August 3, 2015

Fear and Falling In Las Vegas: Why I Jumped.

Photo: Harry Eggens on Pixoto.

I watched my foot dangling over the edge of the building. The wind whipped my hair off my face and caused my sleeves to flap like wings.

I heard her count, “One…Two…Three,” which I knew was my cue, but I couldn’t let go. I laughed, partly due to embarrassment, but mostly due to that “what the hell am I doing here?” feeling.

“One more time, please. I promise I’ll do it.”

I loosened my grip on the metal bars, my foot still hanging in midair.

“Okay, one more time. Here we go.”

I’ve always been scared of heights.

I don’t quite remember where the fear originated. I didn’t fall out of a tree or crash down some huge slide as a child. Growing up in New York, I’d climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and stood on the observation deck of the Empire State building, but there was always an uneasiness. That dizzy, nauseous, life-ending feeling you get when you have to take a test you know you didn’t study for.

When I was 10, I saw the movie “Alive” for the first time.

I was in my Ethan Hawke phase and wasn’t exactly paying attention to plot when I grabbed it off the shelf at Blockbuster. It follows the story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes in 1972; the survivors were forced to eat the dead for nourishment.

For someone with a fear of heights—and thus an implicit fear of flying—this movie was the worst of the worst case scenarios. I could feel the fear wash through my body. My heart felt too big for my chest, my breathing was labored and I spent almost two hours peering out between my fingers, which were glued to my face.

The physical experience of this movie indulged my belief that heights, flying, falling or any action of the sort were simply not for me.

No, thank you.

And this fear became my story.

I was content to accept my limitations up until my 24th birthday, when all that stood between me, Las Vegas and Celine Dion was a five-hour flight, 36,000 feet in the air.

I panicked for weeks, imagining all the possible deathly scenarios that could occur. I even had my dad prescribe me a Xanax in the hope that I would just spend the flight blissfully unconscious. I kept repeating the same story to myself: You are scared of heights; you are scared of flying; you are scared.

You. Are. Scared.

We all have them. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. The stories that become our mantra: I can’t do this; I’m too scared to try that; I’d suck at this. I’m not strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough to be, do, feel or say what I want.

And these stories become ingrained in who we are. They become how we identify ourselves to the world. You become the person who’s afraid of heights; spiders; heartbreak; change.

What’s funny about fear, though, is that although it causes physical symptoms, it has nothing to do with your actual body and everything to do with your state of mind.

You see, I stepped on that plane, fastened my seat belt and even though my fingers gripped the arm rest for most of the trip, I landed safely in Las Vegas and had the time of my life. I’ve been on countless flights since then, all taking off and landing safely with zero signs of cannibalism, but my fear has persisted. Planes still freak me out. And heights still make me want to curl into a ball on the floor.

So it was more than a little shocking that eight years after that first plane ride I was back in Las Vegas, standing 855 feet in the air at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel, hooked up to a harness and cable preparing to take my first SkyJump.

I had tagged along with two friends who were giddy with reckless abandon, but as I watched them eagerly prepare for the jump, it wasn’t fear that I felt—it was regret.

I already regretted not jumping, not telling a different story. And regretting something I still had the power to change seemed like a waste of energy.

So at the last minute, I found myself swiping my credit card, slipping into the blue and yellow jump suit and standing on that ledge.

Don’t get me wrong, the thought of jumping made me want to vomit. My stomach felt wobbly; my legs unstable. I could feel the sweat pooling in my jumpsuit, and the buzz of the wind made my mind hectic. But as I stood on the edge, I realized I was less afraid of falling and more afraid that once I took this step—once I let go—I could no longer use fear as my excuse for not doing all the things I’d dreamed of.

I was afraid of not having anything to fear.

This one action would begin to erase the stories I had told myself about who I was. How could I be the girl afraid of heights and planes—of trying new things; of stepping outside of my comfort zone—once I hurled myself off a building?

I would have to redefine myself. And while that was scary, I knew it was possible.

The instructor pulled on my cable one last time to make sure I was secure. I shuffled my toes further off the edge and stared out at the old Las Vegas skyline in the distance.

“Okay, one more time. Here we go. One… Two… Three.”

I took in air.

I opened my eyes.

I let go.

~

Relephant:

3, 2, 1, Bungee!

~

Author: Nicole Cameron

Editor: Toby Israel,

Photo: Harry Eggens on Pixoto // Ornellas/Flickr

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