Hello. I’m a newbie here and started AFP about a month ago. I apologize in advance for how long this is but I kind of need to get it all out. I’ve completed AFP 1-4. Before I get into the details of what I’m struggling with, let me give a little background. I’ve never really had a desire to Jump out of a plane. However, about 10 months ago, my wife decided she did. She did a few tandems, and immediately enrolled in AFP and got her “A”, and now “B” license. At the time my wife started AFP, I weighed 300+lbs and so it wasn’t even a possibility for me. She loves the sport so much that all she could talk about was wanting to share it with me/wanting to fly with me. So…I agreed that if I could lose the weight, I would give it a try to at least see if I liked it (as a guy in his mid-40’s who’s been struggling with weight for at least the last 5 years, I didn’t really think I would ever be able to lose the weight). Well, after 6 months of spending weekends at the DZ sitting at the picnic tables, eating salads, and supporting my wife in her sport, I had lost 80 lbs. and had a promise to keep to my wife. Still very uncertain about all of this, I decided if I was going to do a jump to see if I liked it (or let’s be honest, if I was even capable of getting out of the door), I decided to not do a tandem and instead enrolled in the first jump course so that I could get as close to the full experience as possible. When I was on the plane, I was on the verge of vomiting the entire ride up (all the while my wife is sitting in the rear “closet” of the twin otter grinning at me from ear to ear for the entire ride to altitude…no pressure there). Despite all of my reservations, I had a good textbook jump (arched on exit, didn’t get any hand signals, only one shake on exit, maintained COA, pulled at correct altitude, etc.). It was like as soon as I stepped out the door, my emotions left my body and I started checking the boxes on the “task list”, but I wasn’t really there at all emotionally. When I landed safely on the ground, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but trying not to disappoint my wife, I convinced myself that the sensory overload was so great that I didn’t know what I felt. Of course her and her (now our) skydiving friends all told me there is no way you can know if you like it after one jump so you have to at least give it 2 or 3 jumps to know for sure.
The next few days after AFP1, were hell on me emotionally. At that point, I began having lots of trouble sleeping averaging 3-4 total hours of frequently interrupted sleep per night. I began taking natural sleep aids (melatonin) to try to sleep without much help and then started with Nyquil or adult beverages once or twice a week just to try to catch up on sleep. Additionally, I could no longer watch videos or read thru the next level in the AFP manual without my heart rate spiking into the 130-140 range and me feeling sick to my stomach. Also, I couldn’t not think about anything but skydiving all day long and my resting heart rate has been elevated to 95-110 all day every day ever since (usually 58-65). I almost did not go back for level 2 but ended up going back and doing it a week later. Level 2 was out of a smaller plane with a lower door and so I had to do a squatting lunge out the door and even though the exit was terrifying to me, it went very well (even got an instructor “high 5” on the exit). The jump went very much like level 1 (it was pretty much textbook, I completely left all emotion at the door, went thru the steps like a robot again and had no emotion). I did manage to keep my eyes open thru the exit and at pull time and managed to see my parachute deploy (personal goals/self-critiques from my level 1). I really remember the beauty of watching the chute open and truly seeing/understanding how the slider directed the Airflow and opened the parachute like a perfectly orchestrated symphony. I also really enjoy flying under canopy (I’ve always been a lover of aviation and flying so this comes easy to me as I understand patterns, decent rates, etc.), but the freefall still terrified me and the only way I was able to get thru it was to not “be there” emotionally.
