Wobbling knees, shaking hands, fear of death—for my last week of facing my fears, I decided to go for broke. There were little things at the beginning of the week: I tried raw octopus (gross), I got into a bear fight (the alcoholic kind), and I didn’t work out when I didn’t feel like it (I’m a tad OCD). But the really interesting challenges came later in the week.
Dying My Hair Brown
Like most girls, my hair is part of my identity. I’ve had it long, but mostly short, and it’s always some shade of blond. Always. Even during that one month in college when I thought I was a punk because my boyfriend of the minute had a spike through his chin.
It’s safe to say that I’ve always viewed myself through that light-haired lens. And I liked that identity. I liked that security officers always trusted me on sight and that I maintained a part of my San Diego roots even as a staunch San Franciscan. It’s also safe to say that I was afraid if I dyed my hair dark I would lose a big part of me that made me—well, me.
Thank goodness, I’m rational enough to know that hair does not make a person. So I made an appointment with my stylist (and quarterly best friend) Scotty, looked up sample photos and tried to quell my nerves as I walked into the studio and announced, “We’re going to dye my hair brown today!”
“Fun!” was Scotty’s response. “Are you ready?”
“I think so.” I paused, nervously waiting for Scotty’s approval.
“Good. I think it’ll look really good on you.”
For some reason, that simple sentence made me feel more at ease. But as I sat in his chair, flipping through different pictures of brown-haired girls, they all seemed to have a different skin tone than I did. What if this looks terrible? The road back from brown to blond is going to be expensive.
I told myself to just relax and trust it would work out fine.
“Do you see anything you like?” I could tell Scotty was nervous to make a confirmed blond dark.
“Not really—can I just tell you what I’m thinking?”
“Sure.” He didn’t look sure.
“I obviously want it a brown that looks good with my skin tone, but I don’t want it mousy and I don’t want it maroon or red. I want a rich, chocolate brown that shines and has dimension.”
I felt like I was asking for the world but Scotty just nodded and went off to go mix my color.
The first layer was a toner that came out an unnatural red (the color of superheroes) and I’m not going to lie, I kind of liked it. I almost changed my mind and asked if I could keep it, but as Scotty wheeled over the tray of dying brushes, the look on his face was that of a five-year-old on Christmas. I couldn’t take that away from him.
So I sat, he painted, and when I plopped down in front of the mirror after the shampoo, Scotty removed my towel with the flourish of a magician. I was floored. I loved it. It was a rich, berry-almost-black color, and it made my hazel eyes pop.
“So what do you think?” Scotty’s eyes were hopeful.
“I think I might be a brunette,” I said as a huge smile spread across my face.
“I need you to scoot your butt over to the edge.”
I was sitting on a narrow metal track, hundreds of feet above a river and waterfall and looked up at this blond 20-year-old kid like he had told me to chop off my right thumb.
“Why?” I asked as he finished Velcro-ing my ankles to a bungee cord. Even though I had paid to bungee jump, it hadn’t occurred to me that the only way off this random bridge in the middle of nowhere was “down” (so to speak). The suggestion of getting closer to that aim made my hands and feet tingle with fear.
“How else are you going to get outside of the railing?” He was trying to be patient.
“Why do I need to get outside of the railing?” My brain was clearly in disbelief of what was happening.
“So you can jump off. Do you see a door?” His words were teasing, but his face said, “You know why you’re here, right?” In my silence, he glanced at my feet adorned with flat knee-high boots.
“Do those slide off?”
My entire body froze. “What do you mean, ‘do those slide off?’ I have no idea! I’ve never tried!” Why are you asking me this now??
“Well, let’s re-wrap them, just in case.”
As he tightened the harness’s hold on my ankles, my nerves gave way to genuine panic. What if the rebound causes my feet to slip right through the harness? Those rocks look big—and hard. I would break into a million pieces. Whose idea was this?
“Alright, ready to go?”
I swallowed a gag. “Do I have a choice?”
“We’ve got to get everyone in before dark, so I need you to scoot your butt to the edge.” The blond kid’s boss called from somewhere over his shoulder. Obviously he wasn’t as patient as the kid.
I looked over the railing at the forest faded with autumn and the setting sun.
Well, if I’m going to die, at least I’ll see something beautiful before I go.
With weak knees and shaking hands, I dipped my body under the railing and stood facing the two tour operators.
“OK, now you need to turn around to face out.” The blonde’s voice was calm and steady.
“I hate this,” I whined, as I maneuvered my body.
“OK, now extend your arms.”
“What?!” Extend my arms? You must be crazy.
“You need to extend your arms so that when we count down, and get to ‘one,’ all you need to do is let go.”
Right. “All I need to do.” Screw you.
Upon extending my arms (with a death-grip on the railing), I realized I felt surprisingly secure. So secure, I was convinced I could hang out there all day. And I tried to.
“All right everyone,” the boss called to rest of the group, “We’re counting Lauren down!”
Amid cheers, hoots, and hollers, I heard, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” And then—nothing. I bent my knees like I was going to jump, but nothing happened. My body wasn’t working. I looked at the tour operators in terror.
“You know you only get two countdowns, right? And then you lose your place in line so that someone else can jump.”
Crap. I can’t leave here without doing this.
So I gritted my teeth, looked at the blond and said, “OK, I’m ready.”
He had me loosen my grip on the railing and move my hands so that the slightest twitch would send me soaring. And then came the countdown. Then once again, nothing happened. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t let go.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw blond hair moving towards me and as he brushed my hands, I felt my fingers release. The river rushed toward me and I heard screaming, then silence, as my voice caught in my throat.
As fast as the river came, it went, as I rebounded almost as high as my original position. Then I was falling again, hurtling toward rocks, water, and imminent death. Then again, I was high.
The rebounds seemed to last an eternity and when I finally hung upside down like butchered beef, waiting to be lowered, I allowed my limp body to move. I stifled a cry of joy with my hands and mentally tried to stop my right foot from shaking.
Once freed from my harness I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I’m never doing this again.”
We fear what we don’t know, right? Well, sometimes experience leads to fear, but for the most part, once we’re familiar with something, we see it’s really not that bad. That’s why I wanted to do this challenge. I knew that some of my fears were irrational or misplaced, but I couldn’t help the overwhelming feelings of anxiety they would generate. So I wanted to stick my face in the fire.
I wasn’t expecting to end the month fearless and I didn’t think I’d be invincible the second the calendar turned November 1. But I was sure I’d end October a little more self-assured. And I did.
I learned that some fears are like a Band-aid that just needs to get ripped off and some (like my fear of heights), need repeated work. I found that every time I confronted one of my fears, its grip on my chest relaxed a little. I also learned to have patience with myself. Once I stopped beating myself up about this anxiety, or that worry, I was able to breathe through my discomfort and almost enjoy the process.
Do I think some fear is healthy? Sure. But only if you use it as a growing opportunity and not an excuse to live your life with shorter horizons.
Thank you for providing me the platform to live these moments.
Lauren Hargrave is a freelance writer, former finance stiff and a fan of all things funny. She copywrites to pay the bills and has contributed to the The Atlantic, Active.com, and various business and technology blogs. She also finds time to tell you funny stories on her personal blog at WriterLauren.com.More from this Author