It was something I had wanted to do for years, but was one of those things that I never thought I’d actually do. Skydiving? Where would I even begin with trying to plan something like that? Nah, maybe one day, but probably not.
I was reading The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White when these why not questions came to me. Deborah had written about her skydiving experience and I was in a place of wanting to do something BIG to show myself how well I’d done with overcoming my agoraphobia and doing a skydive fit the bill perfectly.
I’d wanted to do one for a long time, been envious when other people had told me about their experiences and yet there was something stopping me… So I asked myself what was it that was stopping me? Turned out it was just me, nothing else was in my way, simply my own fear of not doing it right and making a fool of myself somehow (that’s what always stops me, fear of looking like an idiot). Fuck that!
I put the book down and booked a skydive there and then.
Since then I have been fundraising my ass off! When you book it, you have the choice of doing it and paying for it yourself or you can do it for charity. Since I was doing it to show myself how far I had come with my mental health, I wanted to go down the charity route and thought what better charity to do it for than Mind, the mental health charity.
I have been spamming the interwebs for donations and badgering businesses for prizes for a raffle to say thank you to those who donate. Today, that spamming has helped me blow my £395 target out of the water and reach £755 in donations + £127.50 in Gift Aid + £120 worth of prizes for the raffle (that I will be drawing later!) + my work will be matching up to £500 for donations which means (yes, I am blowing my own trumpet here – who else will otherwise?) that I will have raised £1502.50 by the end of it all.
Proud? Me? Yeah, kinda. Not bad for someone who struggled to even leave the house back in February.
I have a lot of good, supportive and generous people in my life and I will forever be indebted to them for helping me reach this milestone and do good for a good cause.
My family were already there at the airfield waiting for me with big smiles on their faces as my jelly filled legs climbed out of the car, ‘How are you feeling?’ they asked, ‘I think it’s just dawned on me what I’m about to do,’ I replied.
First stop was to visit the check in desk to sign my life away.
Then very quickly I was off for the briefing session with Luke and the other first time jumpers. He told us so much about the kit…none of which I can remember because as soon as he said ‘It doesn’t matter how much of this you remember’ I stopped trying to remember what he said. Let’s face it, it was a lost cause with me anyway. Amongst the jokes of how many different ways there are to die while skydiving, I picked up the general message of, ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’
Next we were on the floor pretending we were in free fall. On our stomachs, our heads were up facing the sky, our arms tucked in ‘holding onto the parachute straps’ and feet back reaching for our bums. This is how we would have to stay in the air. One tap on the shoulder from your tandem skydiver meant we could put our arms out and enjoy the ride, the next tap we had to bring our arms back in and hold the straps again.
Then we swivelled around onto our bums, legs out in front. Grabbing beneath our knees we had to pull our legs into our bodies before leaning back and stretching our legs out, lifting them to keep them off the ground. This was hard!
All done, it was then time to wait for our names to be called to get ready for our flights.
Three from my briefing group were called up straight away, not including me, so I had a little wait before my turn. I went back to my family and watched as the first group got kitted up and taken off to the plane. It was much smaller than I thought it was going to be.
Soon enough as we looked into the bright sky we could see little dots next to the plane far up above and realised that was the skydivers! Oh my god, they’d jumped and that would soon be me!
They got bigger and bigger and I saw the parachutes were spinning around and around. This was not good. I get easily nauseous, I didn’t realise they did that. I just thought they went up and down. I hadn’t signed up for skyline acrobatics!
When my turn came, I felt oddly…fine. I wasn’t nervous, my legs weren’t filled with jelly as they had been earlier in the morning, there was no feeling of apprehension – just a calmness, an inevitability.
The bants was relentless as I got kitted up by a guy who kept telling me he didn’t know what he was doing, my tandem guy (Johnny) was ‘pretty sure’ he’d packed the parachute right, and more that I can’t even remember. But still I wasn’t nervous.
They said the outfit wasn’t a fashion statement, they weren’t joking about that. It looked like my head was a rocket with the hat on…
Suited and booted and smiles and waves for the camera, it was time to go.
Personal space and tandem skydive do not go together. Everyone was wedged between everyone else’s legs like we were about to do the boat song dance to ‘Oops upside your head’!
The plane was off and still I felt calm, which was actually freaking me silently out as I started worrying that perhaps I was more nervous than I even realised and I was about to pass out from it instead…something which has happened before. I told myself to breathe and to enjoy the view. After all, none of it even felt real anyway so I may as well enjoy the show.
Up and up we went, ‘man there’s a lot more greenery around than it looks from the ground’. Johnny and the guy with the camera (Big D), kept talking to me though I’m not really sure what about, I couldn’t fully hear them and I was taking in the view. I knew I was talking back but god knows what I was saying too. Maybe I was having an out of body experience..?
I remember Johnny telling me we were half way up, 5,000ft. We’re only half way up?? Shit.
We passed up through the clouds and then we were way above them. From below it had looked like there was hardly a cloud in the sky, above them they looked endless, like the sky was filled with clouds in all directions.
We had our five minute warning, and I was pulled up onto Johnny’s lap and strapped in, ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I won’t tell your husband!’
Two minute warning, we went over the drills again.
‘Right! Time to go!’
In a blur, the door was pulled open, Big D climbed out, I was being pushed to the door, ‘Oh, that’s the ground down there,’ and then we were in free fall.
I struggled for breath, but I wasn’t going to panic, I wouldn’t ruin this chance. I tried to scream as we had been instructed to do to kick start breathing normally again but nothing would come out. It was like a nightmare when something bad is happening and you’re trying to scream but you can’t. I took what little breaths I could and looked at everything all around me. So quickly the parachute was opened and Johnny asked me, ‘How was that?’
‘Incredible!’ and my eyes welled up. It really is so hard to describe what it was like, but it was so freeing. In those moments, nothing mattered. Nothing. I was either going to live to see another day or this was it for me, my time was up.
Before the parachute opened I heard Johnny shout, ‘OPEN, OPEN, OPEN!’ and repeatedly tug at the string. Whether this was for comedic affect, I don’t know. I didn’t want to know. It was part of the experience, my experience, whether it was staged or not.
He told me to take hold of the parachute reins and tug left and right to direct it. I am so weak that though I pulled with all my might – I could barely turn it. He took over again and spun us around in circles, I closed my eyes to keep myself from puking. Back on the ground Dan told me we had flipped upside down.
It was such a beautiful sight up there. So quiet and peaceful. I saw my family below and waved, I was so pleased they were there.
Then all too quickly it was time to brace myself for the landing. Again, I am so weak I really struggled to keep my legs up but I did it (just) and we landed with a thud on our bums as we should have.
What a fucking rush!
I would have got straight back up in that plane and done it again if I could, I wished I could.
And then it was over.
I’d done it. I’d survived.
What do I do now?
Pub, was the answer. Isn’t it always?
Until next time. x
P.S. I’ve had the video through sent through since writing this (it was actually Friday 21st June that I jumped out of the plane) and I’m so glad I decided to buy the photo and video package – totally worth it! Here it is!