Just when we think we’ve conquered our fear, it finds another way to bring us down. But there are ways to beat it, again.
By Dulce Zamora
I pressed my hands down on the crumbly ice, trying to hoist my body up. I managed to lift myself a few inches, but my will and bruised body were no match for gravity, especially on a hill. I fell down hard on my back, feeling the pain on my tail bone.
It was my second day of snowboarding in the northern island of Hokkaido in Japan. My family and I were in the Niseko region for Spring Break. This is the second of two blog posts about dealing with fear while my family and I are in Hokkaido.
My husband, Noel, was an experienced snowboarder so he went to the more advanced hills on his own. This was my kids’ first time in the snow so we enrolled them in a group snowboarding class. I had signed up for a refresher course since it had been 14 years since I hit the slopes. Could I still shred like I did at 34 years old? My forever young mind thought so, but my 48-year-old body was afraid of getting hurt. I figured an instructor would make sure I had good form to reduce the likelihood of injury.
I was a mother of two girls now. Nine-year-old Jasmine and 11-year-old Sienna needed me. I couldn’t get hurt. Our lives were much too busy to accommodate a crippled mother, especially with Noel traveling for international business much of the time. Plus, we had moved to Singapore from the U.S. just last year. We didn’t have our usual support network of family and friends around. The girls needed me.
So, as I mustered all of my strength to get my body upright on the snowboard for the 15th time, I questioned my decision to try what people had told me was a young person’s sport. My knees throbbed, my lower back and butt felt sore, and the back of my head smarted from a couple of spectacular falls. It did hurt, but the most bruised part of me was my ego.
At lunchtime, Noel had suggested that perhaps it was time to look into skiing since the dynamics of the sport might be more gentle on someone my age. The average person might think he was putting me down, but I knew that as a native New Yorker, it was his way of saying, “I care about you. Maybe your struggle won’t be as great if you try something else.”
Physical limitations were a factor, but I also knew my body wasn’t my main problem. It was my mind. It was filled with fear: What if I fell down? What if i was going too fast and I could not stop in time? What if I hurt myself? What would happen to my kids? The more I thought about those questions, the more I fell.
In snowboarding, you are supposed to direct your gaze, your hips and your weight toward the direction you want to go. My instructor said I was not doing that, so that is why I lost control. When going downhill, he said my body was pulling away, and pointing toward the hill. I said it was my body’s way of saying, “Heck no! I’m not going down fast like that. You’re crazy.”
I was scared. Yet, the reality was, I was capable of boarding at the very pace I was afraid of. Just the day before, all the instructors on the hill were impressed with me as I traversed the slopes, and made S-turns like I had been doing it for a while. I even graduated to a bigger hill, and managed two successful runs.
“Wow!” they said. “It’s only your first day of lessons, and you’re already doing those things. Some people never get it.”
I beamed, because I had boarded so much better than I ever had before. This is where I thought my years really factored in. During class, I had activated lessons I learned from years of successes and failures. One such teaching moment happened in 2002, when I joined the AIDSRIDE, a 250-mile charity bike ride raising money for AIDS research and services. I had never ridden that distance before and trained for months to make the trek. I was afraid of biking downhill. I was scared of descending fast and losing control. But, I persisted with my fears, and with practice, realized that I was going to be okay — that I could control my bike, and that I actually wanted to cycle down fast. I ended up using gravity to help me zoom through many, many miles of the route, and use the downhill momentum to propel me up the next steep incline. I had to tell myself I was going to be okay. If my mind wandered to fatigue and fear, I assured myself I could handle them. After all, I had trained for the event.
During my first day of snowboarding in Hokkaido, I recognized my fear of falling, and tried to temper it with positive self talk. Out loud, I repeated the words “You can do it. It will be fine. Have faith.” while zigzagging down the slope. It worked, and I was optimistic about continuing my progress.
The next day, the instructor taught me how to make 180-degree turns while gliding down the hill. I might have looked calm on the outside, but inside, I panicked. He made it look easy, but the choreography stymied me. I could hear him say how to position my hips, where to put my weight, and where to look, but my mind and body jumbled it all up. The anxiety is akin to something a math person experiences upon seeing a new problem, no matter how simple it is.
I tried to follow instructions, but trying to learn a new move while going downhill fast were not good combinations for me at that time. I fell a lot during the turns, but I immediately got back up. I wasn’t going to quit. I told myself to have faith, but I was juggling too many thoughts: Have faith. Tuck butt in. Belly out. Stand tall. Heel edge in. Shift weight to front foot. Look downhill. It will be okay. Turn whole body. Toe edge in. You can do it. Shift weight downhill. Is this right?
I was uncertain about the choreography. In the process, I fell and banged my knees and wrists many times, making indentations on the layers of new powder and packed ice. Sometimes I fell backward, landing with a thud that reverberated through my core. I wished I did not have to learn the 180 turns. I wanted to master my S turns first, and get used to going downhill without all the extra steps.
I kept going until I saw my daughter Jasmine sitting on a steep part of the hill with her legs stretched out, snowboard perpendicular to the ground. Two instructors — one male, and another female — were on their knees in front of her. Jasmine looked upset, and the teachers were trying to figure out what was wrong. She appeared to say nothing.
