I’m at the airport, confident. I’ve never had vertigo in a plane before, so I’m not worried about jumping out of one.

Besides, my dad is jumping, too, and I don’t want to wimp out on him. Mom is here, too, documenting the whole thing in photos, so if I wimp out, there will be photographic evidence of my cowardice.

She snaps pictures of us putting on our blue suits. Then, we wait for instructions. It’s the first time we’ve done this, so there’ll be a professional strapped to our backs during the jump. While we wait, we watch a group of people preparing for their first solo jumps.

They roll around on the ground to simulate movements they’ll make while they are in free fall. The instructor says something like, “And this is what you’d do if the cord gets wrapped around your leg.”

I decide right away not to go any further with skydiver training. This decision is based on a general policy I have of avoiding situations where I have to fix something in less than a minute or else die.

A man comes up to Dad and introduces himself. He’s the guy that will be strapped to Dad’s back, so he takes Dad through what’s going to happen.

There are directions for how to jump out of the plane, what to do in the air, and how to land. I pay attention because I’m curious, but I also try not to pay too much attention because I don’t want to be bored when my professional skydiver gives me directions.

However, my skydiver shows up late, just as it’s time to get on the plane. Mom expresses concern that I didn’t get directions, but Dad’s skydiver says, “Eh, you heard me explain things, right?”

I kind of shrug my shoulders and nod. I pretty much had the gist of things. I felt like I was cool.

We all get strapped to our skydivers, and then we get in the plane. After the plane takes off, I decide I am definitely not cool. It’s a tiny plane and the ground gets farther and farther away very quickly. My stomach clenches.

We’re seated in sequence: Some kid shooting a video of his jump will go first, then Dad, then me.

In my head, I review the directions they gave Dad. Did anyone say it was normal to panic? I don’t remember anyone saying that, but it must be normal, right? I think about asking, but I can’t really speak.

I think to myself: Don’t wimp out in front of your Dad. You have to do this. You have to do this. You have to do this you stupid ridiculous moron.

The ground is two miles below us. We aren’t getting down there by plane. The door has been wide open for a while now.

My heart is a hammer.

“Nice weather, isn’t it?” my skydiver hollers from behind me.

“Yeah,” says one of the other pros.

In my head, I ask if we can shut the door. No one hears.

And then it’s time to jump. A skydiver with a camera hops out onto the wing of the plane, as if it were an ordinary thing to do.

Then the kid and his strapped-on skydiver shuffle over to the door.

They hunch over together in the tiny doorway, count to three, and then fall forward, out of the plane. Then the camera person falls forward off the wing of the plane, following after them. The whole thing twists my stomach.

Then it’s Dad’s turn. No time for reflection. I can only see Dad’s right arm, but he seems as cool as a glacier. He and his skydiver stand in the doorway and count to three, then fall out of the plane.

My turn. It takes me a second to move. Maybe more. We shuffle forward. I have to go into a deep place inside myself to get my feet to move far enough forward so that my toes hang over the edge. I’m now bent over in the doorway, looking between my toes at the ground below.

“One.”

My skydiver is counting to three but he seems to have stopped at one, like he’s pausing to make me more queasy, to torture me. It’s taking far too long. What is he waiting for? I don’t want to be looking at the ground right now.

“Two.”

I want to tell him we should jump now before I change my mind. Do we have to stare at the land two miles down for so long? Do we have to count to three? Can we just go?

I suck it up.

I surrender.

I think: I will just do this. I will not think about anything else except falling forward on three. I yield to the universe.

“Three.”

I fall forward, pushing my arms out and spreading my legs. The wind hits. It’s chaos for a second, and then a new equilibrium is achieved.  We’re falling.

It doesn’t feel like falling, though. The vertigo I experienced in the plane is completely gone.

I look down. It looks peaceful down there.

I look at the mountains. The tips of the mountains are even with my line of sight. I’m at fifteen thousand feet. And I’m flying.

I’m so high up that I can see the curvature of the Earth. I can feel the planet’s enormous size. I can also grasp how small I am.

I’m suddenly comforted by the knowledge that whatever might happen during my skydiving experience doesn’t really matter. How could I possibly affect the giant, enormous planet below? Earth will be precisely the same, whether I smash into the ground at 120 miles per hour or not. I am a speck, and all my worries are gone.

My skydiver taps me on the shoulder. “Doing okay?”

I nod. I actually am.

I think about saying, “Does it matter?” But I figure it doesn’t matter enough to ask.

No vomit on my skydiving suit, and no visible wet spots in the crotch area. Whew.

