I have what I think is a typical level of acrophobia when I am depending only on my feet and balance to keep me from falling. Often as an adult (well not often, but rather on rare occasions I find myself at a large window in a tall building or near the edge of a precipice) I will play with fear. I'll relax, look and marvel fearlessly; then let acrophobia come in to test my limits; then ease it back out again. This is not the use of height to achieve an arousal that I have read about but cannot imagine being less than a terrible distraction from taking me back to the innocent fun I had climbing trees as a kid.
I give this detail only as an introduction to the fact that if I have my hands on a solid grip I experience no acrophobia. I have always been able to climb tall ladders to tall places with ease. As a kid I discovered I loved to climb trees—places where the hands are always as important as the feet. I could have a foot or arm in precarious transition, but as long as I had one hand and one foot secure I could make my way up a tree and out onto its limbs and back with joy—no fear. I did a lot of climbing in the large tree in Genie Forcier's back yard. We went as high and far as the tree would take us, never foolishly, never fearfully, always joyfully. I would go home and tell my mom how much fun I had but never understood why she could not share my enthusiasm.
Older, when I (rarely) see kids climbing trees, I have trouble not fearing for their safety and seeing the hazards of a fall. Luckily, neither of my girls took up the hobby. I feel hypocritical in writing this, because as I kid I promised myself I would not feel this way. I think my problem is it that it is impossible to read into another climber, especially a young one, the sense of control and anticipation I had. I not only knew where my hands and feet were, I also knew where they were going, which of my four grippers were my safety as the others moved from old safety to new. I had a sense of how my body would slip if I miscalculated, and I intuitively used that sense to guide every move. I knew which branch would be backup support to stop a fall. I enjoyed having this sense of both the immediate movement and a larger sense of my relationship in time and space to the tree. That's what gave me confidence.
There remains something of this in my odd habit of playing with acrophobia. I know that a firm grip on a firm object will make it vanish, but, knowing I am in no danger at this window or back from that ledge, I can imagine what it would be to be a true acro-philic, someone who often does not need a solid hand grip to climb to the sky and return safely, enjoyably. Maybe more important, it reminds me of how much time and adventure I enjoyed in the welcoming canopy of trees.
(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins