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  • ericaanne

Skydiving For My Mental Health

Updated: May 27, 2022

When Nick was hospitalized, I was already in therapy. I was also knee-deep into Brené Brown's work on vulnerability. I had just finished her book, Daring Greatly. It opens with Teddy Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" quote:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."

When Nick was hospitalized, I had finally decided to be vulnerable and opened up to my friends and family about what was happening. When a friend of mine heard that I had hospitalized him, she booked a flight down to visit.

As I mentioned in Hospitalization: Part 2, I was undergoing my preceptorship in a clinic under a licensed chiropractor. The practice was in DeLand, Florida, and as I came to find out, DeLand is the skydiving capital of the world. The chiropractor was a skydiver, and consequently, so were many patients. When I told him that my friend was visiting, I mentioned that we were interested in going skydiving. He had connections and set us up to go while she visited. He also decided to come with us.

As we drove up to the airport, I was a ball of nervousness and excitement. "Today, I'm going to dare greatly," I thought to myself. Although I'm sure jumping out of a perfectly good plane was not what Brené Brown meant, that was how I was choosing to interpret it that day.

The instructors got us dressed and walked us through what was going to happen; how to fall, how they were going to pull the parachute, what to expect when we land, and how to signal to them if we changed our mind about jumping. I started questioning this decision as we waited for the airplane to pull up. There were a handful of other skydivers with us. We were the only ones doing a tandem jump, so we would be the last people to jump from the plane.

I heard the plane coming in to gather us. It was a tiny propeller plane. The instructors rolled stairs up to the door as it came to a stop. We climbed the steps and sat down on the bench in the back as the plane took off. My hands started to sweat. I had never been so nervous in my life. We climbed higher and higher and eventually leveled out at 11,000 feet. The door opened, the colder air hit my face, and people started to jump. The chiropractor jumped before us. Next was my friend. She approached the door and the next thing I knew she was gone. Now it was my turn. I halfway considered tapping out as we approached the door, but my friend, who was afraid of heights, had just jumped. We slowly made our way to the door. I sat on the edge of the frame and looked down at the ground. I thought that this was the most insane decision I've ever made. I told myself "I'm going to dare greatly," and we fell. My stomach initially jumped like we were on a roller coaster, but as we got into the proper falling position, we stabilized. It felt like we were floating. We were so stable that I thought he had already pulled the parachute. The air whooshed by my head. It was so loud I could hardly hear the instructor strapped to my back. I couldn't figure out what he was saying until he finally pulled the parachute. I realized he was trying to warn me about the upwards pull of the parachute. As it opened, the whooshing sound stopped. It was silent as I looked around at the view. He started to point things out to me. I could see everything: the ocean, the bridges in Daytona leading to the beaches, the surrounding lakes and waterways, downtown DeLand, and miles out to the horizon. I felt free for the first time in months.

We started approaching the ground and he reviewed how we'd be landing. I kicked my feet out and we came to a gentle stop on the ground. We unstrapped ourselves and I stood up. I found my friend and the chiropractor and we stopped at the airport bar for a drink.

I immediately had one question for him. "So what are the next steps so I can jump by myself, like you did?" I asked him.

He smiled and said "She's hooked!" He went on to tell me about the United States Parachuting Association and how I could get my skydiving license. I would proceed to try to get my license over the coming weeks before graduation. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be able to fit all my required jumps in before we moved out of Florida, but it was still fun to learn how to skydive.

The reason I wanted to keep jumping was this: when you jump out of plane, and live, it quickly puts your life into perspective. As the old adage goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The absolute worst things in life could happen to me, but it didn't mean that my life was over. Whatever the outcome may have been with mine and Nick's situation, as hard as it could have been, I could keep going. I could keep jumping out of planes. I could keep showing up to the arena. I could keep daring greatly with my life.

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