Writing my ‘countdown’ article a week ago gave rise to feelings of nervous panic and excitement all at the same time. The fact that I was actually going to be suspended at 420ft on Saturday May 12th suddenly became real: there was no going back.
Friday evening was surreal and it reminded me of the evening before my wedding day: was it actually happening to me? It’s only on the day, when you see the large gathering of friends and family in the church; when you see the hordes of well wishes and supporters at the foot of the lift tower do you comprehend that this is for real. Bizarrely, the first thing that I did on the morning of both occasions was to open the curtains and check the weather!
I have to admit that on Friday, after a week of rollercoaster emotions, I did feel quite hesitant about the abseil. But receiving this message in an email from The Lowdown put things into perspective:
"At any one time, a local young person is experiencing a devastating personal crisis. The lowdown’s team of dedicated volunteers are there to ensure they don’t face this alone, by being there when needed, to guide them through their difficulties.
"Your support now will help us continue to change and save the lives of many young people. The lowdown’s support will prevent someone else like Liam from dropping out of education, Joss from self harming or Amy from committing suicide.
"We can’t thank you enough for undertaking this mammoth personal challenge to help The lowdown continue supporting young people, as we have done for the past 23 years. We hope you understand what a massive difference you will be making in the lives of many young people. Because every time the lowdown provides a 12 – 25 year old with a support session, it costs the lowdown £12.
"This may sound a lot, but when you think that one session, one £12 could change someone’s life forever or save them from committing suicide, it doesn’t seem so much does it. And you will be contributing to this. So every £12 you raise or help to raise today will be making a huge difference to many vulnerable young people. After checking the Just Giving page and seeing that you all collectively have surpassed £10,000 so far, that alone would provide over 800 of these sessions.
"You are an amazing and inspiring person and tomorrow you will succeed in a great personal achievement, whilst at the same time, doing something wonderful and amazing to support local children and young people in need."
It inspired me to make it to the tower. There was a commotion all around me: people cheering; people selling drinks and food; people talking. I waited. I watched. From high above me, I could make out a figure of a person descending gracefully down the side of the tower. Panic suddenly struck me: what if I can’t move when I’m up there; what if I pass out through fear of heights, how will I get down? I kept the thoughts to myself as I remembered joking remarks people had made, asking if I had made a will. I did actually for a brief moment picture the will I had made only a year ago and thought; ‘well at least that’s in place’.
Suddenly I heard my name being shouted. I snapped out of my subconscious thoughts to an equally sudden onset of sweaty palms, a feeling that I was going to be sick and legs that seemed moulded to the spot.
After a big intake of breath, I made my way to the entrance of the lift tower. Up a flight of stairs, two of us went to the ‘control room’. It was time to harness up. Helmets on and clips in place, we entered the lift.
After what seemed like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, we jerked to a halt. Out we stepped onto a white floor surrounded by windows. It was high.
The leader began pointing out landmarks. I stood still; vertigo hit me. We were then told that the remainder of the climb to reach the ‘summit’ would be via steps. I took a deep breath.
Up we climbed to another level. Again, we stopped and the others admired the panoramic view. Again, I hesitated. Now, for the final ascent: up a vertical metal ladder.
Eventually we could see daylight: we had arrived at the top. This was what 420 feet up felt like. At that moment, I promised myself inwardly that I would never put myself through this ever again. This would definitely be a once in a life time challenge.
Out in the cool air, I was aware that someone was talking. I had a feeling that it was important to listen and comprehend any words that sounded like instructions, irrespective of the fact that my stomach was doing summersaults and my legs were banging together like symbols.
Safety rope attached, it was time. Firmly clasping the rope, I shuffled towards the edge but didn’t look down. I slowly leaned backwards. With only the sky for a view and air as my cushion, I let my feet ‘walk’ the tower.
I began to bounce away from the tower in tune with a tug of the rope. The rope seemed heavy as I willed it upwards. As the harness dug in, my legs felt like lead weights, but I continued down.
As I moved further away from the safety and voices at the top, I suddenly felt exposed. It didn’t feel like I was making any progress as I could still see far into the distance and hear nothing. Another tower window passed; another few feet descended. The rope began to move more easily as I hit halfway. Just a bit further, I thought.
Circulation in my body felt like it had stopped and I needed a rest, but my ears were straining and I could hear chatter in the distance. I can’t stop now.
The rope suddenly seemed to feed upwards by itself and I dropped quickly. Sheer panic as I grabbed at it. I stopped and took a deep breath, but then I realised I was only a few feet from safety. ‘Nearly there’, I said to myself. With no disastrous moves, my feet suddenly felt ground underneath them and I became aware of people clapping and cheering. I’d made it.
As hard as that abseil was for me, I know that there are many youngsters who are suffering a great deal more anxiety every day of their lives than I had to endure in those few minutes. To face my fear of heights head on whilst raising money for a worthy cause such as The Lowdown, has been a challenge I have been proud to undertake and I thank everyone for their support.
As Gordon Ramsay would say: a 420 foot abseil for charity; done!
Please support me and my chosen charity at http://www.justgiving.com/MARIE-DERRY.
If you're planning to do something extraordinary like Marie you can contact us with your story at firstname.lastname@example.org