What It's Like to Bungee Jump Every Day: On Facing Your Anxiety
I went bungee jumping a few years ago. I was SO excited; this was the pinnacle of my trip. I wanted to soar face first into a canyon and lose my mind and go crazy and have the time of my life.
But as I got to the top of the stairs, I could feel a weight settling in my chest. I could feel my heart rate grow fast and urgent, pounding away in my chest. My lungs felt like they were shrinking. I felt like I was quickly losing control of myself. My whole body was shaking; every cell was on edge. I got goosebumps up and down my skin in 70 degree weather. My throat felt like it was closing in. I got to the top. I stepped out onto the platform, hooked up to all the necessary safety features. I swallowed. I breathed. I held my arms out, I could hear the bungee staff speaking, but their words didn’t mean anything to me. All I could see was down—all the way down. And they said 3…. (breathe Andria) 2…. (inhale,exhale) 1! …….. 1! ………
My body didn’t budge an inch. I was begging my body to move, but every muscle was tensed tying me down to the ground as I looked out into the abyss—the open air 141 feet above the blue water.
“I can’t, I can’t.”
In that moment, I was so disappointed with myself. I was frustrated that I couldn’t will my body over the edge. I was right there. Everyone was watching. People were eagerly waiting their turn behind me. I wanted to do this, I begged my parents, I had to do this. They tried encouraging me, “Just fall forward.” They count down to 1 again.
Nothing. Stiff. Standstill. Stuck. Limbo.
Finally the lead guy came to stand behind me. He stretched his arms out, grabbing my arms. “You’re not going to do this on your own, so I’m going to push you. I’m not going to let you walk away from this. I know you can do this. On the count of three you’re going to lean forward, I won’t shove you, I promise, I’ll just guide you forward and then you’ll fall. Okay?”
Screaming. Free falling. Flying. Laughter.
It was over just like that; I was being pulled down and bounding back up the hundreds of steps to the top because my adrenaline was going crazy. “I’d do it again! I wanna do it again. It wasn’t scary. It was amazing. It was crazy!”
Though I don’t go bungee jumping everyday, I feel like I do. I could be doing the most ordinary things to any other human, but I feel like I’m standing on that platform. Frozen. And they keep yelling “Bungee!” and then sighing in frustration and annoyance when I don’t move.
Everyday. Then I replay it over and over and over, hating myself for what I don’t do, imagining everything I could have done.
The anxiety, I guess if it was visible would be this “force” of sorts inside me. It starts in my chest; when I’ve once again failed to do what I wanted to do and have ruminated on it a million times, this force collects in my head, from the top of my sinuses to my throat. And I cry, because the pressure is so strong. I cry and I cry and I hate myself. And then I pull myself together and go about my life like a person who doesn’t go bungee jumping a few times a day.
But there’s always a few souls. A few souls who refuse to let me walk away, who refuse to let me get away with it. A few who see the potential behind the inaction. A few who aren’t afraid to be honest, to call me out, and who, when necessary, aren’t afraid to push me over the edge. To let me fall and scream because they know I’ll be okay. Because they know if I’d just take one step, it’ll lead to another.
I have social anxiety. It creates a fear in me that is paralyzing, and I let it control me. My whole life is littered with instances where I clammed up, didn’t speak up, didn’t show up, and didn’t step up. There is a constant war in my brain, of what I want to do versus what I will let myself do.
But I ignore my issues and my shortcomings, because if I ignore them, then it is easy to believe the issues do not exist and I do not have to address them. It’s easier to believe people are so unbelievably unconcerned with me, don’t care about me, and want nothing to do with me than it is to believe I might actually be noticed.
But people do notice. My fear and my yielding to that fear show up in ugly ways. I ignore it a lot. And more often than not, no one calls me out. But it’s not helpful. If you had a friend who consistently drove on the wrong side of the road for no explainable reason, you’d tell them they’re an idiot and that they need to stop. Honesty. Brutal honesty. I need to be called out. I need you tell me that I’m messing up. That I’m hurting you or others. That I’m not doing myself any favors and that fear-based inaction is far worse than failure.
On the day I’m writing this, I stood at the top of the tallest mental bungee jump I’ve ever faced. This day was brutal. The truth hurts. It was one gut punch after another. The free fall was intense. I was shoved, maybe even thrown, over the edge. I had a panic attack because the two sides of my brain were at war.
I was disgusted with myself. I’m a person who believes in character, morals, selflessness, doing the right thing, being my best, putting others before myself. My biggest worry is that I’ve let someone down. And the truth was, I was letting everyone down, worst of all myself. I was having a panic attack because I didn’t want to be myself anymore, I wanted to escape my own body. Better yet, I wanted it out of me—whatever the thing is that lives inside of me, that suffocates me, that drowns me, I wanted it dead. Then, just like that, the panic was over.
Weightlessness. That’s kind of the way you feel after you’re back on two feet, and those feet are below your head. Weightless. And you have three options. You can stay down and never go back up and never face another bungee again. You can go back up and keep jumping the same bungee jump over and over again. Or you can go back up and look for the next one. Because they will come. Higher than the next, but the approach is the same, and you’re never incapable of surviving it.
On the day I had let myself and others down, I got back up, wiped away the tears, and took a deep breathe and said, “God, I really freaking need You.” And then I went up the stairs and moved forward, ready for the next bungee jump. And you know what’s funny, when I encountered those familiar bungee platforms the rest of the day, they didn’t scare me. There was a millisecond of hesitation, but then I took a breath and leapt, because I was stronger and braver. My heart didn’t race and my lungs didn’t shrink. Little by little the platforms become a bridge, and I stroll straight across, leaving my fears and anxieties below me.
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