Something a little bizarre (though not surprising) happened to me recently.
My friend decided a while back that she would be going skydiving for her 30th birthday. However long ago she brought this up to me I can’t exactly recall, but I told her to hit me up when the time came. Jumping out of an airplane? Yes. Mark me down. I am in like flint. Let’s do it.
Well apparently that birthday is coming up quite quickly (this month in fact) and I was suddenly reminded about my promised willingness to participate in this somewhat risky endeavor.
But Sarah, one might say, this doesn’t make sense. You are afraid of heights! Bridges give you serious anxiety! Going up elevators past the 10th floor gives you serious anxiety! By all accounts, wouldn’t this give you SERIOUS ANXIETY?!?
I had to look at two things to make my decision.
The first, being that, for some reason, jumping from high places does not scare me, so the act of jumping from an airplane does not give me anxiety.
The act of willingly falling from someplace high does not scare me, but the concept of being pushed or falling on accident does. The difference isn’t huge, but it is there.
I don’t want to give my parents a heart attack or anything, but when I was a kid I continuously jumped off the highest crap I could find. Rocks, furniture, small cliffs, low roofs, and more. I don’t know if it was that I liked the sensation of falling, or that I was obsessed with flying, but I was also constantly constructing wings, parachutes, gliders, and contraptions to ease my landings.
There is, and was, no element of suicidally to this fixation, I think it had something to do with watching Peter Pan too many times.
I can also tell you that you can’t float worth shit with an umbrella (even at 75 lbs), so you can count out the whole Mary Poppins mode of transportation.
For a moment I dreamt of being a pilot, but like all of my dreams it was short-lived until something else came along. Stand-up comedy, or becoming a lounge singer, or whatever was the childhood brain flavor of the week.
When I was 19 I went cliff diving, where you climb up a cliff and then dive (or jump, depending on your level of water expertise) into the raging river below. In the rocky mountains of colorado, this seemed perfectly natural.
Paired with the 30 foot cliff, I was frustrated. I had very little upper body strength, so when I finally decided to jump I physically couldn’t pull myself up the face of the thing. Fortunately, 3 able-bodied gentlemen helped hoist me to the top, where within moments, I leapt out into the air above the river.
The guy who had already been up there waiting to jump climbed back down. He never even did it.
The experience was exhilarating, though the part where I accidentally landed on my back (back flop!) in the freezing mountain water was less than stellar.
So jumping out of an airplane? No biggie. In fact, probably even a little bit of a dream there.
The real trouble I was having about making the final decision to do this (and this is what surprised me) was based on the fact that I would be doing a tandem jump, which means I would have a professional (a stranger, ultimately) strapped to my back.
Jumping out of an airplane and falling a couple thousand feet? No anxiety.
Having a stranger (and based on the photos on the website, most likely male) strapped to my back for the 7 minute ride? Huge anxiety.
This is the fear I would ultimately have to overcome in order to skydive.
With the skydive itself, something could go wrong. I could fall to my death. But that seems like peanuts compared to the agony of having some guy I don’t know touching me. Even in a professional manner.
I don’t like being touched in general, I’m not even the sort of person who can easily just give people hugs willy-nilly. If I know you or we have a connection of some kind, yes. I can hug you. But it took me a long time to be able to stomach that sort of thing.
I’m sure you can imagine, that if that was the starting point for my distaste for being touched, then you sprinkled the sexual harassment, physical threats, various abuse, and pretty outstanding post traumatic stress disorder from a number of incidents of sexual abuse on top… you find what we have today. Someone so jumpy I’m ready to push down old ladies on the bus who accidentally sit on me.
And unlike space, in the realm somewhere in the middleish portion of the Earth’s atmosphere, people can hear you scream. That is exactly the sort of response that will be involuntarily spewed from me if I am attached to a strange male character without the ability to get away.
Part of me felt guilty for even considering not going if this was going to be part of the reason. Is it a valid reason? Yes, but the thought of something like this keeping me from having an awesome experience really upsets me.
So I called the skydiving company, and I asked if I could request a female partner. Luckily they said they get that all the time, and that it wouldn’t be a problem.
Having a female partner lowers my anxiety considerably. I’m no longer in danger of poking their eyes out in terror, only being put through the mild discomfort and awkwardness of being thrust upon a non-threat human. And that is tolerable.
It blew my mind a little bit that this was what my decision was coming down to, and how weird is it that this is where the boundaries of my comfort zones have fallen? When something as simple as just the thought of being touched by another person sends me into a flurry of anxiety, but I have ample confidence that I could jump from an airplane without hesitation? It disturbs me, and this is a perfect example of why I recently went back to therapy. The line there just doesn’t seem quite right, but there is no pill that will suddenly make that intense disdain go away.
At least, not one that I know of. And if there is, I bet it’s illegal.
The other thing I had to really think about was this:
how much anxiety is this activity going to cause me, and how much is enough to say no?
Honestly, the thought of having a male partner on a tandem jump was too much for me. If that was the situation, I couldn’t do it. As my PTSD app would say, you are experiencing an extreme level of PTSD symptoms. We would strongly encourage you to seek help immediately.
But once I found out a female partner was no problem, my thought was that the anxiety I will have about going skydiving will not exceed any amount of anxiety I have felt before in an “event” sort of situation.
I get anxiety when I am about to attend or am attending an event, and it isn’t always a bad thing -I mean I recognize it as excitement mostly. Just very, very, extreme excitement with very intense physical symptoms that are suspiciously identical to anxiety. It is like… happy anxiety. That fact doesn’t make it any less difficult to push through, but I do think I’ve had enough time experiencing this to know very well that I can push though it.
I’ve got 26 years of anxiety under my belt at this point, and I believe I have both the courage and tools to take this on.
So I signed up. I’m doing it.