When I started skydiving school I was hoping that my fear of heights would be cured, but I soon found out that a lot of my fellow skydivers share the same phobia.
Fear of heights is something innate, it’s a code which keeps us safe from an early age, preventing us from pursuing dangerous situations involving heights, so every healthy human being was born with a fear of heights. But some got it worse than others. Acrophobia is an extreme and irrational fear of heights and its symptoms vary from light to severe.
I wouldn’t say my symptoms are light, nor severe, but I’m definitely somewhere in the middle. If I’m on a rooftop or on an exposed place I don’t feel comfortable sitting near the railing and if I convince myself to peer down, I start feeling light headed and getting sweaty. What I experience it’s basically an anxiety attack which can vary in intensity. The overall sensation is that I can’t rely on my body, especially on my legs, and I immediately start imagining all sorts of grim scenarios which make me feel even worse. What happens is that the irrational overrides the rational.
For me there’s always a question of control.
Being on the top of a tall building makes me uneasy because I get the real sense of how high up I am and if I had fallen, there wouldn’t be a plan B. In skydiving, though, the exit altitude doesn’t bother me at all. That’s because at such an altitude one loses the ability to perceive height. And there’s the parachute and also my training which keeps me focused on the tasks at hand. My mind doesn’t have time for parasitic thoughts. In skydiving I’ve always experienced a healthy fear, not an overwhelming one, the kind that makes you push forward and experience life to its fullest.
Still the paradox remains. How can people suffering from acrophobia do skydiving? I truly believe any skydiver living with this phobia will tell you that the height simply doesn’t bother them when they are at the door of the plane. From two thousands meters high, the ground looks so far away, it becomes surreal and almost incomprehensible. The earth looks like a 2D map and you don’t get a full sense of the altitude. You know it on a rational level, but the impact is not proportional with the altitude. It’s an underestimation. At the same time, when being on a building top looking down we tend to overestimate the height. There are a lot of perceptual biases, so as weird as it may sound there’s not a conflictual relationship between skydiving and the fear of heights.
In the last four years I learnt that I shouldn’t run away from fear, but learn to control it. In this way it will be a friend not a foe, a tool which makes me challenge my self imposed limits.
Every time I make a jump, I’m improving my confidence and creating a healthier perspective on obstacles in life.
I wish you all the best and don’t miss out on the opportunity to skydive. It will give you clarity!
Next week we will show you a crazy and fun record. Stay tuned!
Humbly yours, MachineMan!