“Does anything hurt?” I asked. She shook her head.
“Are you frustrated?”
Jasmine looked down at her snow pants and didn’t say anything.
“Do you understand what you are supposed to do?”
She nodded, head still down.
“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”
No response. I felt the stares of the two instructors next to me.
I held out my hand, and said “Come on, sweetie. Let’s go down and talk about it.”
Jasmine looked up, lower eyelids damming up tears. But she did not budge or say anything.
“I’ll take care of it,” said the female instructor standing up. “I should’ve done it in the beginning. It’s always gets worse when the parents are around.”
“Jasmine,” she began with a high, syrupy voice. “Come on now, Honey. We’ve got other kids at the bottom of the hill. We can’t stay here.”
I had gotten up, feeling defeated. I knew what the instructor meant about kids acting up more when their parents were around. I did not want to get in the way. As I slid away in my snowboard, I could hear both instructors cajoling Jasmine. She continued to stonewall them. Something nagged inside me: I was irritated that the instructor had said I made things worse. I knew my daughter better than anyone. I knew what she needed wasn’t a bunch of people hovering over her. I did what I should have done for myself and for my daughter much earlier: I unstrapped my boots from the snowboard.
“Jasmine and I are walking down,” I declared. “We will take a break.”
The instructors sped away without protest, and I helped Jasmine up. We unstrapped her boots, and with arms linked, we deliberately tread the slippery slope all the way to the lodge.
We peeled off all of our layers and drank some water. It was nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Lessons usually ended at 3:20 p.m.
“Are you tired?” I asked.
“It was such a long hill, and I kept falling,” Jasmine said.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “I know it doesn’t feel nice to fall. It happened to me many times today.”
“My legs felt tired,” she said.
“Maybe you could ask the teacher if you could rest, or go back to the smaller hill,” I offered. “There’s nothing wrong with doing those things.”
Jasmine looked out the window toward the bunny hill. Her snowboard instructor, Sienna, and other classmates were back in the smaller bunny slope, taking turns traversing downward.
“If you’re tired, you do need to talk to your teacher, though,” I said. “She can’t read your mind. You can’t just stop in the middle of the hill. People can run into you.”
“I want to go back outside!” Jasmine blurted.
“There’s only a few minutes left,” I said. “It’s okay. You can rest for today.”
“But I want to snowboard!” she said.
Although her sudden enthusiasm surprised me, I still escorted her back to class. She completed a couple more runs on the smaller hill, and was beaming by the time we returned to the lodge.
“I want to go snowboarding again tomorrow!” she announced.
“Me too!” said Sienna.
Noel and I looked at each other. We had only signed up the girls for two days of lessons because we were not sure they would last that long.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Aren’t you tired?”
“I was,” said Jasmine. “But I was okay after a little rest. I love snowboarding!”
That’s when it dawned on me. Jasmine stopped snowboarding because she was tired and needed rest, but she did not know how to ask for it. I kept falling and wanted to stop, but I did not ask for a break. I didn’t feel comfortable moving on to the next level. I would have preferred to master the basic things I learned first. But I did not say anything. I did not want to be a quitter. I persevered because that was the way I learned to succeed. I had forgotten that it was okay to take a break, or to take it slow. I had forgotten to honor my inner voice telling me what was right for me. It’s great to talk ourselves out of fear, and to believe we can do something. Nevertheless, we still cannot control the timeline or trajectory of success. All we can do is do our best. Then, when we are ready, we can take the next step, and, after that, we can take another step. One small step at a time does not mean being a slowpoke or a failure. It means respecting the fact that we have our own pace, and our own journey.
At that point, my aching body was telling me to rest. I do not plan to quit snowboarding yet. But now I see the sport and other goals in my life as more of a marathon than a sprint. For example, I have long dreamt of being a financially stable author and freelance journalist. I started his path decades ago – from the time I was a child when I wrote a community newspaper for our neighborhood, to the time I took up Rhetoric and Journalism courses in universities, to the time I took up my first job as a TV news producer. Eventually, I became an author and freelance journalist in New York City. I got three children’s books published and wrote dozens of freelance articles for various media outlets. But I was still struggling in the finance department. After I got married and had children, I took a break to become a full-time mother and a trailing expat spouse. It has been a privilege to travel the world and to raise my children, but I also felt I had failed in accomplishing my dream as a financially stable author and freelance journalist. I see now that my thinking was premature. I am not done. I am a work in progress.
Sometimes our fear prevents us from beginning our journey. Sometimes, in the middle of the journey, it disguises itself as failure. It tries to tell us we are not capable, and tries to hamper our progress. This is when we need to:
- Listen to our inner voice. What is it that we want to do?
- Advocate for ourselves. What do we need to do to get us back on track?
- Respect our journey. Instead of beating ourselves up over what we could have done, we can be compassionate with ourselves. We are where we need to be.
- Do the work. One step at a time.
Here’s to our works in progress. Good luck!
© 2019 Windswept Wildflower
Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan
April 9, 2019