Monday, August 29, 2016

Tamara on Acrophobia and Desensitization Therapy

Hey everyone! Today I want to welcome the lovely Tamara Narayan to my blog as part of her blog tour! Take it away, Tamara! 

 I'm Looking Down! Acrophobia and Desensitization Therapy

Image: zerega

A donkey follows a huge, green ogre across a crumbling wooden bridge like the one pictured above, but over boiling lava instead of a river. The ogre advises the trembling donkey to keep his head up, but alas, a wooden slat falls away under his hooves, and the poor animal shrieks, “Shrek, I’m looking down!”

Approximately 2% of the population suffers from acrophobia, or an irrational fear of heights. Twice as many women are affected than men. (I couldn't find the stats for donkeys.) While most people feel a twinge of fear gazing down into the Grand Canyon or at the apex of a roller coaster, someone with acrophobia may have a full blown panic attack a few steps up a ladder.

Image: uckhet

Vertigo is not another word for acrophobia. Rather, it is the sensation of movement (of the person or objects around them) when no movement has occurred. Vertigo can be triggered by looking down from a high place, which explains the confusion between the terms. For example, I'd get dizzy walking across a grate like the one below or any high place where I’m responsible for my balance. But looking out of the window of a plane? No problem. In fact, I prefer a window seat. So I experience vertigo even though I’m not acrophobic.

Image: Max Morley

In my short story, One Step Away, Darryl James' life is ruled by extreme acrophobia. This affliction started early, when he was abandoned on top of the monkeybars while his entire class, including the teacher, went inside after recess. (This actually happened to me.)

Image: David K

As an adult, things only get worse. His wife leaves him after enduring things like hanging Christmas lights herself while six months pregnant and Darryl quitting his job after a departmental transfer to the third floor.

When his acrophobia puts his son’s life in danger, Darryl seeks help from a psychiatrist. Since he has a heart condition, medication or flooding (doing something extreme like jumping out of a plane) are not viable treatments. Instead, Darryl undergoes desensitization therapy or a gradual exposure to greater and greater heights.

Image: Thomas Hawk

These days, Darryl’s psychiatrist might use virtual reality technology, but this story is set a bit too far in the past for that. To celebrate the end of his therapy, Darryl travels to a city with skyscrapers, where he’ll experience a relapse at a pivotal moment in history. To find out what happens, check out Heart Stopper and Other Stories, available at

One dreams of feathers, wings of might
Yet experiences terror at a meager height.
This phobia takes every dear thing away
Then, in a brutal twist, saves a dark summer’s day.

About the author: From doling out movie popcorn to flinging smelt to penguins, Tamara Narayan’s career took the “road less traveled”. It veered off into a land of integrals and other strange things while she taught college level math, but these days she’s cruising the fiction highway. In addition to the Heart Stopper collection, her short story Scrying the Plane is in the IWSG anthology Parallels: Felix Was HereFind her at

If you'd like to explore whether you have acrophobia or not, check out this YouTube video of a guy climbing a tower over 1700 feet high. Can you watch without flinching or feeling butterflies in your stomach?

Thanks for stopping by, Tamara! Anyone else Acrophobic? I know I am. When I was a kid, I was so scared of heights that I couldn't even comfortably stand on a choir bench. Which sucked, because I was tall, so I always got put on the highest one. 


  1. I don't have a true fear of heights. My issue is, when I stand in a high place, say on the edge of Grand Canyon, I have the urge to leap off because I have a strong urge to fly. I know this is irrational, that I will fall to my death if I do. So I'm both fascinated and terrified of heights.

  2. You have described my problem well. I have anxiety and panic attacks on escalators. At about 2, I tumbled down one in the Macy's Department store in NYC. I sweat on normal stairs and feel as if I will fall. I've never been able to walk up any bleachers and I could never sit in a circular theater at the top.

    Good post!

  3. No fear of heights, but not a fan either. Especially planes. Something goes wrong in the air and you're pretty much a goner.

  4. I don't love heights but I'm not terrified. Sounds like a great premise for your book.

  5. Just looking at these images terrifies me. No ledges that are high off the ground, please.

  6. Like Bish, I feel the urge to jump, if I'm high up. I also get vertigo. And for the past few years, I also can't watch other people in high places - like people up ladders, because I get dizzy. I have to look away!

    Basically, I'm a mess :-)

  7. Fear of heights? Wait, isn't that just common sense? My palms get sweaty just thinking about it:)

  8. Thanks for hosting me, Misha. I find it interesting that some who commented feel the urge to jump. That is terrifying to me!

  9. I'm not scared of heights but I have been known to get nervous.

    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

  10. I have had a few experiences of vertigo. But mainly with standing high on poorly built buildings. There was a mall with horribly built stairs and the building was pretty uneven. Upstairs I had more than one case of vertigo when I looked down. I think my poor body was confused at how high it exactly was. Interesting tale on dealing with fear of heights. Congrats Tamara.

  11. Tamara, the French have a name for it. L'appel du vide, or the call of the void.

    So apparently it's a thing for some people. ;-)

  12. I have a fear of falling, but not heights. I wonder if that's the same thing? The bridge in Shrek definitely would have given me a problem.

  13. "The call of the void?" Now that sounds like a great title for a scary story! Thanks, Misha.

  14. Yeah, I definitely have a fear of heights, though I'll admit it's not severe. I can handle a window seat on a plane, and even go one a roller coaster, (though they are getting harder to handle) but get me five steps up a ladder and I'm hanging on for dear life. The story sounds interesting. I'm curious what causes his relapse.

  15. There's no way I could do that.
    I get vertigo at heights, and for some reason thought that was a symptom of my fear of heights, but actually I think it starts it off, sometimes.

    At the Grand Canyon, my husband and daughters went around the railing and out onto an overhanging rock with a bunch of other crazy people - I was already having vertigo and I started hyperventilating. When they did that, I walked/stumbled away to a point where I couldn't see the canyon, sat down by a tree, and almost threw up.
    And yet, airplanes don't scare me at all, and even some gondola rides are okay with me. I try to work on my fear of heights by climbing short distances (you know, 4-8 feet off the ground), but that's about it.

    Anyway, your story intro definitely go my interest! And now, I'll scroll down to update day. :)

  16. I'm okay with heights if I feel secure with where I am. I can look out the windows of tall building or airplanes, and over the edges of cliffs and such if I have something to hold on to. But I can't do roller coasters or even ferris wheels. Some bridges are a maybe.

  17. Very interesting. I didn't ever think to wonder if the fear of heights had name. Though I do get trembly, it hasn't stopped me so far!


Thanks for commenting! I love to read what you think.

Feel free to ignore the check-box saying "Prove you're not a robot." My word verification is off, but I moderate comments to posts older than two weeks.