I am deathly afraid of heights.
Whenever I am off the ground, I can’t help but have the irrational worry of falling out of the sky. So, when I found out that I would be joining Larkin Street students on their rock climbing excursion, I started to panic. Rock climbing encompasses everything I fear about heights. Not only would I be off the ground, but I would be off the ground relying on my own athletic ability (of which I have very little). In addition, I learned the rock climbing would be outside on natural rocks, instead of on inside course. On top of that, instead of instructors belaying us (the rope system that keeps you from plummeting), we would all be belaying one another (students and interns). I would be facing my fear of heights in an environment that would also force me to trust people I had only really just met.
My fear of heights, and the recent rock climbing trip, resembles somewhat of my anxiety surrounding the beginning of my time in San Francisco. Even before I left home, my trip was full of panic. Though I had known I was leaving home for months, it had only occurred to me the day before my flight to actually start packing. That same day I had woken up with a completely stuffed nose and congested head, meaning I had a sinus infection. Moreover, I am a nervous flyer (heights!) so having to sit on a plane for 6 hours while dealing with the pain of extreme pressure on my already blocked sinuses seamed dreadful. Everything was off to a rough start. As I did hourly nasal rinses and shoved random articles of clothing into a suitcase, I had the realization that if I was so unprepared for just a flight, how could I be prepared for a whole 2 months. I was scared. Though I have experience with things such as mentoring and tutoring, I did not have any experience working with the particular population at Larkin Street. Though the organization focuses on youth services, the term youth actually means people aged 18-24, something I didn’t even realize until my first day of work. How was I supposed to be an “authority” to people my age and, usually, a little bit older? In addition, I had no experience working with a homeless population entirely. How was I supposed to relate to people when I have no idea what they’re truly going through? I was terrified of being under-qualified and letting people down. It was hard to stop the anxiety from sinking in.
Flash forward and I have been working at the HealthCare Learning Center within Larkin Street Academy the past 3 weeks. This center is a 6-month program for Larkin Street clients to learn about healthcare, with the end goal of having the skills to begin careers in the field. My role within all this has been mainly as a class support; offering additional help to students who may not get the material immediately, helping the instructors research lessons, and just generally listening to the classroom needs. This may sound like a lot, but my actual role day to day hasn’t been entirely consuming. The class is so advanced that they usually don’t need that much assistance, so a chunk of my work has been computer based. Because I wasn’t hyper involved there wasn’t room for me to fail and that put me at ease. I replaced my fear with monotony. I was getting to know students, but more so on a just scratching the surface level. I was comfortable in that I didn’t feel like I could do a lot wrong, but I still felt like an outsider.
When the day for rock climbing came, I was petrified. Even though I knew who all the students in the class were, I didn’t necessarily feel connected to them. I was being pushed further out of my comfort zone. When the instructors asked for the first volunteers, I kept my eyes down and hands firmly at my side. The first person to climb was a student with another intern belaying him. I watched in a combination of nerves and curiosity as they worked as a team. After him, I watched another student climb, this time more curious than anxious. The next person to climb I volunteered to belay for. Being that much closer to the activity and even being a part of it made me realize I had to give it a shot. So once that student came down, it was time for me to go up. As I was strapped into the ropes and went over the safety checks, my hands were shaking. Even though I wanted to try, I was still scared. I took my time in grabbing the first edge and slowly raised my feet off the ground. Inch by inch I climbed higher and higher, until I reached a point where I felt good. I didn’t reach the top of the rock, but I also made it a few feet off the ground. Though that might not sound like much to some, it was a huge accomplishment for myself. As I rappelled down and felt grateful to be on the ground again, I realized what I had done was not as terrible as I thought it would have been. Yes, I was scared, but I was glad I tried. Though it may sound corny, I realized that it was okay to be afraid, I just couldn’t let that fear stop me from doing things. On another note, the act of belaying one another and essentially putting our lives in one another’s hands built trust between the students and myself. We all had to work together, supporting one another, to reach our goals. Experiencing it all as a group I think made us all feel more comfortable and closer. I was able to talk to students who I hadn’t had the chance to get to know before, which was really cool. People were sharing things I don’t think we necessarily would’ve revealed before we had the experience of rock climbing together.
Moving forward, I am taking the lessons I’ve learned and the relationships I have begun to build into my role at Larkin Street. Despite nerves, I will be subbing in for the academics teacher for 3 lessons, all of which we planned together but one that I got more freedom to design. I am also leading another art class with a fellow Duke intern which I am excited to take part in. Though I don’t necessarily know how things will go, and that scares me, I am not letting it stop me from trying.