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planetoi

Student fresh off AFF - I'm terrified of skydiving. Should I quit?

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Posted (edited)

Hey all. Warning, long post ahead.

TLDR;

I'm a baby skydiver with 10 jumps, fresh out of AFF. All of my jumps went great and I love the feeling of skydiving, but at the same time, I'm always thinking about how afraid I am for my next jump even when I'm not at the DZ. I'm exhausted and I don't know if I can take the anxiety anymore. I'm not sure if I should accept that maybe skydiving isn't for me or if there's anything else I can do. Looking for any advice or personal experience to help me out!

 

I came into skydiving from a unique background. I've worked at a tunnel for years so I had about 20 hours before I ever jumped out of an airplane. I did my first tandem last summer and absolutely fell in love. I felt like I'd come home and I knew straight away I needed to do it more. I saved up for my AFF over winter and quarantine and I finally started in July. It's been 5 weeks since my course started and I graduated 2 weeks ago, except I haven't done a jump since.

The problem is that I'm terrified. I really struggled with anxiety all throughout my progression, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, cold sweats, felt sick, the whole works. I could never really pin-point what exactly I'm afraid of. It's not door fear, or exiting, or free fall, or landing, or gear fear or any of that. Just this abstract, visceral fear. I somehow managed to finish and now the thought of doing my first real solo (that is, my first self-supervised jump) feels insurmountable. I'm terrified and for the first time I actually feel like I CAN'T do it. I was all geared up and manifested last week and I chickened out and took myself all of the load.

I decided to take some time off to get my head sorted out and possibly come back to the sport next season, but I'm so embarrassed and disappointed with myself. I love jumping once I'm out of the plane. I love how surreal the free fall feels, I love flying my own canopy, I love landing. But I'm exhausted from feeling so scared all the time, and the thought of doing another jump fills me with dread and not excitement. I don't know what to do. I don't want to fully quit but at what point do I say "okay, this isn't for me." 

Does anyone have any advice, or did anyone else go through something similar?

 

 

Edited by planetoi
Adding tags, moved tldr to the top of post

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I might not have been as scared as you but I didn’t really like skydiving for the first 50 jumps, It was entirely too stressful.

I distinctly remember when it changed, I was in a DC-3 shitting my pants again and stressing out when I asked myself why am I putting myself through all this? then I said to myself “Because I am a skydiver” not just someone making another jump, but a Skydiver. When I accepted this obvious fact, everything turned around and I started having great fun.
 

After 33 years and 4 digits of jumps, I occasionally ask my self why I still do it, It is because it is a part of who I am.   
 

 

 

 

 

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16 hours ago, planetoi said:

I somehow managed to finish and now the thought of doing my first real solo (that is, my first self-supervised jump) feels insurmountable. I'm terrified and for the first time I actually feel like I CAN'T do i

While I did static line rather than AFF (I'm old), I too was shit scared until my first self-supervised jump (i.e. first freefall). As in I seriously considered riding the plane down each time. I made 7 static lines (minimum of 5), and was more scared each time.

I went ahead and made the first freefall, and somehow relying on myself really cured it. I was a skydiver after that. When I'd made my first jump, I was given the choice between a certificate and a logbook, and I'd taken the logbook, but man I regretted it part of my student progression.

There's nothing wrong with deciding skydiving isn't for you. Absolutely nothing wrong. Even as a tunnel instructor. But I will say that my first freefall was a magic jump for me; it was about 45 years ago, and I still remember it distinctly.

So no advice, just parallel experience, and agreement with the other poster that no, you're not alone.

Wendy P.

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1 hour ago, wmw999 said:

There's nothing wrong with deciding skydiving isn't for you. Absolutely nothing wrong.

Skydiving is a fringe activity. And it takes a lot of time effort and money to partake. Each person must decide if the rewards they get from the sport are worth the assorted costs. For nearly everyone who tries it, the answer is a resounding no. No one needs to do sport skydiving.

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48 minutes ago, gowlerk said:

Skydiving is a fringe activity. And it takes a lot of time effort and money to partake. Each person must decide if the rewards they get from the sport are worth the assorted costs. For nearly everyone who tries it, the answer is a resounding no. No one needs to do sport skydiving.

Logically I know this, it just feels shitty to throw in the towel when I loved it so much initially. Especially since I'll go throw life knowing that I gave up for no other reason than because I was afraid.

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2 hours ago, TommyM said:

I might not have been as scared as you but I didn’t really like skydiving for the first 50 jumps, It was entirely too stressful.

