Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Climb Any Mountain

I enjoy challenging myself, overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. I think it’s important to the growing process and it has really helped empower me and to give memountain a positive sense of self-worth. For example, I used to be terrified to fly. So last year I decided I had enough of that fear and I forced my self to fly 5 different places. Two of those flights I flew alone. This may not seem like a big deal to many people but prior to last year I had only been in a plane 2 times in 38 years. No joke. I was completely freaked out by the idea of it and it was really affecting my life. For one thing you can’t be a skeptical activist and not go to events, so I knew I had to learn to deal and face that fear head on.
On the first flight I started crying on the way to the airport. On the second flight I started crying when I got t o the airport. On the third flight the tears didn’t start till I was on the plane and yeah, you guessed by the 4th flight I was so focused on the awesome place I was going that I didn’t cry at all. Sometimes small accomplishments are just as empowering as the big ones and so on some of the days when I can’t fly to a new city, I go out back and hike up a 2 mile mountain trail. There is a really wonderful feeling when you reach the top and realize that it was your feet and your will-power that got you there.

What obstacles have you overcome that have improved your life and how do you challenge yourself to be better?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Well I spent a lot of time in my mid twenties trying really hard to be more friendly and personable and pleasant and all that fucking bullshit. And people just took advantage of my friendship and help and walked away as soon as I needed help. So I stopped trying to be a “better person” in that regard.

    And now I’m fairly friendless and much much happier. Does that count?

    Oh I do clean more. My place looks really nice. Although that wasn’t so much an obstacle as self whining. Which I can’t imagine counts.

  2. @Amy: SWEET! I have totally overcome my fear of needing other people to be happy.
    (Hey when you put it that way it actually sounds like something.)

    I have actually picked up new sports as an adult too which is exciting and terrifying. All those falls? They hurt a lot less when you are little.

  3. Well, I’m an anti-social teetotaler who used to judge drinkers, and HATED being in bars, at parties, or even just hanging out with people who drink.

    Now I’m partly in charge of organizing a monthly pub night for a skeptical organization of some note, not having missed a single SitP since Rebecca started the event well over a year ago.

    I can’t pretend I’m 100% over my issues… I’m still pretty shy, get drained very easily when around people, and still feel a certain distance between myself and people who do drink — like I can never really be as good a friend to them as their drinkin’ pals can be — but one must look on the bright side.

    I’ve met loads of cool people who I never would have met if I still shunned bars, and I’ve gotten to help promote critical thinking and science, which is always worthwhile.

    Sometimes it just takes a bit of willpower and a bit of courage to see that things you THINK you can’t abide really aren’t as bad as you fear. You don’t have to change who you are or compromise yourself, really. Rather, you’ve just gotta make compromises with the world and see where it takes ya :-P

  4. I faced and questioned everything I thought I knew and everything I believed and trashed it all… and found you guys.

    I don’t know if it’s better than thinking I’ll see my sister or grandmother again, but the rest of it is. And you guys pretty much kick ass.

  5. I’m very happy you beat your fear of flying, Amy. I don’t share it, but I’ve known many that did. It really held them back in their personal and working lives.

    I share Expatria’s issue to a certain degree. I can withstand being in a drinking group for awhile, but I do usually have to end up excusing myself when things start getting too crazy and loud.

  6. I don’t think I’ve really overcome paralyzing fears but I have overcome my negative attitude towards most people. I used to see people in a pretty negative light. I thought that most of them weren’t worth the proteins they were made up of. I realize that while a lot of them have zero capacity for self reflection and don’t see or plan beyond the end of their nose they are still just people trying to figure out how to get though life. I still have problems with the direction I see society taking but I try to just do my best to make a good contribution.

  7. @Expatria: That is awesome! I am always impressed with people who don’t drink and are strong enough to go to bars! I smoked for 20 years and when I quit one of the things I knew I would have to face is being around other smokers and not smoking. It was hard at first but it seems to me to get easier as time goes by.

