What Happens When You Jump Off a Cliff

I did not conquer my fear of heights.

What Happens When You Jump Off a Cliff
The scene of the crime, Eleuthera Island, The Bahamas. Photo by the author.

Upon approaching the cliff and working up the considerable amount of courage necessary, a moment of euphoria will come across your entire being. You’ll monetarily forget about your fear of heights. You’ll even think, “what better way to break that fear than jumping off this 40-foot Bahamian cliff?” This will seem like a perfectly rational and sane decision. Feeling elated and free, you will start running toward the rocky edge.

As soon as your feet leave the ground your eyes see there is nothing below but 40-feet of air and a blanket of ocean. It is at this point that your body will be taken over by pure adrenaline. Your mind will race back to the cheesy movie Point Break when Bodhi yells out, “100% pure adrenaline! Other guys snort for it, jab a vein for it. All you gotta do is jump!” The adrenaline will course through your veins as you start to fall. You’ll be excited! You’re conquering that fear! Then you will remember the other line from Point Break, “Via con dios!,” and start to wonder if you’ve made a huge mistake.

As you fall through the seemingly endless sky, panic will set in. You’ll try to force your body into the proper water-entry position. No one has trained you how to properly enter the ocean from 40-feet in the air, but you’ve seen enough action movies to know that your legs should be straight and your arms should be across your chest—just like those giant water slides that you avoid because they terrify you. Your mind, now focusing on those sides and your refusal to ride them, will start yelling out, “Why did you do this?!”

You will eventually force your limbs into place as your mind tries to calculate your distance from the water. You’ll start to wonder why this isn’t yet over, why you’re still in the air. Another wave of panic will engulf you because at any moment you’ll crash into the water…

You’ll wake up and have no idea where you are. You’ll imagine you’re dreaming but won’t be completely sure. As your eyes try to adjust, you will vaguely make out two figures very high up and staring at you. You’ll start to wonder, “why are there two people staring at me and not saying anything?” Everything will have a very dark blue tint which will add to your confusion.

You won’t hear anything.

You won’t feel anything.

Eventually your eyes will start to adjust and your brain will figure out that you are not on solid ground. As your senses start to wake up, you will begin to feel the cold water enveloping your body. You will not enjoy this. Not one bit. Instinct will eventually take over and you will begin to swim, even though you have no concept that you are. The only thing you will know is that this is what you should probably be doing. Before your eyes completely focus, your ears will start to once again register sound.

You will hear the waves.

You will hear people yelling at you.

Instinct will turn you around and you’ll start swimming toward the sound. After what will seem like an eternity, you will find yourself again on solid ground. Your mind will start to work again and you’ll think, “I should have listened to my parents.”

At first, you won’t feel anything. It’s when you first bend down to put your shoes back on that the folly of what you’ve just done will become clear. Limbs will no longer respond like you are used to — it will be as if they have been replaced with a set of very large weights. They will move slowly, painfully. But they will move. Despite feeling like you’ve been run over by a bus, you will figure everything will be ok. You will, of course, be wrong, but at this point what do you know?

You’ll somehow make it through the rest of your trip. You won’t be able to do much more than sit in pain, but you’ll make it. Turning at the waist will be a very bad idea and you can pretty much forget about laughing. You’ll take as much Advil as you can and stop wearing anything without elastic because using your limbs and bending over will be an almost impossible feat. But you’ll make it through the last few days and return home to your more comfortable bed. You’ll convince yourself that everything will be okay.

People will tell you that you entered the water just as you should have—that your form was even perfect. “I guess the action movies were right.” They’ll tell you they were concerned that you stayed under water for a while before popping up again. You’ll ask them why they didn’t come in after you and they’ll explain that when you did finally pop up you swam out towards open ocean for a few moments. You’ll feel lucky to be alive and for that fact alone you’ll ignore that the pain is lingering, for days, throughout your entire back. You’ll continue to take as much Advil as safely possible and hope that it will eventually go away.

It won’t.

One day you’ll wake up and realize that the pain is no longer centered along your spine. It will have somehow moved, while you slept, through your body and will now be centered in your chest. You will see this as a pretty bad sign and decide to finally call your doctor for an appointment.

You will have to explain to the receptionist what is going on and they will put you on hold for a few minutes. You’ll be enjoying the hold music when your doctor, not the receptionist comes back on the line. They’ll ask you the same questions again and then tell you to go straight to the emergency room and ask for chest x-rays. You will start to worry as you drive to the hospital. You’ll wonder why you didn’t talk to the doctor sooner. You’ll wonder what horrible diagnosis you will recieve. You’ll wonder how much this is going to cost you.

You’ll have to tell a nurse what happened as she fills out paperwork and gives you a room. You’ll have to tell a doctor the story as he orders x-rays of your chest, spine, and neck. He’ll explain to you that waiting almost a full month to get checked out was probably not a wise decision. You’ll realize that Wimbledon is on ESPN and start to watch it trying to calm yourself down.

The radiologist will eventually come and get you and you’ll have to explain what happened yet again. They’ll tell you it’s a great story and much better than most people’s reasons for getting x-rays. He’ll also tell you about the time he jumped off the causeway bridge and you’ll think he’s pretty much insane. He’ll wheel you back to your room so you can watch more tennis while waiting for the doctor.

The doctor will finally return with your x-rays and explain that there are no major issues. He’ll explain that nothing is broken and, frankly, if any major damage had occurred you wouldn’t have made it thirty-days without incident.

You will feel like an idiot.

The doctor will explain that the pain moving is probably psychological and to continue the Advil regimen until it goes away. He’ll tell you that when you hit the water your legs were probably forced up into your chest causing your knees to knock you unconcious. He’ll explain it was either that, or upon entry into the water your spine compressed and sent a severe shockwave of pain to your brain that knocked you out. There will be no real way to know. The doctor will also let you know that the pain will probably linger and return again as you get older. You’ll leave the hospital happy knowing you’re okay, but disappointed in the decision you made.

You will never again try to conquer your fear of heights.

A version of this article also appeared on Medium.