I distinctly remember when it changed, I was in a DC-3 shitting my pants again and stressing out when I asked myself why am I putting myself through all this? then I said to myself “Because I am a skydiver” not just someone making another jump, but a Skydiver. When I accepted this obvious fact, everything turned around and I started having great fun.
 

After 33 years and 4 digits of jumps, I occasionally ask my self why I still do it, It is because it is a part of who I am.   
 

 

 

 

 

Wow! How did you manage 50 if you weren't enjoying it?

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2 hours ago, wmw999 said:

While I did static line rather than AFF (I'm old), I too was shit scared until my first self-supervised jump (i.e. first freefall). As in I seriously considered riding the plane down each time. I made 7 static lines (minimum of 5), and was more scared each time.

I went ahead and made the first freefall, and somehow relying on myself really cured it. I was a skydiver after that. When I'd made my first jump, I was given the choice between a certificate and a logbook, and I'd taken the logbook, but man I regretted it part of my student progression.

There's nothing wrong with deciding skydiving isn't for you. Absolutely nothing wrong. Even as a tunnel instructor. But I will say that my first freefall was a magic jump for me; it was about 45 years ago, and I still remember it distinctly.

So no advice, just parallel experience, and agreement with the other poster that no, you're not alone.

Wendy P.

See this is what's making it so hard to decide if it's worth it haha. Right now, it doesn't feel like it is but I just keep thinking about what could be on the other side if I push through. 

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I'm wondering if it's the lack of "safety nets" (for lack of a better term) that's currently freaking you out.  Before, you knew that if you froze, or something went wrong, there was at least one instructor who would try to help.  Now, there's just you.

If that resonates with you, then I think you have multiple avenues.  One is simply to stop.  You've done what 99% of humans have never done: jumped out of an airplane at least 8 times and survived.  You have nothing you need to prove to anyone if you don't want to continue, and if you enjoy flying, there's always the tunnel.

Another is simply to commit.  I don't care what I'm feeling, I don't care if I'm shitting my pants, as long as I am conscious, I am going out that door.  And then do everything in your power to prepare yourself for saving your own life thereafter.  Visualize how the dive will go, what you will do if you tumble, what moves you're going to try if any, when you're going to check your altimeter, how you're going to pull, what to do if you have a hard pull, what to do if you have a malfunction.  Everything.  Over and over, until it's automatic.  Whenever doubts creep in, put them aside, and refocus on the diveflow, and visualizing how it's going to go.  And then do it.

A third is simply to wait.  The sky is not going anywhere.  If you wait too long, you'll need to repeat some (or all) AFF levels if you decide to return, but that's not the end of the world.  But your choices are not binary -- jump now or stop forever.  Maybe in three months you'll be missing the feeling.  Or maybe you'll decide you're happier not skydiving.

Good luck!

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56 minutes ago, ghost47 said:

I'm wondering if it's the lack of "safety nets" (for lack of a better term) that's currently freaking you out.  Before, you knew that if you froze, or something went wrong, there was at least one instructor who would try to help.  Now, there's just you.

If that resonates with you, then I think you have multiple avenues.  One is simply to stop.  You've done what 99% of humans have never done: jumped out of an airplane at least 8 times and survived.  You have nothing you need to prove to anyone if you don't want to continue, and if you enjoy flying, there's always the tunnel.

Another is simply to commit.  I don't care what I'm feeling, I don't care if I'm shitting my pants, as long as I am conscious, I am going out that door.  And then do everything in your power to prepare yourself for saving your own life thereafter.  Visualize how the dive will go, what you will do if you tumble, what moves you're going to try if any, when you're going to check your altimeter, how you're going to pull, what to do if you have a hard pull, what to do if you have a malfunction.  Everything.  Over and over, until it's automatic.  Whenever doubts creep in, put them aside, and refocus on the diveflow, and visualizing how it's going to go.  And then do it.

A third is simply to wait.  The sky is not going anywhere.  If you wait too long, you'll need to repeat some (or all) AFF levels if you decide to return, but that's not the end of the world.  But your choices are not binary -- jump now or stop forever.  Maybe in three months you'll be missing the feeling.  Or maybe you'll decide you're happier not skydiving.

Good luck!

That is part of it i think, but it's not that I'm afraid of not having the safety net, it's more like I went from my instructor doing everything for me and all i had to do was jump and have him there if i need him, to being completely on my own. I feel like I don't have the knowledge or the experience to do it on my own. Mind you, I've been a nervous wreck through all of my jumps but that's what's making this jump feel impossible whereas I could force myself to do the last ones.

