The view was ironically stunning as I stood in numb terror on the very edge. I was poised 150ft above the sea with the waves moving below me, the sun had earlier been warming my face, but now it had moved around and was gently pushing at my shoulders and neck. Across the water and along the coastline, I could see the relentless movement of the waves, evident even from so far away.
What had brought me here? It wasn’t the desire to end my life, but more that life had become monotonous, and I simply did not have the energy any more.
I had felt trapped in normality of living. Each day was the same, and although I hated my job it was what I knew, it was the path I had chosen. The people I worked with moaned about their jobs and each day the same problems were discussed over and over again. Nothing changed. Truth was I was just too scared that another job would be as bad – if not worse. Better the devil you know.
Men had come and gone, but nothing had stuck. There was always something that did not feel right. There was always an initial passion and romance but then it seemed to settle into a rhythmic domesticity which led nowhere. Maybe I just did not have the energy it took to keep the relationships together; or maybe I chose the wrong partners and looked for the easy options rather than something amazing. I simply could not commit to a relationship because I was scared it would end. So, inevitably, they did end, becoming self-fulfilling prophecies fuelled by the fear of having my heart broken.
The hobbies I had had in my youth, horse riding and skiing, seemed to have become more dangerous and I had even stopped dancing because it became too complicated to organise the time. What a waste! Now it had all gone and in my 30’s I felt that I was too old.
I worked, I saw the friends I knew – the people who I had most in common and who would not challenge me - I ate my usual food, in the regular places, drove the most direct route to and from work, and came home to the same television programmes, day in, and day out. Only here, on holiday in Cyprus, had I started to really feel alive again, but tomorrow the holiday would be over. Back home again. Back to boring ‘me’ surrounded by a safe and boring life – the same work, the same people, the same routine. At the time I didn’t even realise how dead I had become, I just knew I was not really living.
So there I stood, I had come here through a litany of inaction, to stand on this brink, and I did not want to go back.
I felt the tug of vertigo, the feeling of wanting to jump but at the same time my survival orientated, conscious brain screaming out the danger I was in. I was terrified, and felt frozen in time. I noticed all the minute details around me: from the sunlight glinting across the distant water and the tiny white cloud which alone sat unmoving in the sky; to the crowd below me, all gazing in my direction - I could see the expressions on their faces even from this distance. It was only a few seconds but it stretched out a lifetime.
I shifted closer to the edge so that my toes were protruding over the vast space below me. A stone dislodged under my foot and fell over the edge. In a moment of intensified horror I instinctively looked down – something I had firmly committed to avoid. It fell in slow motion directly down into the sea. Like standing on a set of bathroom scales I was standing erect and looking down past my toes, but instead of the unkind weight-measuring dial, there was nothing below at all. My eyes rapidly refocused as I was suddenly looking directly past my toes into the depths. My despair suddenly eradicated by the reality of the danger and a rush of adrenalin.
The waves below were swelling and crashing on the rocks, relentlessly persistent, each one like an original animated work of art by a deranged artist. The water was crystal clear, enormous round boulders were visible far below the surface, looking like the casually discarded marbles of some ancient god’s game. The ground heaved in and out of focus like the very earth itself was breathing – and I knew that this feeling was life, THIS was living.
Then, behind me, a man spoke and what he told me changed my life forever. I did not turn to look at him, but his warm voice brought me back to the present. He told me that I had a choice. I could let go and move forward, I could jump, which would set me free from fear and living in a box. Or I could step back and continue to be afraid, face the consequences of inaction.
He gave me 5 seconds to decide, counting down. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.
My mind which had been so busy went blank whilst he completed his countdown; but with the sound of his voice still vibrating in the air, I made my decision to move.
I tipped over the edge, enough for gravity to take me, and then dived out and into the air – deciding that if I was going to do it I was going looking good. It was beautiful, surreal, and the water looked so clear, so clean. For a moment, just one moment, I was suspended in the air, back arched and arms out. I felt free and proud and strong.
