Fear Factor

A scaredy-cat tries to embrace adventure.


I stood at the edge of the platform, eyeing the gorge in front of me. The harness around me seemed to melt, turning from sturdy webbing into flimsy filament. “You don’t have to trust me; trust the equipment,” coaxed Ralph, my ziplining instructor.

I was on a tour of the Princeville Ranch on Kaua‘i’s North Shore, trying out the new sport of ziplining. Popular in New Zealand and Australia, it’s catching on here, too. I warned Ralph, “I’m with HONOLULU Magazine, so if I die this will make the news!” He patiently waited. But it was greed that got me to budge—I couldn’t bear to waste the $115 I’d paid to pretend I was a cable car.

Ralph, it turns out, was right. Despite feeling like I might need a transplant for my pounding heart, or at least a bucket of red wine, I survived my first zip, sailing above the lau hala trees and landing 150 feet away on the other side of the gorge.

During our tour, my nerves were tested further. “Anyone allergic to bees?” Ralph asked, as we ziplined past a giant nest. We also had to creep over a rope bridge with a puka right in the middle. “Face your fear,” I chanted, treading carefully. I was starting to think I’d signed up for some psycho Outward Bound trip.

Still, I felt less terror and more Tinkerbell each time we crossed a zip line—there were seven, total—and, in the end, I even let Ralph push me off a platform backwards. I wasn’t, to my astonishment, actually scared of heights, bees, wobbly bridges, speeding through the air or looking silly in a helmet. How could a total wuss be fine with all this?

The author, confronting her fears. photo: George Russell

“There are fears that are rational, and there are fears that are irrational,” says Honolulu-based clinical psychologist Caroline Sakai, Ph.D. “You had checked out the situation and seen that everything worked, so you were able to get over your fear.”

“Fear is a normal part of human experience,” soothes L. Martin Johnson, Psy.D., of the Hawai‘i Center for Psychology. “Phobias are one of the easiest things to treat, but people hardly ever come in for a phobia, because they are generally able to avoid it—they can stay off balconies or away from snakes. Part of treatment is to face the fear, which they do not want to do. They are afraid of the treatment.”

Why deal with fear? “If it becomes an overriding sense,” says Johnson. “If your life has become a horror movie instead of a drama.” To help his clients, “We gently train them to relax in the presence of the thing they are scared of and we keep repeating that.”

One of the most common phobias, Johnson says, involves toilet paper. “A surprising number of people are scared of public restrooms. Sometimes it’s about germs and sometimes it’s a privacy issue.”

See, that makes me feel better already. I may be too skittish to sky dive or sample the fried scorpions, but you know what? At least I can handle the loo.

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Honolulu Magazine June 2019
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