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(edited)

Being scared is normal, everytime I'm in the aeroplane I decide that I'll make this jump my last, when I land I'll pack-up my stuff and go home. Then when I'm in the air it all changes.

As Ghost says whatever you decide, you have already done some amazing stuff, more than most people ever dream of.

Edited by neilmck

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3 hours ago, planetoi said:

I feel like I don't have the knowledge or the experience to do it on my own.

you are a fascinating case; all your tunnel experience should put you in a great spot to be able to do it on your own. 20 hrs in a tunnel should make you at ease in the air and be able to overcome the normal worries of new skydivers, like becoming unstable or failing to be able to follow the dive plan.

i had a lot of fear as a newb, but it was rooted in those types of fears, getting stuck on my back or in a spin or some such. You don't seem to have those sorts of fears, and the solution to those would be to tell the scared student to "go spend some time in a tunnel" :) of course that won't work for you.

so I dunno. maybe talk to a professional / therapist about your fears? or put it down for a while. 

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. I feel like I don't have the knowledge or the experience to do it on my own.

Well, obviously I don't know you or your DZ or your AFF-Is, and this is the Internet, but I'd be very surprised if you didn't have the knowledge to save your own life on a skydive.  I don't think your instructors would have let you out of the plane for AFF-1 if you didn't have the knowledge.  My AFF-1 was over a decade ago, but I'm sure they went over how to pull, and the different possible malfunctions, and what to do for each.  I think what you lack is not the knowledge, but the confidence that you'll employ that knowledge correctly in the limited time you'll have.  And, the thing is, you'll never know if you don't try, and if you do try and you're wrong, there are potentially fatal consequences (hopefully your AAD would fire your reserve, but that's obviously not something to be counted on).  That shouldn't be sugar-coated.

But really, the only way to gain that confidence is to do it.  Again and again.  So, if that's something that you want to do, then I'd just suggest you do everything possible to make sure that when the time comes, you know what to do.  And, for me, that involves visualizing and practicing and visualizing and practicing and visualizing and practicing until you're just reacting.  5,500 feet (or 1,500 meters or whatever you guys pull at), wave off, reach for the hackey and pull and throw.  Get to the point where there's no thought involved.  Then do it.

Or not.  Many people live very full and significant lives without skydiving.

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It will get better with time. It's probably just anxiety. I had it a lot for the first 40 jumps or so too. I used to loose sleep during AFF actually even though nothing really that bad actually happened to me during AFF. If it was easy, what would be the point? It's fun because it's not easy. Give it time and it will get better. The first 40 jumps are the hardest mentally.

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7 hours ago, planetoi said:

Especially since I'll go throw life knowing that I gave up for no other reason than because I was afraid.

Well....remember that part about the reward and if it is worth the cost? For most people, especially starting out, a large part of the reward is the adrenaline rush. You can't really get that without some fear. It's part of the reward system in your brain.

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20 hours ago, planetoi said:

it's more like I went from my instructor doing everything for me and all i had to do was jump and have him there if i need him, to being completely on my own. I feel like I don't have the knowledge or the experience to do it on my own.

Yes, it can be a problem with AFF or the similar PFF, that a lot of minor stuff gets a bit missed along the way. Dropzones are busy, instructors are busy, instructors aren't paid a ton, so the emphasis is on the big stuff: Your freefall maneuvers, your pull, flying the canopy to landing, your flare.

All sorts of other stuff should be gradually introduced during the process -- Getting you started to being more independent in checking all the components of your gear and donning it, starting to learn how to spot that your exit point is correct, learning to evaluate the dropzone weather and winds situation, etc. Each jump you should be taking on a little more responsibility, doing a little bit more yourself. But things get rushed and it is quicker for the instructor to deal with all the details, vital as they are.

So there's plenty of learning to go. If you are in the USPA AFF system, I don't know the details of how it works, but you're not truly solo yet, you're not licenced and on your own. There's still supervision.

You may indeed need to ask instructors more questions and have them slow down. A slow or rainy day at the DZ may be useful in case you do need to catch up. Take the time to go over gear checks some more. 

Similar to what ghost47 has said, go through the jump in your mind from beginning to end, and ask yourself whether you know what you have to do. Find specific things to address.

Do I want to skydive at all? If yes, continue.

