What I learned about fear after bungee jumping for the first time
A few months ago, while vacationing in New Zealand, I bungee jumped off the famous Kawarau Suspension Bridge, plummeting over 140 feet and dipping slightly into the icy cold water of the Kawarau River. Known as the birthplace of commercial bungee jumping and just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, it was one of the most exhilarating, terrifying and important moments of my life.
As I look back on that day, continuously answer questions from friends and family about my sanity and review the photos and videos, I keep going back to what I learned about myself and about life in that short window of time. Here are the six things I took away from the experience.
1. Be kind and support one another — it goes a long way
A particularly relevant takeaway for the current moment, this goes way beyond bungee and is one I think all of us could do much better at every day.
When I arrived on the bridge where they harness you up, there were two women in front of me, one from England who’d completely psyched herself out and was shaking after standing there for 20 minutes. Another from Australia who’d just arrived, saw the other girl freaking out, and immediately went into her own state of panic. This didn’t help my nerves, but I was mentally ready. We all started talking, emphasizing what a beautiful place we were in, how lucky we were just to have this opportunity, and convincing ourselves that of course we could do this. Also, shoutout to the jump team who I’m sure deals with this regularly and was nothing but supportive. From there, the three of us jumped in succession.
None of us had ever met before and we may never meet again, but for one short stretch of time, we were the support group that we all needed. Be kind to one another. You never know how much it might help that other person.
TMRW x TODAY How this writer changed her relationship to fear and transformed her life
2. Trust the process
In a world filled with endless information, it’s easy to overanalyze and overthink everything. Buying a new car? Go read 9,000 reviews to see if you should actually get that model. Going on vacation somewhere exotic? Check the 1,300 listicles telling you what to do when you get there.
With bungee jumping, the longer you wait and the more you read, the more you’ll psych yourself out. Sometimes in life, you just have to trust the process (shameless nod to former Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie here) and take that leap of faith. When I saw that over 38,000 people jump off this bridge every single year, I’d read enough. I signed up, drove to the site and followed instructions closely.
Take a deep breath, jump, and trust that everything will work as expected.
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3. When faced with a “what if,” just do it
There are multiple times in life when you’re faced with a “what if” moment. Should you ask that person out? Should you accept that new job? Should you travel across the world on a whim?
A few years ago, I saw a quote from famed Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung that said “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” That really stuck with me. There will never be a moment that I regret having jumped off that bridge.
4. Face your fears
Jumping off a bridge is terrifying. There’s no way around it. I’m not averse to heights, but I’d also never really contemplated something like this.
Fear will always be there. It will hold you captive and paralyze you if you allow it to. Bungee jumping forces you to jump — literally — in the face of your fears. When you shimmy out to the end of that platform and look down (I know, they tell you not to, but I did), you will be shaking inside. Push through it and the sense of accomplishment you feel will stick with you forever. (And that experience is a good analogy for how it feels to stare down and power through anything truly daunting.)
The writer, seen mid-jump. Courtesy of Lou Dubois
5. Experiences can be priceless
It’s an overused cliché in travel these days, but experiences really do make a trip memorable. Spontaneously deciding to bungee is not cheap. It costs nearly $140 just to jump, and when you add in the photo/video package, that’s another $90. But you know what? It’s been months since I jumped and I still remember every moment as if it happened yesterday. When people ask me about the highlights of my vacation, it’s always the first thing that comes to mind despite many other amazing excursions.
If you’re inspired to try something that once seemed impossible, don’t rationalize your way out of it because of cost — it could pay off for months (or years) after you spend the $$$.
6. Take mental snapshots
Talk to many people who have bungeed and they’ll tell you that while the biggest thrill comes during the free-fall, that moment when the cord recoils and you oscillate up and down while hanging in mid-air is one of the most enjoyable moments in life. Time seems to be standing still as you spread your arms out and enjoy the moment before you’re lowered into the boat (at Kawarau at least).
I felt a sense of intense euphoria and accomplishment followed by peace and calm in that moment, and as my mind thought about what I’d just done, I literally started screaming from excitement. Every bit of what I mentioned above is so fresh in my mind that it might as well have happened yesterday.
While dwelling in the past or thinking about the future can often weigh us down, focusing on today and the now is what really matters most.
Injuries From Bungee Jumping
Bungee jumping may give you great thrills, but also may leave you with great injuries. After you free fall, the bungee cord tugs you back upward with a sudden and great force. The combination of this extreme force and dangling from a cord can cause varying degrees of injuries your eyes, spine and neck that can even be severe enough to result in death.
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Eye injuries are commonly the result of bungee jumps because of the dangerously high increase in pressure that occurs in the eyes. When the elastic chord suddenly jerks you upward, it causes fluid to flow to your head, which results in very high blood pressure inside the blood vessels in your eyes. Your retina — the thin layer of cells at the back of your eye that directly connects to your brain–and your conjunctiva — the thin mucous lining over your eyes — can be negatively affected by this increase in pressure. Injuries to these areas of your eyes usually cause temporary impairment of vision, explain Mario Cesar Moreira de Araujo, M.D. and Marcelo Riccio Facio, M.D. in a Sports Medicine article. Eye infections, seeing spots and hemorrhages may also occur.
The extreme forces your body is subject to as it is pulled back upward by the bungee cord can injure the vertebrae of your spine and the delicate spinal cord that they protect. Injuries typically include compression fractures — broken bones in the spine — and herniated discs and spaces between the vertebrae. While these injuries can be healed, they can also be severe and permanent. If the spinal cord inside the vertebrae is damaged it can result in forms of paralysis and quadriplegia — the inability to move your arms and legs.
Your neck is at risk during a bungee jump, and injury to it can range from mild to severe. The force on this fragile part of your body that connects your brain to your spinal cord during the final stage of the jump can be enough to strain your neck muscles, and cause pain and a temporary decrease in range of motion. There have also been instances of the bungee cord accidentally entangling a jumper’s neck. When this happens, it can cut off blood flow between the heart and the brain, or strangle the jumper and make him unable to breathe. In these instances, the jumper needs to be rescued immediately to prevent death.
Death, unfortunately, does occasionally occur as a result of bungee jumping. If a jumper’s neck is entangled in the cord for even a few minutes, his brain cannot get enough oxygen and his injury will be fatal. Another common reason people sustain fatal injuries from bungee jumping is because the cord is too long. People incorrectly take into account the elasticity of the cord and hit their heads on the ground, dying from impact. Even professional bungee jumpers make these mistakes and are at risk for fatal injuries. The day before the Super Bowl in 1997, a professional bungee jumper who was practicing for the halftime show at the Superdome hit her head on the cement floor during a jump and died from head injuries.