This August, BASE jumper Felix Baumgartner will leap from a giant helium balloon hovering at 120,000 feet, a stunt that will involve falling for almost 20 minutes in a specially-designed space suit. In March, he nailed a practice jump from 78,581 feet, but the last time the full attempt was scheduled, in 2010, Baumgartner freaked out.
Felix, what happened?
I wasn’t afraid of the jump; it was the suit. After four years of hiding my anxiety, I had to admit that I was claustrophobic. It got so bad that I couldn’t eat or sleep the day before test runs. I hired a psychologist. He put me in the suit on the ground and checked my anxiety levels. At five minutes I was pretty calm. At 25 minutes I was panicking. But here’s the thing: my heart rate only increased two beats per minute. Everything—the fear, the anxiety, the doubt–was in my head. The psychologist taught me little tricks, like spelling words backward, to keep my mind off the phobia. Two weeks later, I was able to stay in the suit for five hours. Conquering that fear was the greatest accomplishment of my life.