OTR Skydive update for supporters

Thank you! If you are reading this in the week following my skydive you are one of the lovely people who supported my crazy charity challenge.

As promised here is the video from my skydive (forgive the quick editing, I am still recovering from the jump, but I hope the transitions are fairly OK)

Here is a quick write up from the day followed by my overall impressions.

We woke up early and left home at 5.15 am, which in itself was a bit of a challenge on a Sunday morning. I was quite excited though, and apprehensive, of course. I expected cloudy weather in the morning but upon arrival, the conditions were still quite nice. The GoSkydive area of Salisbury was still closed, quiet and peaceful. It was so calming to arrive at a quiet airfield and ground myself before the opening (it can get really busy out there!).

After the initial morning registration and check-in, we were invited to an induction session which honestly calmed me down. I think sitting in one room with over 20 other people doing the skydive that day made me feel calm in itself. The intro movie and briefing were clear. If it weren’t for the panic swiping through my body in waves, I could even say it was a lot of fun. We were then told to wait for a few hours for our turn to get on the plane – because there were five people jumping for OTR Bristol we were moved to one plane, which also meant we had to wait for a few groups of individuals to go ahead of us. Just as we have reached the waiting area the rain interrupted the schedule. So we had to wait a bit longer, hoping for the conditions to improve (thanks to the weather forecast apps we were quite hopeful!). To me personally waiting was difficult – I was OK most of the time and then for a few seconds the reality would hit me and I would panic a lot. I was trying to do my best to stay calm, but I was annoyingly chatty (my way of easing off anxiety).

Finally, around 10.30 am our names were called to the dress up and training tent. I was really keen on promoting OTR in my video recordings from the day so I put the branded t-shirt over the GoSkydive gear (which by the way was super light and comfortable).

We were then asked to move on to the training area where a really confident and funny instructor showed us the three important ways of diving: the jump out of the plane, the free fall and finally the landing. We practised those but also slowly grew together as a group as well. I noticed the emphasis on gear safety during the training 0 a really good way of making us all feel a bit less worried about the jump.

Once trained we were asked to move to the plane area. Here’s all of us, OTR morning team, all geared up. From left: Anthony, Tom, Dominique, my nervous grin and Susan from OTR.

Waiting was so nerve-wracking for me that at this stage I really just wanted to get on with it. I wanted to get on the plane and go! We just had to take a few family photos…

…a few group pictures…

and recorded our first past of video updates with GoSkydive filming crew. You can see in my video just how lovely the weather was by that point – I could not look directly into the camera, it was so sunny!

Shortly after that our instructors arrived, introduced themselves, checked our gear again and took us to the plane landing area. I was flying and jumping with Ed who completed over 2K jumps and Adam, a video maker (I still cannot figure out how they can time the recording just so well!)

From there it was time to go! On the plane, we had a great view and a lot of fun. The crew’s team spirit really got to me too and so despite my inner terror of this situation (the higher, the closer to the actual jump with only one way back to my husband) I really loved the plane ride. I was obviously super nervous, but also aware of the fact that my video is dedicated to my supporters and to the charity. I hope we can use it in the future campaigns so I kept as cool as possible. In the end, it was indeed a very extreme but also a unique experience. Not my usual Sunday morning, I must say.

I was told to jump out of the plane after Anthony and Susan. This was the step I was really worried about – the boundary of the plane and nothingness. A year ago I could not cross the Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Two years ago I was trembling when sitting in a car or crossing the road. So this was a big thing – testing if moving to Bristol (a kinder place to live) combined with a year of therapy and caring for myself helped. It was a challenging year. While I was recovering from the trauma of social isolation, I was also losing my roots – both of my parents died. I was also studying counselling, writing my entire autobiography and shedding layers and layers of my identity – which is a natural process for counselling students but it is deep. It leaves us raw and new and very sensitive to the world around us. Luckily I was also learning about resilience, self-care and boundaries. All of this combined was about to be tested in that jump. I was terrified, but I was ready and I knew it. I was back to my old, resilient self.

Sitting on that plane with people who clearly knew what they were doing and cared for the quality of my experience was really lovely. Anthony’s jump was smooth and fast, so was Susan’s and by that point. I trusted my instructor Ed entirely, especially that he has spent most of the plane trip checking all my gear one more time and really making me feel safe. I trusted Adam, the filmmaker because he was engaging, confident and fun.

I was really worried about the complex dive but our jump was super smooth and steady.

