You skydive? And you’re not afraid?
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this question. And I never know how to answer, because you can’t simply say “yes” or “no”. It is differently, a lot has changed as I gained experience and it depends on what kind of “fear” we are talking about. I will try to explain it :)
Fear of jumping out of a plane
I don’t remember if I was more afraid before the first jump in my life, which was in tandem, or before the first jump on the course (it’s been 15 years since the course and 16 years since the tandem), but they were undoubtedly the most terrifying moments in my life. In the case of the tandem jump, if I remember correctly, it was the few seconds I was most afraid of when we stood in the doorway just before we left. It was a bit different on the course, when I was jumping with my own parachute on my back, I had to decide myself that I am leaving a plane and I had some tasks to do in the air. Actually, it still looks like this… The moment I start walking towards the door, I switch to “do” mode. I go into a state of full concentration and the level of adrenaline, blood pressure, etc. is definitely high then, but thanks to the fact that I focus 100% on what I have to do, the fear goes aside and I do not feel it then.
The first jumps were of course the most terrifying. Then, as I gained experience, the fear I felt before jumping decreased, but it was not directly proportional. I had a hundred and several jumps when I noticed during the plane flight that I was not afraid. It was during my few days in Spain, when I was doing 2-4 jumps every day. It was enough, however, that I did not skydive during the winter, then the new season came and the stress came back. When I skydived a little, it disappeared, but a few weeks’ break was enough to reappear. However, it was much less intense than before the first jumps.
Currently, I skydive very rarely, no more than a few or a dozen jumps per season, while in the first years it was several dozen a year, so stress almost always accompanies me. However, one thing has changed – at the moment I am most afraid when I am still on earth. From the beginning it was like this that I was starting to stress before I even got on the plane, but the higher up, the stronger the fear was and it was only a moment before leaving the plane, when it went away. Now I feel the greatest stress when preparing for the skydive – putting on a jumpsuit, parachute, checking equipment, etc., and on the plane the stress is reduced. At one point, when I had more than 200 jumps, I had a 3-year break in jumping. Sitting in the dropzone and waiting for the first skydive after the break, and then preparing for this jump, my stress level was probably close to what I felt before the first jumps. However, in the plane, at an altitude of several hundred meters, it began to slowly going away. I knew it was going to be fun in a minute and I couldn’t wait to feel that amazing freefall again.
However, it never happened that I would sit completely relaxed on a plane, as if I were about to go out on a bike or as I feel before starting some easy route on the climbing gym. There is always a certain level of stress with me.
What am I actually afraid of? I don’t think anyone ever asked me this question, but I asked myself many times, especially at the beginning. And I’m really afraid of nothing. I mean, my pre-jump stress isn’t due to some black scenarios that I’ll hurt myself or that the parachute won’t open. It does not result from the fear of heights, because I love heights and it delights me, not scares me. I’m just stressed out. Arno Ilgner, author of the book “The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers” calls this kind of stress “phantom fear“. People who have amputated a limb often experience pain from the amputated arm or leg, which is called phantom pain. Just as we may be in pain with something that is not there, we can also fear something that is not. Unlike fear of real danger, phantom fear is a general fear of the unknown, of a world beyond your comfort zone. I don’t even try to fight this stress, I just accept it is and do my job.
Fear during a skydive
During the skydive, I do not feel fear. As I mentioned before, a moment before leaving the plane, I enter a state of full concentration. In psychology, this is called the flow state. Then I am in a different world… I don’t think about anything, I just act. Fear stays on the plane and it was like that from the first jump.
I recommend Will Smith’s story about his experiences with the tandem jump. Especially from 4:05. This is how I felt in the first jump :)
It’s just as nice after the jump. When the adrenaline goes down there is such a cool inner peace. Now, unfortunately, I do not go into such a deep relaxation after the jump, but once after landing I could sit for half a day and just look at the sky with a smile on my face and not think about anything at all.
Fear of an accident
I said that I am not afraid of hurting myself or that the parachute would not open, but I just meant that I don’t feel the fear of it just before skydive. I am aware that accidents do happen and that they can happen to me too.
After the tandem jump, I was wondering for a long time whether it was really worth starting skydiving course. A few years earlier, I had back surgery and my orthopedist forbade me to do so. I was wondering if maybe he was right, what would happen if I ended up in a wheelchair or if my spine could not withstand the repetitive strains and at 30 I would struggle with everyday pain. Is it profitable to risk? However, I decided that it pays off, because nothing will give me as much joy as skydiving. And after I decided that I wanted to risk it, I had no doubts anymore.
There are times when I know that a jump would have a greater risk of an accident than usual, for example there is a strong wind or I am tired. Then I can say that I am afraid that I will not be able to do it. And if I feel so afraid, I don’t decide to jump. However, if I decide that I can do it, then in the plane I do not consider anymore whether I will do it for sure.
My 3-year break was due to several reasons. Partly due to financial reasons, partly due to lack of motivation, because I did not see any progress in my skills, and in part I was afraid of an accident. Part of this fear was due to the fact that I am now more aware of the risks than when I started skydiving. Before the start of the course, I read a lot about skydiving, also about accidents, but still I learned about many dangers only as I gained experience and now skydiving seems to me more dangerous than it used to be. I guess it was also partly because people tend to become less risky with age, and so is my case. On one scale I put a risk and on the other the pleasure I get from skydiving, which is now smaller than it used to be and it turned out that it is not worth taking the risk.
At some point, however, I felt like jumping again and same as previously, when I decided to do it, I had no more doubts and it never happened to me that in the plane I wondered what I was doing here and if I really wanted to jump. However, if it ever happened that for some reason I would feel bad on the plane and I would not be sure if I was able to make the jump safely, I think that I will not be afraid to give up just before the jump.
Author: Maja Kochanowska