at me, made it pretty much all worth it.  She just kept saying, "Mommy, you went down the building!!"  I guess I didn't think she could really comprehend the whole thing, but she did and she was so proud! 

I remember seeing my mom, and Ginger, and Nick eating a cupcake and Lauren and Rene, and my neighbor Tassie, who I hadn't seen before I started my rappel, so I didn't realize she had made it.

"Hey look, there's Tassie!"  I heard her make some kind of comment in typical Tass form about being unemployed so what the hell else was she going to do that day?  So I ordered her to hug me, and then hugged everyone I saw.  We had to return our equipment back up to the 23rd floor.  I wish I could've gone out there and hugged Caleb and told him how much of a help he was, but he was busy hoisting someone else off the side of the building.

Poor Sades was still sick for the rest of the day and juuust as I got her fastened into her carseat she puked...four more times.  UGH.  Seems her nerves and all of the excitement of the day just got to her, poor little munchkin.  As I stated before in this blog, I'm normally a major puke-a-phobe and freak out at the sight of puke.  I don't know if it was because I felt so badly for her, or because I had just faced a fear MUCH scarier than puke, but all I know is without missing a beat, I grabbed the first thing I saw (which happened to be the Over the Edge t-shirt from my gift bag) and was using it to catch and sop up puke.  Yeah.  REALLY NICE.

So in a way I conquered two fears, huh?

I have more to say about this experience but this blog entry is already miles long so I'll stop for now.  I'll leave you with one last parting shot...this was the view from the 19th floor, a shot that my Mom took.


Jennie M said...

Congrats, Nas! What an amazing accomplishment!! YOU DID IT!

Lindsey said...

I was having heart palpitations just READING this!!! Incredible story and the best part is - YOU NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!!! LOL

Dawn said...

Love it!

Anonymous said...

I am so incredibly proud of you. You are so fantastic and I am soooooo happy that you experienced it. I cried as you got to the ground and I sat here and cried as I re-read your story. Think of all the Gabbys and all the little Sadies that you are helping as they rebuild their lives and their families. That is soooo worth it -- even if you feel like you are going to pee your pants :-)

Go Team! said...

Sooo proud of you!
You confronted your fear; you raised money and awareness for a great organization; and you showed yourself how strong you are.
You rocked it Mama!!!

Mom said...

Nas I am so proud of you! I cannot even describe it. Your act was so brave and your writing is so beautiful and profound. I miss my sister beyond belief so much so it hurt too much at times. She has to be smiling down on you. She has to be so happy to have been honored this way with an act of faith and bravery.

Denise O'Brien said...

Nas - this is an incredible story and you are an incredible woman! Congratulations on your achievement and for what you have done for the cause.
(from your mom's friend Denise)

Helen Hemler Bennett said...

Congrats....great story, I'm proud of you. I'm a friend of your mom's from elementary school & high school. I was over your grandparent's house all the time so I knew Gabby.

*jess* said...

Great accomplishment for a great proud of you! And your story telling is just...captivating from the first word. <3

lauren said...

congratulations on overcoming your fear and highlighting such a wonderful cause and mission.
your story made my heart race...and i am just a reader! i could never imagine being in your shoes [or harness!] as you leaned over that ledge.
congratulations x 1000!!! :)

Amelia said...

I really need to stop crying in my office. It's very unprofessional. You certainly did it! Love the pictures, too. You are awesome.

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