Do I know how to select the right gear? Do I know how to inspect it? Do I know how to evaluate the weather? Do I know how to plan the circuit pattern myself? 

And so on. You'll get some idea if there are specific things that you know well (and don't need to have excess fear about), or if there are specific things that worry you because you're unsure about how to do those tasks. In which case, get more training on those things.

Overcoming fear is part of the process of becoming a skydiver. That's part of the fun of hurling yourself at a planet. Some fears are entirely rational, some need to be overcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To me the fear logically goes away when you properly accept the small chance you might die doing this.

Sometimes when I'm at height I think, "What if this is the jump I go in on?"

It's always followed by, "Oh well, fuck it. It was worth it, what a ride up until now, lets go!"

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13 hours ago, pchapman said:

(...) Overcoming fear is part of the process of becoming a skydiver. 

That! You just need to push through it, it gets much better and easier with jumps. You can always do coach jumps too - that way you have another person with you on the jump.

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I had a very high level of fear for my first 17 jumps, I remember practically shaking and asking myself why the hell do I keep putting myself through this. I also remember jump 18 becoming easier for some reason. 

That's not to say that I've not second guessed jumping a couple other times in the plane, heck around jump 100 I actually rode the plane down once because I just wasn't feeling it, but now I just consider what I experience a healthy amount of fear that keeps my on my toes. That bit of fear I still have is what keeps me practicing my EPs, religiously making it my business what the others around me are doing, triple checking my gear, not allowing myself to become complacent. 

As others have said, it's really up to you to decide if it is worth it, but I think you are definitely not alone here and many find that they can push through the fear. For me, the amazing people I was able to hang out with who also encouraged and mentored me made what I was doing worth it.

No matter what you decide, have fun!

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On 8/8/2020 at 1:04 PM, planetoi said:

it just feels shitty to throw in the towel when I loved it so much initially. Especially since I'll go throw life knowing that I gave up for no other reason than because I was afraid.

You might also come back to it later.

I kind of wonder if, because you're already a really good body pilot because of all your tunnel time, maybe you weren't expecting to be uncomfortable with skydiving - or AS uncomfortable with it as you suddenly are - and so you just weren't prepared for it? I don't know, maybe the lack of stuff that would occupy your mind as a newbie if you couldn't already kick ass in freefall is leaving room for your fear to expand into....

It might also be that your nervousness is being magnified by *all the other anxiety-provoking shit* going on in the world right now, that you can't really do much about. Cutting the anxiety caused by skydiving is pretty easy compared with Pandemic anxiety, for instance.

Whatever the reason, it's ok to stop jumping, whether it's for now or forever. To me, it doesn't make sense to skydive if you aren't having fun. Gravity will still work if/when you want to get back at it, and you'll still be able to fly circles around chumps like me (literally and figuratively, lol).

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You're only 10 jumps into this.  For your "A" license, you will need some coach jumps.  Discuss your fears with your instructor for these "coached jumps".  I had some huge fear and non-confidence issues getting through to my A license and my instructors really helped me with the door and the ride up.  I really work hard with my students that if they have any fears I will take as much time as they need to work it out on the ground.  I hope you reach out to those who can help you!  Be well.

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It sounds like you know your procedures, and your tunnel time has had to make you comfortable in the air, so it seems like more of a mental block than anything else.  Why not find a B or C licensed jumper on your DZ, explain your anxiety, and offer to treat them to a couple of jumps if they'll just go up and hang out with you until deployment time?  It may only take a couple to prove to yourself that 'you got this'. :D  Good luck!

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6 hours ago, PLFKING said:

It sounds like you know your procedures, and your tunnel time has had to make you comfortable in the air, so it seems like more of a mental block than anything else.  Why not find a B or C licensed jumper on your DZ, explain your anxiety, and offer to treat them to a couple of jumps if they'll just go up and hang out with you until deployment time?  It may only take a couple to prove to yourself that 'you got this'. :D  Good luck!

I'm going to partially disagree here.

While tunnel teaches all the skills necessary for a successful freefall, it does nothing to actually teach you what it is like to be out there; actually falling towards the planet. As instructors we need to be very careful to not fall into the trap of OK-ing experienced tunnel staff for too much, too soon. They're still students with individual and maybe unique needs.

To the OP, as others have pointed out you do have an extensive toolkit for successfully making that first freefall. If you feel that this toolkit alone is not sufficient, there is no shame in quitting. The first jump (your tandem) merely happens to you. After that, you start experiencing the jumps more and more. With the knowledge and experience you have so far, you have to make a decision.