  8. I had a massive phobia of needles for years. A few years ago I decided enough was enough. I went to give blood, on the basis that backing out of such a charitable thing would make me look (and feel) like an ass, so hopefully my stubbornness would beat my fear. It worked really well! (Well I passed out towards the end but that was low blood pressure rather than fear I think. I can pass out from standing up too fast…)

    On challenging yourself to be better, I think this is quite relevant:

  9. I didn’t get my license until I was 24 years old. I really had no desire to drive, but my job at the time required that I have a license. I had to get a professional driving teacher (NO WAY I was having friends or family teach me — I didn’t trust them to teach me correctly, and I didn’t have any desire to be belittled, even unintentionally, which many adults like to do when they discover a 24 year old can’t (and doesn’t want to) drive). It was scary, I’m not gonna lie. But I did it, and now I can drive — and I’m confident I can drive better than most people, since I was taught by a professional, and not a scared or pissed off parent or friend (I remember when my ex-bf tried to teach me when I was 18 — he spent the entire time making fun of me, so I said fuck you, and stopped).

    So, I learned how to drive, even though I really, really didn’t want to. I didn’t even get a car until Aug 2008, because my current job is much farther away than my previous once — my 20 min. bus ride (one bus) turned into almost two hours, and two buses (which sucks ASS during the summer in Phoenix). I was also being told that if I was late one more time, I’d be fired. So a car I bought. I regret it about half the time, but it is nice not having to rely on the bus anymore, and I have much more time to volunteer and stuff, and keeping my job was ultimately worth it.

    I’d say, however, my biggest challenge that I overcame was moving to Phoenix from my tiny desert town, Parker, AZ, when I was 19 years old. It’s only a 2.5 hour drive away, but Phoenix is a completely different world. I made the decision 2 weeks after my 19th birthday, and two weeks later I was here, living with a girl I had only met once.

    I promised myself then that I would never, ever, ever move back to Parker, which I hated (I hate it much less now, but still have no desire to live there ever again). It was a HUGE struggle, but 9 years later, I am still here, independent and living on my own, even after being nearly knocked on my ass several times. Indeed, part of that struggle was, after living with an abusive boyfriend for 2 years and a lame-o roommate for a year and a half after that, deciding I was never, ever going to have a roommate again. I had to live in some ghetto apartments, but I did it, and I was able to move into a much nicer place that I’m very happy with last October.

    At 19, I promised myself that I would never live in my home town ever again, and at 22 I decided I would never have a roommate ever again. I succeeded in both! I did all this without a car, and without really knowing anyone here. I was from the middle of nowhere, and somehow made it in the “big city” with almost no resources.

    My next challenge is to pay off my car, clear my (small, thankfully) debts, and buy a condo downtown by the time I’m 35. That’s 7 years from now, so I think I can do it. :)

  10. @marilove: I sold my car 3 years ago so I could have some money to start my business. I haven’t driven since. Maybe when I do get a car again I will have to take some brush up driving classes from you!

  11. @Amy: LOL! I briefly thought about moving closer to work, but then I realized I had no desire to live on the West Side of the city, and ideally I wanted to stay in Central Phoenix, if not Downtown itself.

    People are sometimes down-right amazed when they learn I went 8 years without a car in Phoenix, and very independently at that. I think when I had a roommate she gave me exactly two rides the entire year and a half we lived together.

    A lot of people, when they learn I didn’t have a car, would immediately say something like, “Oh, I couldn’t be without a car, I’d HATE having to bum rides!” or, “Wow, I bet you have to bum a LOT of rides!”

    …Yeah, no. I really hated that.

    There’s always this assumption that, if you don’t have a car, you’re somehow immature or unable to take care of yourself.

    I think living in one of the hottest cities in the world and braving public transportation during 115 degree weather and raging storms, all the while living on my own and relying very little on bummed rides, is being damn independent and mature!

    (Some people are very judgey of people who don’t drive. It infuriates me, if you could not tell. :D)

  12. The obstacle that I overcame and completely changed my life is not something that I recommend anyone else to do.

    In 1990 I nearly died.

