I have a fear of heights, well not so much the heights but the falling from them. I guess you get the best views from on high, and I love to walk up Mt Kos here in Australia, but the ride in the chairlift from Thredbo (if you go that way, I actually prefer the walk from Charlotte’s Pass) is another wonky, wobbly, story altogether. I have been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone as I get older, and am keen to embrace the inner child in me and try out some roller coasters as an adult. This goes for food too, yet my tolerance for spicy, hot and peppery is still a looong way off being beyond the mild-with-a-massive-tub-of-yoghurt stage. Then there are social factors, where I am trying to push much further beyond my comfort zone than anything else, and so far doing alright this year.
As is the nature of depression and PTSD, or in fact most things that are difficult to overcome or develop, it is an extremely long process in ‘recovery’. Steps you take forward can be minute, or sometimes big leaps, but then when you fallback (or fall down as I call it), you tend to pass the point you just came from. But it’s a juggling act, or a set of pulleys attached to a weight and chains, where the chains are around you and you have to reach the crank in order to set yourself free of them and the weight that keeps holding you down. That scene in Three Amigos comes to mind when Lucky Day (or Steve Martin) is in the dungeon of El Guapo. Each time he pushes himself forward he gets closer to the crank. Yes, he is thrown into the wall and back to the start many times, but each time he gets a little further forward.
That is the best analogy I can think of to describe what it is like to try to pull yourself clear of the darkness and neurological routines. It is why, each time I am in a good place, I try to push myself a little more to expand my horizons. Not to push myself to the breaking point, but to utilise the good health to set me up with more in the future. This is why, in 2005, I went to New Zealand.
I have not travelled much. The UK when I was 20, returning home when mum was sick. Perth, Mackay and Rockhampton, Alice Springs, but NZ is by far the most beautiful place I have visited. And I travelled on my own, at the peak of my social anxiety, which is amazing in itself. Really it was an acknowledgement that I could, and to push myself. So I have done the Contiki stint, handmade togas and drinking games galore. I got sunburned, laughed til I cried, made friends, and had a blast. Then there was the bungee jump.
Let me set this up: New Zealand at the end of November, so it’s about to kick into summer. We have just finished the sunny North Island, spent a night in Wellington, been to Milford Sound and have entered Queenstown on a hot afternoon. On my first day in NZ, I rolled down a hill in a Zorb ball sloshing with water with Richard from Adelaide. Went clubbing at some odd house nightclub in Rotorua, did the reverse bungee in Wellington at night with Marie and Tim (which was actually loads of fun), and had been on the Shotover jet on Shotover River. When we arrived in Queenstown on this glorious and hot spring day, the Remarkables (the mountain range across the lake) was clear except for some hollyhocks. The next morning, when I got up to go for a walk, they were covered in snow. Yep, snow.
Now, I knew I was going to bungee jump, had planned it before I left Australia, but never even considered the fact that there may have been snow somewhere. I was determined, though, to jump off this bridge, ironically as a symbolic gesture of where I had come from and for a friend of mine I had lost along the way. I wanted to do it as a sign of life, and to prove to myself that I could, a kind of reverse psychology in challenging and ridding me of my fear of falling. I had survived this great, life-threatening illness, and I wanted to celebrate by jumping off a bridge, with a seven-second freefall, headfirst into water… that should have been the first red flag. Of course, by now the snow had melted, so my “bugger it, do it once you gotta do it right” stance was on the side of crazy, or crazier. My ankles were bound together, but at the first point of panic I was buoyed by the sound of my NZ trip theme song (Dave Dobbyn, Slice of Heaven, naturally), and so jumped to my feet in order for my turn. I somehow took in that the guy was saying “halfway down put your arms like this and tuck your chin in”, but was packing it looking at the canyon and river below. Then it was my turn.
Think of Wile E Coyote after he’s run off the edge of the cliff in chase of Road Runner, how he hangs there, suspended in the air for a moment as he turns to the camera and holds up his ‘help’ sign. That is how I felt. I was standing on the end of this platform, ankles bound in so much rubber and whatnot that I could not see what my feet were on. With my toes over the edge and only seeing the drop below me, I felt like Road Runner was way out in front of me somewhere. To make matters worse, I had to jump. I would have much preferred they pushed me. I froze. One attempt, gone. Second attempt… OK, I can do this… gone. Third attempt… FUCK! Fourth I didn’t so much jump as roll forward. So graceful, I should have been an Olympic diver. I somehow remembered to tuck my chin and manoeuvre my arms into a dive, before I hit the ICE COLD water. I was in such a state of shock from the water temperature that I was so disorientated when I was unhooked I’m surprised the guys in the boat let me go, I didn’t know where or what was going on.
I did it, I bungee jumped. I surprised even myself. Although, it was a bungee roll really. To get what I was wanting from it, to relieve my fear, I’d need to do it again. But as that was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done, I will never get that resolution. For the other reasons though, I give myself a gold star. My friend Kelly would have been proud, if not laughing at me. My mum would have been completely surprised, yet she believed I could do anything anyway, so perhaps she would have just freaked out and then told me how proud she was.
I guess the point is, I did it. Prediagnosis and with many more ups and downs to come, I faced a great fear. Didn’t conquer it, but stared it in the face. Acknowledging the achievements, big or little, you make in each step of recovery is a big part of self-recognition, confidence and taking those bigger steps forward. Every foot forward or push of the comfort zone is a positive. It may have been ridiculous, and I may have fallen over many times since then, but I am glad I did it. And I am proud of myself for sticking to my decision. It may have been over a decade ago, but I know that terrifying experience is a foundation block for who sits typing this today.
And I’m really starting to like her.