I skipped the next weekend due to weather and ended up going back the next weekend (2 weeks since level 2) for level 3. I was scared S#!tless about level 3 because I would be released in freefall. As I stated about level 1 & 2, I become a robot and “check the boxes” as close to perfectly as possible in freefall because a big part of my irrational fear is that if I even move a finger incorrectly, I will tumble towards the ground at 500mph. As such, being released was very terrifying to me as I might move a finger incorrectly leading to my untimely death. Luckily, I got a set of instructors for level 3 that were really good and helping me manage my fear and are probably the only reason I was able to complete level 3 (and one of those instructors also did my level 4 later that day). Level 3 was again a pretty uneventful jump, I checked out emotionally, and checked all of the boxes and did fine (in fact I didn’t really move on release and would have never believed they let go of me if I hadn’t seen it on video myself: the first thing I said to the instructor on the ground is why didn’t you let go of me). Level 4 also went ok, more of the same: check out emotionally for free fall, go thru the check boxes to live, etc. I did have a little bit of trouble on level 4 when I went to do my first 90 degree turn, I bent my back to the side I was turning and went “spinning” (turns out it was only about a 270) in the opposite direction but was able to get back to neutral arch and stop the turn and then completed 2 90’s correctly. even the “spin” didn’t really bother me other than I remember under canopy thinking “well I just failed that level” (Turns out I didn’t). After 4 jumps, I still cannot find hardly any joy. The only joy I get out of freefall is the 2-300ft just before pull altitude. Knowing it is over is all I can currently enjoy. I do however love canopy. Unfortunately, even if I were to decide that I’m only ever going to do hop and pops, I still have to get thru AFP which is terrifying. you have to freefall to get to canopy
So here I am after a month and 4 jumps and totally terrified to move forward. My heart rate remained at ~100bpm all day every day, I still can’t watch videos or read the next level without spiking my heart rate and feeling sick to my stomach and my sleeping after level 3 & 4 had gone from nightmares with a few hours of actual sleep a night to night terrors (waking up yelling/jumping out of bed and seeing my heart rate in the minutes after this in the 160-170 range on my Fitbit) and getting mere minutes of sleep in the course of the night despite any self-medication I have tried to assist with sleep. Literally, every time I would begin to fall asleep I went straight into falling out of control towards the earth and woke right back up in sheer terror. I had to do a lot of soul searching in the time that everyone else is a sleep for a few nights in a row. I know my fear is irrational but it is at this point effecting my health, my mental wellbeing, and my job performance so after a couple of nights like this, I had to just tell my wife I’m done. Ever since I declared I’m done (it’s been about 5 days), I have been sleeping like a baby, my heart rate is back in normal range and I don’t feel constantly sick any more so I do logically believe this is probably the best decision for me. However, at the same time, I am in mourning/heartbroken because I can’t (or at least at this point don’t believe I can) give my wife what she really wanted. Also, I know that so many people at the DZ have supported me and helped me along and unlike most people who quit, I will still be at the DZ regularly being reminded I can’t do what everyone else there does and that I am a disappointment to all of those there that have “invested” in me, so I’m feeling like a failure. After level 3/4, on the drive home, I came to the conclusion that I would probably never really be “into it” and I would try to push thru for my wife and then rent gear and jump just enough to stay current and jump with my wife on occasion but I would probably never buy my own gear. Shortly after is when the fear turned to terror. During my soul searching, I’ve had a few thoughts:
-This is probably just not a sport you can do for someone else (no matter how much you love them) and If I’m to ever move forward, I need to find reasons to do it for me.
-I believe this is, at least in part, a confidence issue. I still think and move about like a 300lb guy even though I’m now at 206lbs. Every aircraft door seems too small for me, I feel like I’m too big to move effectively in the air, I feel like my movements will be unsafe to me and eventually others, etc. It also doesn’t help that every time I get new instructors for a level my previous level instructors make sure to come by and tell the new instructors how I “fall like a rock”.
I know that most of you are going to tell me that fear is a good thing and should be expected, but my questions are really:
-How much fear is too much fear? When does it become unhealthy/unsafe to move forward?
- when I concluded that I would likely never be more than a gear renting currency jumper after level 3&4 did I subconsciously make the choice that this wasn’t for me which allowed the terror to take over (have I made my decision and just didn’t realize it)?
-If I quit (at least for the time being), do you think it’s possible that I would ever find the right reasons (and maybe become more aware of my current body) to try again or will I effectively be quitting forever?
Any thoughts are appreciated. Thanks so much for listening and giving me a forum to vent.