    For several months I was getting sicker and sicker and I thought that it was just stress related due to a heavy workload and a college video project I was directing at the time. On Earth Day 1990 I collapsed. I never lost consciousness, but I lost all of my energy while in the shower and eventually fell onto the floor and layed there for several minutes.

    When I was able to get myself up I looked into the mirror and did not recognize my reflection. That is a very weird experience. My eyes had sunken in and turned black, my gums had receded, my teeth were yellow, and you could see where the bones attached in my face.

    I had two thoughts at that time: Get Help and Get Camera. To this day I regret not having pictures taken of me during that time. No makeup or visual effect could ever make someone look like that. In my mind I looked like an advanced AIDS patient. To my father I looked like a concentration camp victim. I was in a bad way.

    I got to the doctor and he did a urine test and said that I was diabetic. He then turned to my father and asked if he wanted to take me to the emergency room or if he wanted me to go in an ambulance. That was when I lost it. The only person that I had known with diabetes at that time was an uncle who had died from it.

    I was in the hospital for a week and I was attached to seven IV machines at one point (potassium is a cold burn, btw). Once I was out of the hospital I was able to take control of my diabetes and I have remained in good control of it over the past 20 years.

    Having nearly died I am no longer afraid of death. I certainly don’t want to die any time soon, but I’m not afraid of the possibility of it any longer. Also, since this event happened when I was 20 it was before I was set in my ways and I was able to change my life without it feeling like I was changing my life as I expect it would have felt if it had happened in my 30s.

    Like I said earlier, I certainly don’t recommend nearly dying to change your life, but it definitely changed mine and I am so much happier to not be afraid of what the future may bring.


  13. @marilove: People are definitely judgey of nondrivers. And something else I’ve noticed is people automatically think I’m judging them. Yes I don’t have a car and I bus/walk/use my brain to fold the space time continuum so I don’t have to go into the office but I don’t really care that you have a car that gets a thousand miles to the gallon and you donate to save the slimes llc. I’ve been sans auto for a few years now and luckily people have finally stopped offering to sell me cars cheap (which was the first thing people did) and are now onto assuming that I think I’m a better human being than they are because I’m carless when really I’m just cheap and lazy.

  14. In high school I was a drama kid, but I still maintained a hearty fear of speaking in public. It’s one thing to get on stage and say someone else’s words, but another entirely to say your own. I had a public speaking class coming up and I was really starting to worry about it. The idea of my being afraid really bugged the crap out of me, so I confronted it head on. With 24 hours planning time I wound up on stage for amateur night.

    But the best obstacle I’ve ever overcome? that’d be faith. I was raised in a fairly liberal church and it wasn’t until I was about 15 that I questioned it. My dad encouraged me to find my own way knowing full well that I’d be back to the flock soon enough. That didn’t happen.

    I evaluated a lot of religious texts and found myself amazed by how similar they all were, how they did not jive with the world around me, and how I could not in my heart accept them. It was a painful process, and it took a long time before I’d even admit that I was maybe not sure anymore.

    Today I’m a happy, mostly well balanced atheist. My abandoning my faith caused me to open my eyes and see the amazing “miracle” all around me, but compelled me to find out more and more about it. Instead of just lumping it all into “Oh, God did that I guess…” I began to understand the many processes that were in play all around me, and now I live my life so often truly amazed by the world.

  15. I don’t know that it counts as overcoming anything, but for years I was absolutely terrified of getting laid-off. I could not imagine how anyone could continue to function without a job and a paycheck. I knew people who did, I just figured I was different and I’d dissolve into tears and then spend the rest of my life lying around the house in a dirty bathrobe while my unemployment checks slowly ran out.

    I got laid-off last October. I didn’t dissolve into tears, I was oddly amused by the whole process. And as soon as I got home that day, I started sending out resumes. I got lucky and got another job about halfway through November.

    Still don’t like the thought of being out of work, but now I know it’s survivable and I don’t disintegrate.

