Fear (or is it just excitement)
This weekend, I flew above the cloud line, jumped out of a plane at 11,000 feet, did free fall of around 6,000 feet and then glided gracefully back down to earth....obviously attached to a very competent skydiving instructor!
I have to keep checking to make sure that it really did happen. It's a surreal feeling, looking looking up at the clouds and knowing that I was above them looking at my own shadow.
At this point, you probably think that I'm a crazy adrenaline junkie (or just plain crazy). The thing is, I've honestly never seen myself in that way. In my mind, an adrenaline junkie would not experience so much fear, terror and nerves!
I truly never intended to skydive in my life! Which begs the question "why?".
The answer is a combination of reasons which started with my husband signing up to do a charity skydive. At this point, I had no intention of involving myself in this crazy stunt, other than being a supportive wife and taking photos from the safety of solid ground.
But slowly, a spark of interest formed.
I spoke to other people who had signed themselves up to the charity skydive team (over several beers) and they seemed far more scared than I expected myself to feel. Then I heard more about the chosen charity (Help for Heroes) and the impact of their work on the lives of individuals. The final push was another alcohol fuelled conversation with the para organising the event. He told tales of various operations and when I considered the fear that the team must have experienced, my own terror of skydiving paled into consideration.
The subsequent months were a combination of fear tinged with the excitement that something amazing was going to happen.
On the actual day, conditions were less than ideal and we were grounded on 3 occasions giving us plenty of waiting time to contemplate our fate.
Thankfully, I'd read a climbing article about fear just a few days before. It had explained that the physiological effects of fear (butterflies, adrenaline, tight muscles, fast heart rate, shallow breath) are actually the same physiological effects of excitement. The only difference is in how the brain interprets the feelings. So fear is really just excitement interpreted differently....
The article also explained that you can use fear negatively (body freezing, hindering self talk, thinking the worst) or positively (realising your body is ready for action, giving yourself helpful reinforcing talk, focussing on it all going well and being great fun). It's was a useful reframe!
When we were finally given the go ahead to jump, the nerves really hit home as I stepped into the jumpsuit and harness. I asked my instructor if it was a normal reaction.
He reassured me that "yes, its normal to be scared. You are about to jump out of a plane after all". Perversely it helped, maybe because he'd confirmed that I was experiencing a 'normal' reaction.
Interestingly, he also asked why I was doing the jump when I felt so terrified.
"Because I am that terrified" was my response "and because if I can do this, then I can do anything".
"So, you can speak Japanese" he retorted.
"Good point" I agreed, "I'll re-word that to anything I choose to do. Ikimasu" (one of the few Japanese words I know, translated as 'let's go'). Hah!
And so I found myself, on a tiny plane flying up to 11,000 feet, strapped to a stranger who threw us out of the door. 20 minutes later, I was back down on solid earth!
You may wonder if it was terrifying?
The honest answer is yes, absolutely, and yet at the same time it was exhilarating, amazing, wonderful and a privilege.
Not many people can say that they've jumped out of a plane, experienced travelling at over 120mph (without a vehicle!), seen their own shadow from the sun on top of the clouds, watched parachutes gracefully gliding below them and seen the most incredible views while gliding at 5,000 feet with a parachute flapping beautifully above them.
I absolutely 'get' why people become addicted to skydiving and the thrill of the adventure.
Would I do it again? Well, after an initial "never again" the adrenaline subsided and my response was "maybe".
Perhaps I have the makings of an adrenaline junkie after all!