The Intentional Expat

Living Your Best Life Abroad

Facing my Fears: The Long Overdue End to my 30/30 Bday Challenge

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In honor of turning 30 back on September 1st, I decided to spend 30 days doing one new thing a day. While the challenge ended almost two months ago, I am only now getting around to blogging about the last two days. Turns out being 30 is keeping me quite busy! But since it came to a close with a fairly “blogworthy” Day 30 challenge, I had to share it here. Read on to find out what the last day of my challenge had in store. 

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Day 29: First time staying at “El Centro Gallego’s” Tuesday night swing dancing party. While spending a Tuesday dancing the night away down the street from my house is nothing new, I usually call it a night around 11:30 or midnight meaning that I’m always the first of my friends to leave. My self-imposed curfew made sense last year when I had to get up at 6:30am for work on Wednesday morning, but this year my schedule has changed and on this particular Wednesday I could have slept in until noon if I’d liked. So I decided to stick around bouncing and twirling to the music until the dance floor completely cleared out and they turned on the lights. Less people on the dance floor means less competition for dancing with the “leaders” (usually the guys) so I had a chance to dance with several guys that I’d never danced with before…they definitely kept me on my toes!

 

IMG_20140910_182023Day 30: First time on Madrid’s “Teleferico” gondola. When I first started my 30/30 birthday challenge, I wanted to do something “epic” on Day 30. Skydiving was brought up as the ultimate way to conclude the challenge and although it is definitely on my “bucket list,” I knew that this wasn’t the right time…yet. But a more feasible and less expensive thing on my bucket list seemed like the perfect way to wrap up the 30 days: take a ride on Madrid’s “Teleferico” gondola. You might be surprised to know that after five years in Madrid there are still touristy sorts of things that I have yet to do, but there are endless opportunities of new things to see and do in this city and this particular activity hadn’t been checked off my list for one reason in particular: I am terrified of heights.

But this fear of heights has kept me from missing out on some wonderful opportunities, most notably going up the Eiffel Tower both of the times I visited Paris. While having fears is an ok and normal part of life, when these fears keep you from doing things you’d like to do, then it’s a problem. The 30/30 challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to face this fear and show it who was boss. Which is how I found myself heading to Casa de Campo on this particular day and making the long walk towards the Teleferico.

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As the gondola came into sight, my initial feelings of excitement and and being proud of myself quickly turned into anxiety as my palms began to sweat, my heart began to beat rapidly and my head began to spin. What had I been thinking? I couldn’t possibly go into one of those cars! I suddenly recalled all of the moments when I have lost faith in Spain’s government, health care system and education system and started wondering if maybe today would be the day I’d also lose faith in this country’s management of this gondola ride as my car became detached from the cable and went plummeting to the ground due to an employee who had either been drinking too much beer on his lunch break or who didn’t find any reason to take his job seriously since his employer was paying him 100 euros/month. Thankfully, I was able to see that these stereotypes and paranoid thoughts were largely influenced by the fact that my body had sprung into fight or flight mode. What hadn’t changed however, was my belief that this was an important fear to face, so I continued on in the direction of the entrance. After expressing my fears to several of the employees and being reassured that it was not scary and that no one had fallen out of the sky since 1964 (I later learned that it wasn’t actually built until 1967), I got into the car ready to head towards the other side of the city.

Or at least that was the plan. Until the door was closed and I was stuck in a tiny box with all of my anxiety and suddenly felt less confident in my ability to survive the onslaught of adrenaline and racing thoughts that were going to be my only company for the next eleven minutes. This is when I realized my mistake, which I would encourage any of you reading this to not make. Do not face a fear or phobia for the very first time all alone. I’d let my embarrassment of my fear of heights cloud my judgement and had gone on this mission to embrace the terrifying experience of soaring high above Madrid all on my own.

So I knocked on the window and asked the worker who had just closed the door to please come and let me out. I’d explained to him that I’d changed my mind. Whereas years ago, I may have just gone home feeling defeated (but also relieved), I’m now a psychologist and I know that if you don’t confront something you’re afraid of then your fear will only get stronger. This is especially true if you’re feeling panic sensations. The worst thing you can do is to run the other direction. So there I was, feeling undeniably anxious, but completely aware that I was going to have to get on that gondola one way or another. Thankfully, just then the solution walked up beside me in the form of two Scottish study abroad students who let me hop in their car with them.

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As we made our way across the city, I told them all about the 30/30 challenge and how I was trying to treat my own phobia, but hadn’t thought it through very well and I thanked them for being part of my treatment plan. This entire conversation happened as I held a death grip on the pole in the center of the car and focused on taking deep breaths. I did manage to relax enough to peer out the window a few times and snap some pictures. Because, what good would it be to conquer my fear if I didn’t get to see some of the breathtaking (literally) views?

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When I arrived at the end of the ride at  Rosales park, I hopped out of the car relieved to be on solid ground again. Facing your fears is a lot of work, both on a physical and psychological level. However, if your fears are holding you back from doing something that’s important to you then it’s absolutely worth it to rise to the challenge and start working on overcoming them. You never know what you might learn during the experience. If I hadn’t gone on the Teleferico that day, I may never have learned that this park is called “Rosales” because it’s home to an expansive rose garden that’s free to enter.

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If there’s anything I learned from my thirty days of thirty new things, it was that it’s called a challenge for a reason. It’s hard to find time amidst the day to day grind to do something new.

Turning 30 can be an intimidating and scary moment in life. Are you spending your days doing what you’d always hoped? Have you accomplished everything you’d always thought you would? One of my personal goals in life is to age gracefully and as the smile lines around my eyes become more and more defined as the days go by and I find myself unable to stay up past 2am, I realize just how hard of a challenge this is going to be. But I think that part of the secret is to not stay so attached to the physical manifestations of everything. While I can, and do, take proactive steps to slow the process, there is no denying that my body will slowly deteriorate as the years go by. But what doesn’t have to deteriorate is my zest for learning, my appreciation for life and my sense of understanding of how this life thing works. If we are stuck on looking a certain way or achieving a very specific goal, then we miss out on the chance to learn from the ups and downs that life inevitably throws our way. I’m so far from figuring it all out, but I’m reassured by the fact that I’ve got a lot of birthdays and chances to make mistakes the hard way  ahead of me. And hopefully as all those years tick by, I’ll be expanding upon that remarkable thing that has hope of getting better as we age…wisdom. 

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Author: Melissa

Born in the rainy, green Northwestern corner of the United States, Melissa relocated to the almost-always-sunny city of Madrid, Spain five years ago. After getting her master's degree, traveling to places her friends at home drooled about, falling in love with a Spaniard, and having her heart broken by said Spaniard, it's safe to say that she's learned firsthand about the less than glamorous side of living abroad. Thankfully, she gets to use this experience, along with her professional expertise, in her work as a mental health therapist in Madrid where she helps other expats learn to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of living abroad. This blog is designed to be informative and is in no way intended to serve as a substitute for therapy.

4 thoughts on “Facing my Fears: The Long Overdue End to my 30/30 Bday Challenge

  1. Wow! That sounds like challenging challenge! Haha.. I don’t know if I could do it. Exciting that you are.

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  2. that was wonderful to read and the pictures were great. You made me think about my life

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  3. Hola Guapa!
    What an inspiring story about recognizing how much a community of support can help one transcend one’s fears. Good for you.
    I didn’t know about the teleferico when I was in Madrid last fall (post-Camino), but will note it for next time.
    Thanks for visiting my blog too 😉
    Hasta luego,
    Amit

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  4. What a fantastic idea! I’d love to do something like this one day.

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