    Does that count?

    And Derek – WOW

  16. Overcoming my religion was a big deal for me. Truly some grief involved and I won’t say it’s been a plus for my marriage, but being rid of superstitions, guilt and some pathetic group think has been great otherwise.

    @marilove: My mother in law didn’t learn how to drive until she was in her late 30’s and she’s still going strong and she just turned 80! (And never forget that 80% of drivers report they are better than average.)

  17. @loudlyquiet: Oh, man, I had several people ask, “You can’t afford a car?” Or tell me, “I know where you can get a car cheap!” They didn’t believe me when I would say, “I can afford one, but I DO NOT WANT ONE THANKS.”

    I was also mostly just cheap, and really didn’t have a desire to have to deal with other people on the road. I didn’t care if other people drove, *I* just didn’t want to deal with it. I still don’t, but I do, because living in Phoenix makes not having a car almost impossible.

    But yep, the assumptions people make about those of us who don’t (or didn’t, in my case) drive are ridiculous. I don’t know how many snide remarks I’d get, and it got really old having to defend myself from claims of “constantly bumming rides”. Sigh.

    Not having a car for so long in Phoenix has made me a stronger, more reliable, resilient person, I am sure of it.

  18. @James Fox: Of course most people think they are the bestest drivers ever, but I got professional training, which I think is a HUGE head’s up from most of the population.

    That and I PAY THE FUCK ATTENTION, which 80% of drivers don’t do anyway. :P

    If I didn’t love my city so much, I’d move somewhere with better public transportation. Alas, I rather love Phoenix, and I love being so close to my family in Parker, and my family in California.

  19. I was in a car wreck when I was in college. I don’t remember the wreck and there are a few other spots of amneisa associated with the wreck. I don’t remember much of anyting about that semester and had to drop all of the classes.

    I had just gotten off work from my early morning job as a janitor. This was the part-time job I went to after I got off of work from my fulltime graveyard shift job and was on the way to class. Apparently I had gone into a McDonalds parking lot to get some breakfast.

    I was hit by a woman who was test driving a car. She hit me so hard that her car bounced up in the air and landed on the hood of my car.

    I received a concussion and had a bleed in my brain. I cracked two of my thoracic vertabra. I woke up two days later in the hospital. Apparently I was in and out of consciousness in the ER.

    The ER crew wouldn’t treat me until my mother (an RN who worked in that hospital) came down from her floor and forced them to treat me.

    At one point I went into seizures that were strong enough that I curled up from my normal height of 6′ 6″ to a ball less than 2 feet.

    I don’t remember any of this. I was in pain for over a year.

    I’ve been told this could have killed me. But sense I don’t remember it it feels like a story.

  20. I was a father of two by the time I was graduated with a BS in 1995. By that point I hadn’t had a day off in 3 years. I averaged a 50 hour work week between two jobs and rarely slept more than 3 hours a day. I carried at least 15 hours a semster in school and one semster I took 21 hours.

    Though my marriage to my first wife was the most difficult thing I have ever survived.

  21. I’ve lived a fairly charmed existence and have never had to overcome anything significant. I have my share of phobias and fears, but none of them interfere enough with my life that they are worth addressing. I sometimes think I’d be a better writer if I’d survived some horrible accident, but given my druthers I’d still pick being a mediocre writer.

  22. @marilove: I daydream of a future where I live in a city that has good enough public transit that I won’t need to own a car. Some place like San Francisco or Portland. I hate owning a car. I hate the hassle that a car is. I hate the expense of a car. I want to live in a place where I don’t need one.

  23. @derekcbart: Derek – I will second that WOW. Also, you didn’t look nearly dead last night at Shabu Shabu. And, you were the reason we went, so, you know, had you died back in ’90, we wouldn’t have.

  24. I’ve always had a problem traveling by myself or having to be the one in the driver’s seat so to speak. I’m afraid of getting lost basically. Last summer I drove to Washington, DC with two friends, neither of whom drive. It was the first trip I’d taken in 25 years without my husband or mother with me. Keep in mind, I’m 45. But it was a big deal for me and a lot of fun.