Shortly after the jump, I locked my eyes with Adam, the video maker. The tapping from Ed to remind me to spread my arms and Adam’s calm look really made me feel peaceful. Actually, for those who really fear the skydive, booking filming is a good tip – you do not have to feel entirely alone as you have an additional skydiver in front of you all throughout the free fall part of the jump. We connected in the air and I completely relaxed into the fall. I actually did not feel fear whatsoever, just ease of the fall and calmness around us. Additionally, I was so so glad we had lovely weather for this!

Later, when the parachute opened, I started feeling very sick – probably due to the tight gear and really strong winds. The sunshine was actually quite misleading – it was so windy we had to do two circles around the airfield to get the landing right. I did not want to steer myself, because I could feel that Ed had enough of a challenge to get us safely to the ground. We did look around though and even though at this stage my stomach was really distracting me I was doing my best to focus on the uniqueness of this experience and the fantastic views. We recorded my OTR message and slowly landed on the airfield.

You can actually see in the final section of my recording that I am finding it quite difficult to speak after the landing, praying for quick access to mint tea – but I managed it. We waited for everyone to join in and got into the minivan which took us back to our friends and family. And for the last group photo.

On the way back home I was high on adrenaline but also exhausted, working on calming down my stomach and my nerves. As well as reliving every moment of our adventure.

People asked me today a lot: how was it? would you do it again? I had to admit that for me personally it was a unique experience and I am really glad I did it, especially for OTR. I am glad that the level of my anxieties is down to a manageable state and my old resilience is back. I am just as confident and grounded as I was a few years ago. I am sure that the upcoming days will result in a lot of journaling about the meaning of this experience and its impact on my life moving forward, but at this stage I am mostly noticing the immense power of the skydive as a metaphor to what the OTR Bristol team does on a daily basis and what young people experience when approaching us.

You see, to admit that you are not OK in the current times and then to have the courage to want to get better and to actually ask for help in a reality which really does not favour young person’s voice nor place in society can be ever so terrifying! I see it on the faces of young people coming to our offices every single time I am at work or at our events. It takes courage and a huge amount of effort to walk through the OTR Bristol door. I actually think even for an adult it takes a lot of bravery to ask for help. So just imagine how it feels to someone 11 to 25 who quite possibly is already in a bad, vulnerable, uneasy place. And who possibly might think of themselves as not deserving help in the first place. So once a young person crosses that immense bridge we are there to hold them with trust and competence of a good skydive instructor: we create a safe space for them to gear up, train up, fly higher up and then jump, let go of their worries, to free fall and to land safely, hopefully in a better place. It is almost always a challenging but formative growing experience and so I also see a lot of happier young people, happier parents and educators coming to us every day. I also see a lot of supported young people staying with us to volunteer, work or launch their career in the sector too. They are at the core of the current and future services provided by OTR. We, the instructors and the witnesses of their challenges, are there to calm them down, to validate them as humans and to build more and more platforms for safe jumping, flying and landing.

I have dedicated this skydive to my dad. His generation did not have this kind of support. I was lucky to be born an early Millenial, so I did. I found it and I have no problem asking for it. Unlike many OTR clients, I can afford therapy. My son has a loving home but his reality comes with immense new pressures (no, not social media or tech but the most test-driven one-size-fits-all school system, exploitative economy, PR & marketing practices making us feel less and never good enough, de-humanising and divisive politics, ignored climate change and overworked, disillusioned adults who do not give their very own youngsters a voice). My son and his friends have so much to put up during such a formative period of their lives.

And so I am immensely proud of OTR Bristol. It is a treasure with more than half-a-century of experience and impactful work in the area for generations of young people to come. I am also proud of myself for joining the skydive and for completing it fairly smoothly with a mix of extreme feelings and an overall score of “FANTASTIC”. More importantly, I am proud of all my family, friends, clients and colleagues who supported me on this journey and donated to OTR.

The money we have raised will already pay for hours and hours of support for young people. The campaign runs at least until the Mental Health Day (10 October) and if we reach £775 on JustGiving we will cover counselling programmes for ten young people – people who have never experienced unconditional positive regard and kind space for opening up and working through their problems with professional support. It seems like something every young person should have access to, but they don’t. I am often angry about this, but more often than not I prefer to focus on making my little bit of a difference to change that. Thank you – thank you so much for doing something about this too. You are brilliant and you have already made a difference to someone young and lonely out there in Bristol. Quite possibly you have saved a life.

Thank you for supporting OTR Bristol.

Thank you for believing in me.

Thank you for reading.


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