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AARON DIETZ is the author of Super, a novel from Emergency Press about commitment, crisis, paperwork, and heartbreak. Dietz's super powers include a high metabolism and the ability to put things back where he got them. He's also pretty good at math. As an instructional designer, Dietz has written online high school courses on computer programming, green design, and 3-D video game creation. It’s natural for him to write quizzes. He’s worked a decade in libraries. He’s also been paid to count traffic and once failed a personality test. Dietz writes for TheNervousBreakdown.com, blogs at aarondietz.us, and is an advisory editor of KNOCK Magazine.

12 responses to “I Have a Fear of Heights; I Went Skydiving Anyway”

  1. Frani says:

    Doing this with your father makes me understand a little what your motive might have been. Your father however must be entirely insane. It’s hard to believe he has such lovely children. I for one would never jump out of a plane. And I would beg any of my children not to do it with tears. On the other hand I bet it was incredible and you’re lucky to have a father with so much faith. Frani

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      My Dad’s pretty amazing, and my Mom is, too–I’m very lucky in that regard. It probably would have been harder to get the impetus together to do it alone. I had heard my Dad was thinking about it at one point, and at the time I was sort of in an experience-collecting phase of my life, so it worked out. We both took a risk, though. And we’re both possibly crazy….

  2. overcoming anxiety, overcoming fear, overcoming phobias…

    […]Aaron Dietz | I Have a Fear of Heights; I Went Skydiving Anyway | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

  3. Stephanie says:

    I just stumbled on this and am immensely relieved. I just, (about two minutes ago), booked my first skydiving trip despite my extreme fear of heights. I’m graduating and I think I need to do something that I never thought I’d do. My stomach was in knots just reading this until you mentioned the equilibrium. That’s it. That’s what I want, and that was what made me certain I CAN go through with this. Thank you.

    • Aaron Dietz says:

      Stephanie, thanks for your comment! Good luck on your jump! It’s a truly great experience–really mellowed me out and helped me relax for a while. Just get out of the plane and you’ll be perfectly fine!

  4. Noah says:

    Well this certainly makes me feel like I’ll be okay. I booked the dive for about a month from now, wasn’t really all that freaked out. That all changed when I had to leave a convert venue because the seats were at the very top of tops of the stadium (I did not select them, but shouldn’t have been so trusting of my friend’s judgement.) I made it up to the seats just fine, but the thin bleachers gave me such a doom feeling I had to exit. Then I became majorly concerned about being able to do the jump, but I think I’ll be okay now.

  5. ray dasilva, jr says:

    Awesome story. I have jumped 3 times and must admit that theres alittle part of me that still gets alittle nervous but its a normal human reaction of the unknown. I guess im not nervous enough to go for my A License next month. Thats how much I loved the experience and felt that was my calling to persue the sport of skydiving. But I have to agree that the biggest challenge is getting up there but once you jump out theres an equilibrum, youre at peace.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Hey,

    Great story, I’m due to jump tomorrow and I’ve only just been reading up and thinking this through properly.

    I’ve had anxiety in the past and I’m sitting here head spinning, heart racing with a sweat feeling like I am about to pass out and throw up simultaneously. When I’m there I’m certain I’ll break down, or make the plane and then panic going up.. sitting down in the plane would be enough to make me pass out.

    I would like to be able to do it as it’s for charity, but I don’t think I can and I am panicking thinking I need to cancel.

    Any advice/help on this please?

    • Deone says:

      Oh Elizabeth.

      I’m in the exact same boat as you.

      I’ve done lots of crazy stuff. Been in two stunt planes, love roller coasters. I’m one of those guys who keeps his hands up for the whole thrill ride.

      But I’m so scared of skydiving. Some friends and I are supposed to do it later today and I’m beyond petrified that I’ll change my mind in the plane.

      I would not be able to live with myself if I did that. Seriously.

  7. Belinda says:

    I was supposed to go with my father, however plans changed when I learned I was pregnant with my first son. Now that my son is turning 18, figured he and I would go for his 18th. I’m deathly afraid of heights, read this and felt like I’ve already done it. No big unknowns now, I don’t want my son to see his tough tomboy mom act like a wimp… I know it’s been a while but thanks for the post!

    • Elisa Torres says:

      How did it go Belinda? What did it feel like when you first pumped out- any stomach in the throat/just got socked in the stomach feelings?

      • Deone says:

        No you don’t get those feelings jumping out of a plane.

        You do when jumping out of a hot air balloon though.

        Has something to do with acceleration, momentum, and directional changes.

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