    This year I have 3 trips planned, by myself. One to visit my sister in Florida in March, one to visit a friend in Houston in April, and the biggie for me is my flight across the country to San Diego in July for Comic Con. I’m nervous about that one because it involves having to change planes in two airports I’ve never been to before. But I’m really looking forward to it, though I expect it will be on very little sleep.

  25. @aeon65: The trick to that is to have and double check your flight information and gate information every few minutes. Research the layout of the airports and don’t be afraid to ask staff for help.

    Maybe I’ll run into you at Comic Con.

    I’ve always been afraid of being alone for any length of time. This led me to tolerate crap in my marriage for years longer than I should have. One day it occurred to me that I could comfortably afford to be on my own and no longer answer to another for anything I chose to do. I’ve since divorced him, had my own apartment with my last at-home child and bought my own car. I’m no longer the helpless dependent housewife I loathed. And my daughter is moving out this weekend and I’ll truly have my own place to do with what I want. Instead of fear I have freedom and strength.

    My next step is to dump apartment living and get a motor home to travel the US and really be independent. We’ll see about that.

  26. I have intense social anxiety, so I spent most of my life being a bombastic extrovert. (If you can’t beat ’em, be bigger than ’em!) After I started working from home, and away from people, I lost the ability to be loud. My social life just faded away.

    After a few years, I realized that I was cultivating agoraphobia. So, even though it’s scary and I spend days afterward reviewing everything I’ve said, I force myself to be social.

    It’s totally worth it. I forgot how much I love listening to other people’s ideas and how amazing individuals are. I still babble sometimes, slip out early if it gets too intense, or pep-talk myself in the bathroom but overall, I think I can handle it and it gets easier each time.

  27. Good AI!

    The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome is my own past. During and after high school I went through something of a nihilistic phase where I was only concerned with getting high and being ‘more punk than you’. I racked up massive debt and probably damaged my own health in ways that have yet to become fully apparent. As I became more self-aware and grew out of the self-destructive phase of my life, I spent several years resigned to the thought that I had already screwed up my life and could do nothing but try to deal with the lasting consequences.

    Well, eventually I had had enough and decided that I would regain control of my own life at all costs and began down the road that I am currently on. Has it made me a better person?? I’d say yes. All in an effort to overcome my past and better myself, I served a combat tour in the army, attended community college where I became a student leader and was awarded one of the most prestigious scholarships available at a 2-year school, and transferred to Stanford University to complete my degree in physics.

    In short, the past seven years or so have been insanely complicated, hectic, and difficult, and this period of my life is far from over. Is it worth it? HELL YES! Just the knowledge that I am accomplishing things that 10 years ago I never would have imagined drives me to continually push myself to shape my life into what I want it to be.

  28. Novelty. Every year I NEED to do something novel. For me, the easiest path to novelty is travel. I prepare by reading appropriate history, and if possible, I learn the language as best I can, and finally, I familiarize myself with the culture.
    I plan parts of my day i.e., museums, historical sites, parks, indiginous customs, but other parts of my day is unplanned. Serendipity and spontaneity guides me then. Novelty gives us an opportunity to change. Novelty challenges me.

  29. I’m really impressed by everyone who has posted!

    I think if we spend a little time each day trying to make ourselves better, we can’t help but make the world around us better too.

  30. Agreed Amy – whether it be something big like traveling, reversing one’s life, overcoming obstacles or something less grand, daring to be better is always a good thing.

  31. My two primary fears have been needles and heights. I can’t say I’ve over come either of them but I’m not limited by them. Rock climbing helped me with heights (though watching someone break their back from a 30′ fall took me a few steps back). And needles still freak me out, but I get all my vaccinations and blood work when the doctor orders. But I really don’t like it.

    As for flying, I’ve been riding planes my whole life. I used to regularly fly on a small turbo prop over the N. Atlantic from Iceland to a place no one has ever heard of. I remember one particular flight that was in very bad weather. It never phased me.

