Embracing Fear and Living Life

L“If you can’t beat fear, just do it scared”; I have been in a continuous cycle of repeating this mantra since my trip to Red Rocks Canyon a few weeks ago. On my second day in Red Rocks, we decided to hike Turtlehead Peak, which would prove as strenuous to both myself and boyfriend. Having a rare form of congenital heart disease, there is not much research on how altitude would affect oxygen levels, especially given my approach was a 2,000-foot elevation gain hike. It was a consistent scramble, which proved to be a challenge for my heart and lungs. Upon reaching the summit, I see Dave standing there, his arms in a “V”, and I sprinted uphill as fast as I could towards him. I couldn’t believe I made it. I was on top of the world at 6,500 feet, amazed at everything below and around me. For 15 minutes, I had the most amazing view I have probably ever seen. The best part about it was that I had to earn it!


I finally sat down up there, pulled out an orange, and that is when I realized something was wrong. My feet started tingling, I became light-headed and slightly confused. I was in the beginning stages of hypoxia; something I have never experienced before. Before I could process what I was going through, I calmly let Dave know I needed to head back down and why. I grabbed my things, and made the ascent down about 1,000 feet or so before finally catching my breath. I was finally at a safe altitude that allowed my body to absorb and disperse oxygen efficiently throughout my whole body. I was warned about this being a possibility, but had never experienced it before. Then again, I have never pushed my heart this much, especially at an elevation higher than slightly above sea level. As I stood there, looking up at the peak we had just summited, I broke down. Water flooded from my eyes and I allowed myself to feel every emotion. There was happiness, defeat, frustration… and fear. I worked so hard to overcome heart disease and the PTSD associated to it. I had gone so long without any real type of medical emergency that this took the wind out of my sails for a few minutes. I wiped my tears away and realized that although this incident took place, it wasn’t due to weakness, but strength. I was strong enough to get to the top of that mountain. This unforeseen incident put a fire in my soul to return, and that is exactly what I will do. I will train for the altitude and try again next year. I’m not doing this to beat the fear, but to see more. I want to stand on top of the mountain and have more time to take everything in. I don’t know if I will succeed, but it’s worth trying.


Since that day, I have experienced more anxiety than I have in years. It has not been every day, but close. This week has been much better, as I have not even thought about my fears. Rock climbing is and always will be therapy for me. I climbed on days that I was scared and worried about my heart. I was afraid that I was becoming more sick, and the hypoxia on top of the mountain was proof of that. My fear almost got in the way of a rock climbing session last week. I took my shoes off, stared at the rock wall and told my boyfriend I didn’t feel I was capable of climbing that day. My heart was pounding, I struggled to catch my breath and wanted to throw in the towel. I was afraid. It was at that point I closed my eyes and remembered why I was there climbing in the first place. The rock wall is the only place that I don’t feel sick. It is the one place where I can be healthy, forget about my heart problems and become stronger. I couldn’t beat my fear in that moment, but decided to climb any way. I set my eye on a difficult problem, one I have never attempted and decided to just go for it. I was refusing to allow my place of healing to become a place of fear. I put my hands on the holds, worked through each maneuver, then the final leap (dyno) to the top. One hand hit first, then the second. I held onto that final hold for about one second, lost my grip and fell about 15 feet onto the mat below me. I had the biggest smile on my face and my heart was calm. I stopped worrying and climbed hard that day. By the end of my session, there were no issues with my heart. I realized that I had been in my head the whole time. And know what? That is okay. I experienced something scary weeks prior, and rather than coping through putting myself in a bubble, I chose to battle it in fear. I did it scared. This whole healing process from sickness to health has been a battle waged in spite of fear. Life is worth living and I have come too far to let that go. PTSD may always be a part of me, but it is no longer taking over who I am; it hasn’t for years.

You may be afraid of life due to medical circumstances, but the fight is always worth the battle. None of us may ever overcome our fear, but I think that is healthy. This fear should ignite our hearts to fight harder to experience life to the best of our ability. This is the first week since my incident at Turtlehead Peak that I have not had to remind myself of that mantra. Rather than focusing on the negative, we should all take every moment in our day to focus on what we can do. And today, my heart is still beating for a reason, so I’m going to climb. What choice will you make?


Molly Hemphill

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