Water is my nemesis. It is my oldest and strongest fear, one which had been reinforced as an adult. When I was very young I took swimming lessons and failed 'yellow' because I refused to put my head under water. I was terrified of not being able to breath, and even splashing water on my face resulted in gasping fear. I later made it past 'red', but have always been a very weak swimmer, and to this day am afraid of swimming without holding my head up and out of the water. I still need to hold my nose when I jump in. After a bad scare a few years ago, I was afraid of even venturing into water past my shoulders.
This is a childhood fear. When I was little my sisters and I used to go to a park near our house, and there was a twirling swing. Being the youngest and smallest, when my sister used to spin us around, she held my swing because it was the lightest and easiest with which to run in circles. When she released me, my swing would suddenly soar up higher than all the others until I could almost touch tree branches. In my little imagination I saw my swing breaking and me soaring across the park to my death. It terrified me. Eventually I started refusing to go in twirly swings, and never could enjoy normal swings without that twinge of fear and picture of the chain breaking and me sailing to my death.
I was fine with avoiding these things until I went to Southeast Asia. While there I REALLY wanted to see the view from the bell tower of a church, however, that would involve climbing up a rope to the roof (no guard rails). The rope climbing was fun because it was in the tower, but once up there I was, literally, on the roof. Scary? YES. But the view was amazing, and I felt like a superhero once my shaky legs were on solid ground again. That was the point in time when I decided to overcome my fear of heights, a little bit at a time. From that I went climbing with Chris in Korea and even jumped on the glass floor of the CN Tower. After every one of these major accomplishments I felt amazing!
My fear of water was enhanced while traveling in the Philippines, and I decided that I could not let it cripple me or I would never enjoy water again. I forced myself to swim with a life jacket while in Malaysia (the water was dead calm). I braved choppy water in Europe (with the help of my friend Allieren and an inflated bed). I decided to face my fear head on. Chris and I decided to go on holiday in Vietnam, and while there we took an open water SCUBA course. I panicked while we practiced in the pool (when you have to go under the water and learn how to breath with the mask), but kept trying. I found that every time I had to go from the surface to underwater, I would freak out inside and have to just allow myself to panic-breath while I held myself face-down. Eventually my breathing would slow down and I would dive. Soon I started to really enjoy myself! Learning to dive showed me that I CAN enjoy being under water. So I decided to boogey-board. I had one paralyzing moment of complete and utter fear when I was under, breathed in some salt water and couldn't find the bottom with my feet, but after crying and shaking for a little bit once I found the surface (which was after the wave had passed) I went back in and enjoyed myself!
Now, I would say that, although I am still wary of heights, as long as I'm on the ground or in a building (no skydiving for me yet!), I'm not afraid. I can finally thoroughly enjoy myself in high-up places. I am still very cautious of choppy water/waves, but I KNOW that if I can calm down, I WILL enjoy myself and even forget my fear for a little while!
All of this is to say that fears don't have to stick with you. I have learned to love climbing to high places, looking out from the CN tower, SCUBA diving, boogey boarding, swimming, and riding on the back of a motorcycle. Six or seven years ago I would have loved none of those things. I still get scared and panic sometimes, but the feeling of accomplishment I have afterward is my driving force. I feel amazing. I feel strong, brave, and ... well... like a hero.
In closing, check out this video. Chris sent it to me and it reinforces how I feel about my fears.