    But since having children, I get freaked out. My first post child flight was to New York 5 months after 9 11. I wasn’t concerned about terrorism but there was bad turbulance (I was at the back of the plane and could see the fusilage bend as I looked toward the cockpit). It makes sence to me, now that I have something to lose it get to me but here’s the weird part. It only happens when I fly alone. Flying with the kids I’m calm as a buddist monk. That makes no sence to me, I’m far more afraid of losing my kids than I am of them being orphand.

    I’ve decided they help me be brave, and we should take lots of trips together. It might not explain my irrational fear but my kids are cool and everything about the trip is better with them, not just the flight.

  32. @PrimevilKneivel:

    Before becoming diabetic I had an intense fear of needles. I used to have to be held down whenever I had blood taken at the doctor’s office.

    I still don’t really like needles, but having to stick at least four of them into me every day I have become rather used to them. ;)

    I also had an intense fear of heights. When I was part of theater stage crew in high school that lessened, but since I haven’t had to be four stories high with not much below me any more my fear has come back a bit.

  33. I have a great fear of and resistance to change, so whenever a life changing event presents itself, I force myself to consider it, and decide rationally whether my reluctance to’ just do it’ is fear of change or actually reasonable. Thus: I am moving to Thailand in March! It’s only brave if you are terrified and I insist on being brave.

  34. I got a new flat some six years ago on the 10th floor. So that seemed like a good time to start working on my claustrophobia since that’s a lot of stairs to climb if I can’t use the elevator.

    I was only semi-succesful in that elevators other than the ones in my building still scare the shit out of me.

  35. @Spellwright has it right about connecting flights. Actually, what I do is once I check in, I go to my departure gate and seat myself within convenient sight of the “Departures” screen. Every 10 minutes or so, I look up from my magazine or book to check my flight. (I spent too many years traveling on passes as an employee to assume gates don’t change and flights don’t run late or cancel.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. As a former supervisor, I can tell you we’d rather you ask for help than have an anxiety attack. ;-)

    I hate needles and look the other way when getting shots or having blood taken for tests. I’m persona non grata at blood banks for my tendency to pass out or vomit. (Sorry – needles go right to my stomach.)

    @Primeval: I’d be worried if the fuselage and wings didn’t bend under load. That’s what an airplane is designed to do to absorb energy. If aircraft structures were stiff, they’d break like glass under load with no warning.

    @marilove: I agree with you. Distracted driving is a major problem. I treat driving as seriously as I treat flying an airplane. I check everything and have memorized checklists for start up and shut down. I can’t remember the last time I left my car lights on, for example.

    I listen to music in the car, but I don’t answer my cell phone. I don’t even believe in “hands free” cell use while driving. I’ve seen too many people in accidents that were using “hands free.” I call it “brain free” driving. Don’t even get me started about texting and driving.

    I was cured of most of my fear of heights when I had to learn to deice planes from a 50ft cherry picker. Do that for a winter and you’ll forget about your fear, too. ;-)

  36. Amy: Good on ya! Too many people sit back and wallow in their fears, but you took a reasonable approach. Besides, you expanded you circle of friends in the process. Always a plus!

    I am a very introverted person and have a pretty strong fear of change, but I think that has mellowed over the years. Mainly, because I have experienced many changes that have been much more positive than I ever expected.

    When I was a teenager I was also terribly afraid of public speaking, but in college I decided to find out why this was such a problem for me and sought therapy. My therapist was very positive and helped me realize that the only way to overcome that fear was to confront it head on. Being the procrastinator that I am it took several more years to get to that point. When I was in graduate school getting my MA in experimental psychology, my tuition was waved if I acted as an RA and TA for my professors. I thought I would love the research (and I did), but I was terrified of the teaching until I actually did it. After my first semester of teaching, I realized that this is what I want to do with my life. I continue to teach (as an adjunct professor) and will probably do so until I collapse in the classroom.

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