05 October 2009

Self Experimentation

The annoying staircases at the Rendezvous Center on campus have given me a chance to play around with my minor fear of heights. I've figured out the combination that results in vertigo almost every time: looking up while being in a high, unenclosed location. The main staircases there are lined with a sort of mesh that does not block the view much at all. The lack of enclosure is what makes me feel unsteady when I look up towards the ceiling on those stairs. I have no problem looking down.

For comparison, I tried one of the enclosed staircases in the same building. Looking up from the midway platforms there doesn't bother me at all: those staircases are enclosed, so I feel steady. I'm not sure why looking down doesn't bother me on the open staircases, but maybe it's because the solid ground below also provides a sense of stability. I've also played around a bit on the way down the open staircases. There are some lights mounted high on support columns. So long as I'm looking down at them, I'm fine. But, even on the way down, as soon as they are higher than I am, I get that unsteady/vertigo feeling again.

In general, to go up those open staircases, I have to keep my eyes focused down on the surface of the steps below me and avoid looking towards any part of the railing that provides an upwards view. Amusingly, on Friday I had a cold coming on, and wound up climbing up those stairs. I could tell as soon as I stepped on them that something was different. That time, I could look up freely and feel no more vertigo than I do when looking down (not quite zero, but close enough). Between the cold medication and the cold, whatever it is that induces the vertigo wasn't functioning. I have no idea what to make of that, except to note that it's actually a rather nice view when it doesn't make you nearly lose your balance.

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