2. The Ultimate Battle with Fear

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So after my first jump as a solo skydiver, I am thoroughly ecstatic at my achievement and at being able to overcome my initial fear. This elation lasts for days and days… right up until I’m due to jump again. Then as I’m kitting up again, putting my parachute on, tightening my harness, attaching my hook knife, I feel the familiar physical sensations running throughout my body that means my mind is telling me to to run away, fight, freeze, anything but jump. And where a confident and excited me had made the choice to turn up at the drop zone, a different me is walking down to the plane, a terrified and unwilling participant. And what shocks me most is the absolute change of tune in my mind chatter.  As the physical sensation of fear increases so does the negativity of the voices within my mind. “Don’t do it, don’t jump, you could die”. And this is bizarre to me because hours previous to this moment, when I was getting ready to come here, I knew I could die then. And yet I was excited, ready and willing to accept that risk for the thrill of what was to come. What has resulted in this absolute change of mentality? Because right now, I don’t want to jump. I want to back out and say no more. Skydiving is absolutely not my dream. And this pattern continued on every single jump. Excitement in the days and hours prior to jumping, an intense desire to get back in the air. And then, as I’m getting ready, the building of physical fear to an unmanageable degree, resulting in negative thoughts which inevitably resulted in negative actions.

Now I did jump that day and all the way up until I had qualified. I’ve often reflected on why I did every time then when later I was unable to. Because once I had qualified, I wasn’t able to. On reflection of this, later on, I realised that it was because I had no real choice about whether I jumped or not as a student. I had no control other than in turning up. My instructors did. They decided when the weather was good enough, even if I disagreed. They moved towards the door of the plane taking me with them, even when my mind was screaming not too. Why could I overcome my fear then and not later? Because I wasn’t the one making the decisions. I was merely a passive participant obediently following the commands of my instructors, having no real internal control of my choices. And so forcibly, through the decisions and actions of others, I qualified with my A licence.

And then the darkness began.

Most people after qualifying become super confident and jump the shit out of it. Not me… none of my sky buddies will know how many times I turned up at the drop zone having obsessed about jumping all week and then not be able to get out of my car. Because I knew the feeling, the feeling of utter doom. And I couldn’t get out of the car and sit around the drop zone knowing that the fear was too much that day and have everyone watch me knowingly, again. I could literally be sick (and did heave a few times on the way to the drop zone) at the thought of jumping even though I had done nothing but look forward to it all week. I considered whether I had multiple personality disorder. After sitting in my car, or around the drop zone getting increasingly embarrassed at my inability to convince myself to jump, my inability to control my fear, I would go home. And experience hard core depression. It’s a strange and conflicting place to be. Wanting something so badly and so passionately and the only thing stopping me was something within me. It’s not nice hating yourself.

So I set about in changing myself. What is that causes the change in my mentality? Days before, I think about skydiving, obsess about it and my feelings have been of excitement and expectation. Yet on the day when I wake up, it’s the physical sensation of fear I feel first. My stomach churning sickly acid around my insides rapidly, like a swirl pool. And then I remember why I feel like this. Because I’m going skydiving. So I get up and throw up. Standard. How do I control this situation and not back out then? Well, to be honest I have backed out then. Looked up at the sky out of my window, rationalising my decision not to go. It’s a bit cloudy, looks chilly, and might be a bit breezy. And inevitably I’m always proven wrong by the super excited tales of my skydiving friends and what they achieved that day, which inevitably results in more misery. This lead me to the conclusion that it is the physical feeling of fear that I needed to learn how to control.

And would you believe that crystal healing, chakra opening and energy point tapping do actually work. I cruised the internet for many a healing crystals that still sit happily on my bedside table now. Blessing them in moonlight was possibly the strangest thing I’ve ever done. But I was willing to try anything. There are some eight hours of healing beta wave music on you tube that I think, maybe, might have helped me wake up feeling a little more refreshed. And meditation and yoga truly had a relaxing and calming effect on my life. It certainly helped me to identify the extent of my negative thought patterns because it trained to just be more aware of my thoughts, in the first instance.  In many areas of my life I felt more powerful, calmer, happier and less stressed. Until I was at the drop zone. It didn’t help there at all.