However, within a fraction of a second my rational brain kicked in and realising my betrayal of life and limb, took control of my body back – both conscious and subconscious. I screamed. Not a short squeak but a long drawn out scream of death that continued for the full seven seconds it took me to fall. Such a short time for someone sitting reading this, but an enormously long time to scream. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Try it and see!
The ground so beautiful below, suddenly rushed up towards me as I focused on the rocks below the water. There was no prayer, no flash of life, no thoughts of death - just the continuous scream, externally verbal and internally silent.
Then a moment of conscious control again. A thought, as I rapidly approached the water with my mouth wide open, a silent urgent command! ‘Stop Screaming.’ I closed my mouth just as I hit the water and the world stopped moving. I was still alive. I was in the water and still alive.
The surge of pure joy to have one more moment of living rushed through me. A power and rejoicing on an animal level such as I have never known before. Adrenalin surged through me and I was engulfed in physical sensations. Every nerve alive, and all making me forget the obvious. The pause over, I was pulled backwards out of the water and high up again into the air. The bungee cord having pulled tight was now dragging me back up into that terrified animal state. I swore as I went up, every expletive I had ever known. Only stopping at the top long enough to draw an enormous breath of air. Enough at least to scream all over again as the descent reoccurred.
The fear was tangible and solid, and continuing, but the second time I knew I would survive.
The second bounce was not so bad, nor the third – though each one was accompanied by alternate screaming and cursing. As I was eventually lowered down to the oversized inflatable mattress I was asked by a previous enthusiastic participant “So, how was it?” clearly expecting to hear the usual – that it was ‘better than sex’ etc.
I calmly opened my mouth and screamed again.
It took about two weeks for my voice box to heal, and in that time of enforced vocal silence I had an extraordinary transformation. I remembered over and over what the man had said.
“When you are young, you are fearless. You grow up and a dog bites you, so you get scared of dogs. You see someone knocked over by a car and you get nervous of crossing the road. You have a bad relationship and you end up preferring to be alone.
“Your comfort zone gets more and more restricted as there are fewer things you are comfortable with. Eventually you end up in a box with the walls getting smaller and smaller, with less and less things you will do. You work, go home, watch the same TV, sleep in the same position, get up, and work again; too scared to live or experience anything new, and really just killing time, just waiting to die.
“This bungee jump is so far outside your comfort zone that if you take it you will shatter the walls of your box forever. You will conquer fear itself. You can choose to move forward, to jump, and have an amazing life – where you can do anything. Or you can step back and go back into the box.”
I chose to jump, and he was right. Now I face the everyday fears, and find uncomfortable situations a challenge that I relish, because I know I will grow from them. I face the challenges with enthusiasm because whatever occurs it is going to expand my horizon and teach me something new.
I left my job, and found a new one, which gave me more experience and more confidence. I went back to college to study, and eventually started up my own business. I even set up an office with people working for me. I was doing interesting things, with interesting people and pushing my boundaries to achieve more. It has not been easy but it has certainly been fun.
I had better relationships with people that were not like me, who would enlighten me to new things and teach me more about living. I started dancing again, and skiing, and I took up new sports and hobbies. More than that, I met a man, got married and had children. The marriage did not work out – but that is another story – I have wonderful children whom I want to teach to live, love and laugh. I finally took the risk and found love, however temporary.
Without new experiences I was in a stagnant holding pattern but now I take the risks and whatever life throws at me I know that it is just life. You don’t necessarily have to jump off a cliff to realise that, and years on I don’t think it is something I would do again. However, knowing that I did the jump and remembering it, keeps my brain active and keeps me moving the box outwards rather than inwards.
It reminds me to experience more; to try alternate restaurants and foods; find different routes to work just to see new sights; to read a variety of books and genres even if they are initially awkward for me; to meet and listen to new people from all walks of life; and to learn daily from my children. A rich life is out there to be grabbed and rejoiced in. Making the choice to live is what matters, and the first step is to know that the choice is there.
So, do you choose to live facing your fears, or by letting your fears control you? It is your choice and you have 5 seconds to make it.
Hold on, or let go? … 5. 4. 3. 2. 1 …