Also consider this: In the tunnel, you da man. Every student looks to you what to do. You know how things work, teach people to fly their body and probably can do stuff that most other people, skydivers included, can only look at in admiration.
Then you go to the DZ. Now you are the student. The feeling of control you have in the tunnel is gone. You have to accept this not only intellectually but subconsciously as well.

Finally, I would submit that "I continued for no other reason than because I did not want to look afraid" is one of the worst reasons to continue jumping.

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On 8/7/2020 at 6:30 PM, planetoi said:

Hey all. Warning, long post ahead.

TLDR;

I'm a baby skydiver with 10 jumps, fresh out of AFF. All of my jumps went great and I love the feeling of skydiving, but at the same time, I'm always thinking about how afraid I am for my next jump even when I'm not at the DZ. I'm exhausted and I don't know if I can take the anxiety anymore. I'm not sure if I should accept that maybe skydiving isn't for me or if there's anything else I can do. Looking for any advice or personal experience to help me out!

 

I came into skydiving from a unique background. I've worked at a tunnel for years so I had about 20 hours before I ever jumped out of an airplane. I did my first tandem last summer and absolutely fell in love. I felt like I'd come home and I knew straight away I needed to do it more. I saved up for my AFF over winter and quarantine and I finally started in July. It's been 5 weeks since my course started and I graduated 2 weeks ago, except I haven't done a jump since.

The problem is that I'm terrified. I really struggled with anxiety all throughout my progression, couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, cold sweats, felt sick, the whole works. I could never really pin-point what exactly I'm afraid of. It's not door fear, or exiting, or free fall, or landing, or gear fear or any of that. Just this abstract, visceral fear. I somehow managed to finish and now the thought of doing my first real solo (that is, my first self-supervised jump) feels insurmountable. I'm terrified and for the first time I actually feel like I CAN'T do it. I was all geared up and manifested last week and I chickened out and took myself all of the load.

I decided to take some time off to get my head sorted out and possibly come back to the sport next season, but I'm so embarrassed and disappointed with myself. I love jumping once I'm out of the plane. I love how surreal the free fall feels, I love flying my own canopy, I love landing. But I'm exhausted from feeling so scared all the time, and the thought of doing another jump fills me with dread and not excitement. I don't know what to do. I don't want to fully quit but at what point do I say "okay, this isn't for me." 

Does anyone have any advice, or did anyone else go through something similar?

 

 

We have been taught by our culture that fear is a bad thing and clearly you see it that way too.

Fear will keep you alive. It is the voice in our heads that reminds us we are conducting a dangerous activity. Fear - up to but not exceeding the point where it inhibits your abilities - is ok. It comes with the territory. You can fight fear or you can accept it. The latter will make things a lot easier for you.

Think less, fly more.

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On 8/9/2020 at 9:36 PM, BigL said:

To me the fear logically goes away when you properly accept the small chance you might die doing this.

Sometimes when I'm at height I think, "What if this is the jump I go in on?"

It's always followed by, "Oh well, fuck it. It was worth it, what a ride up until now, lets go!"

Yeah, I've heard that before too. I guess I haven't accepted that yet, I'm still trying to figure it if this is worth dying over

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On 8/11/2020 at 1:41 PM, betzilla said:

You might also come back to it later.

I kind of wonder if, because you're already a really good body pilot because of all your tunnel time, maybe you weren't expecting to be uncomfortable with skydiving - or AS uncomfortable with it as you suddenly are - and so you just weren't prepared for it? I don't know, maybe the lack of stuff that would occupy your mind as a newbie if you couldn't already kick ass in freefall is leaving room for your fear to expand into....

It might also be that your nervousness is being magnified by *all the other anxiety-provoking shit* going on in the world right now, that you can't really do much about. Cutting the anxiety caused by skydiving is pretty easy compared with Pandemic anxiety, for instance.

Whatever the reason, it's ok to stop jumping, whether it's for now or forever. To me, it doesn't make sense to skydive if you aren't having fun. Gravity will still work if/when you want to get back at it, and you'll still be able to fly circles around chumps like me (literally and figuratively, lol).

I definitely struggled with my expectations at the beginning, so you're probably right about that! I felt like I'd had an epiphany after my first tandem, as corny as that sounds. I spent all winter planning for my summer of skydiving and I was super stoked. I expected to be scared for the first one and then totally fine for all the subsequent jumps, so I guess I felt disappointed in myself for not being immediately comfortable.

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