My continued inability to control my fear came to an absolute peak one day. The sun was shining, it was a nil wind day and everyone was at the drop zone. And I, yet again, am fizzling with fear. I can’t jump. I just can’t bring myself to want to do it. Even though I want to do it, if you can understand that for a mind torturer. I have no excuses today. It would be amazing, if only I could bring myself to say yes. I’ve done it before on AFF, so why can’t I now? Out of desperation I request if I can do AFF again, anything to give that control to someone else again. I’m told no, obviously. I know how to skydive. I’m a good skydiver so I’m told. I’m just a nelly I’m told. This results in me crying alone in the toilets. And considering that I am not the type of person for skydiving, I’m too much of a scared person. But this is heart breaking to me. The thought of losing my connection with these people and my place amongst them (which I had dreamed off since I first stepped off the side of the plane) was devastating to me. These are such incredible people and this life is such an incredibly breath taking life, when you are not dominated by fear. And in the toilets, alone, I am utterly devastated at the loss of this life only because of me. And as I’m pathetically wiping my tears and washing my face, one of the female instructors comes in and see me. “Why aren’t you on the plane? It’s a gorgeous day?”, “cos I’m stupid, I’m just an idiot. I can’t bring myself to do it”. “Look Nat you either need to make the decision to get on the plane or pack up and go home and give it up. This is only hurting yourself”. And she turned around and walked out. And with stark clarity, I realised she was right. She had solidified my cross road. There is nothing stopping me here but me and if I wasn’t going to jump then I needed to accept that I wasn’t able to and give up this horrific and fearful journey, learn something about myself. I thought about leaving for good; this place that I love so much, these people that I love so much and never flying through the air again; a feeling that truly does course through my veins most waking and sleeping moments regardless of this fear that I have. And I just can’t do it. I can’t leave it. My only option is clear. I am getting on that plane regardless of my fear. Regardless of my hammering heart, regardless of my shaking legs. I’m doing it anyway. Because I can’t leave it behind, I can’t live the life I did before and I can’t live in this endless cycle of fear, excitement, depression and obsession.

In a haze, I leave the toilets and head for the manifest putting my jump ticket in and then zombie like to put my kit on. I’m waiting for the true physical sensation of fear to kick in but I’m distracted by putting my parachute, goggles, gloves, altimeter and helmet on. And then I hear our call and I’m distracted by ensuring that my kit is being safely checked and signed off and then suddenly we are walking down to the plane and I realise that the expected dreaded fear is not as bad as I thought it would be. My heart is fluttering and my stomach is churning slightly but I’m still walking in the direction of the plane. Progress. This is happening. I’m making it happen. And then we are climbing onto the plane for the first time in a long time. And I feel my mind fixate on what I’m about to do. No voice screaming not to do it. No survival warriors planning my get out strategy. I think now because I was the one making the choice to do it, not my instructors, but me; fully and freely. In fact, I think those components of myself were still there, but once I had made the decision to jump they gave up their fight and fell into line, willing to support my ridiculous decision. My survival instinct willing now to support me rather than try and talk me out of it. Finally I had control of my mind chatter. It isn’t physical fear that controls our actions, but our belief that we can’t control our fear. And in knowing that I can control my fear, I have changed my destiny to one that I want, one that I aspire to.

Gaining that power was a simple matter of making a decision. One that was counter intuitive to my feelings at the time but one that I knew would enable me to be the person I truly wanted to be, regardless of my fear.

In knowing I had been able to make the decision to do this, I knew I would be able to do it again. And each time I turned up at the drop zone it would take me less and less time to make “the decision”. Once I had, everything else fell into place. I literally felt less anxious once I had decided I was jumping and to get my kit on. First it was four hours, then three. And eventually, I could get on the plane within half an hour of getting there. And the physical sensation of fear is still there, I don’t think it will ever go away. It helps me to survive. But when the power is held in the mind and I remain focused upon the moment and not what is going on in my body, then physical fear becomes of secondary importance and almost valued.

I realised that what really drives our ability to overcome fear is to be able live in the moment and without expectation. I was always able to get myself to the drop zone by saying “I’ll see how I feel when I get there”. I didn’t react to how I was feeling at the time and I allowed myself to open myself up to the experience of what could happen, not what I expected to happen. What I do now is merely an extension of that. “I’ll see how I feel when I put my kit on. I’ll see how I feel when I put my jump ticket in, I’ll see how I feel when I get on the plane, I don’t have to jump”. And in living in this way I am opening myself up to the possibility of feeling something other than my expectation; which was fear. And by expecting fear what I was doing was causing fear. So in approaching life without expectation we are opening ourselves up to different opportunities, rather than making decisions based upon what you anticipate. I’ve heard it countless times in skydiving but in teaching as well. “I didn’t think I could do that, I thought I’d be more scared that than, I didn’t think I was capable, so I’ve never tried”. It is our negative and positive expectations that dominate our actions and most of the time they’re wrong. Whereas if we live without expectation, we might try things we never thought we would, we might like things we thought we wouldn’t and we probably dislike things we thought we would. Live without expectation and live in the moment. When someone says do you want to do that crazy bizarre thing you’ve never thought of? Be aware of the expectation in your thoughts and then ignore it and say yes. Open your-self up to the possibility of different potentials and you might find that you don’t even know yourself, your likes and dislikes. And what you are capable of when you don’t create unfounded fears through negative expectations. We should all strive to live in the moment and without expectation because when we do that, fear can never be allowed to manifest. So by this logic, I wonder what tomorrow could hold?

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