Cliff diving and sky diving isn't something you think a person would do if they are afraid of heights. Read my interview with thrill seeker Mike A to find out why he does these things as often as he can!
This is a first in a series of interviews of high sensation seeking individuals. Go to drkencarter.com/buzz to learn more about sensation seeking and to take a sensation seeking survey yourself.
Mike A is a 20 year old intern living in Atlanta. Here are his sensation seeking scores and some of the activities he's done and his sensation seeking "to do list". Following that is our interview.
Dr. Carter: I'm excited to hear about what you've been up to. You gave me your sensation seeking resume and I have to ask you about what some of these things were like. Of all these things that you've listed which is the thing that you feel was the most incredible experience?
Mike A: They each have kind of their own appeal. Now there's different types of incredible I'd say for them. As far as utter and complete fear before hand, I'll give that to cliff diving every time ... cause I am quite scared of heights. Even if it's only a 35 foot jump it still gets the blood pumping quite a bit ...
Dr. Carter: You're afraid of heights?
Mike A: Yeah, extremely afraid of heights.
Dr. Carter: ... but a lot of these things you've listed have a lot to do with heights. Skydiving, hang gliding, bulls aren't that high but we'll talk about that later. How did you first get interested in these kinds of activities?
Mike A: The first time I went sky diving was in high school. I was interested in possibly going, but never really took that first step, but then a friend of mine was turning 18 and he asked me if I wanted to go, and I said, "Alright, I'll try it out." Eventually I went with him and did my first tandem skydive. It was kind of cool cause it's a no control situation at first. When you're in free fall immediately followed by a serene sort of feeling...the closest thing to humans flying. I basically determined that I actually wasn't scared at any point, which was weird. I determined that was because of the relativity of it. When you're that high in the plane and you can't see the ground as a feasible threat. When you're on the plane the world is like you're viewing it from a microscope, like a bunch of ants.
Dr. Carter: You mentioned serenity....so it feels like a serene experience in the midst of it?
Mike A: Well that's an experience with skydiving particularly, right before you jump it's kind of like out of body, you're on auto pilot. You're already there, you're already kind of committed to it. As soon as you walk up to the edge of the plane you have a person attached to you until you're certified. They ask you, "are you ready to jump," and once you're at the door way, regardless of what you say, they jump. Realistically you're no longer in control, you've kind of already handed over the reigns, and you've pretty much signed your life away already, you've signed a waiver and all of that fun stuff, and your life is entirely in someone else's hands. You're kind of like a spectator almost in your own life, so it doesn't feel real.
Free fall goes by in a minute and a half, and when you're falling at 120 miles per hour it seems even faster than that. Then next thing you know the chute is pulled and you go from as fast as a human being can realistically travel with out any vehicle to floating. The shock of it is instant like flipping off the switch of intensity.
Dr. Carter: Yeah. How does that compare to the bull runs though? I see you've done the Great Bull Run twice actually ...
Mike A: Yes, well the same...day...I did two bouts basically. Basically that was largely adrenaline leading up to the actual run. Once you're in the actual run it's also sort of out of body experience, but intensely adrenaline packed in that you don't want to die or get run over by the bull or anything like that. It's the moments right before the run that are probably most intense in my opinion, cause your imagination's going, and your adrenaline's pumped cause you're about to run as fast as you physically can. I don't know, it's the moments leading right up to it, which is a complete opposite for me from the skydiving in my opinion.
Dr. Carter: When did you first realize that this was something that was really interesting to you, these high sensation seeking activities?
Mike A: It would have to be after that first jump, cause basically after that first jump when I determined that it didn't necessarily scare me as much as I thought it should of, I decided to try something else, or try again. I went skydiving 3 more times. The second time I told the tandem person, " well, the last guy failed to scare me so I want you to scare me." Which is not something you probably should say to a skydiving person.
Dr. Carter: Did he scare you?
Mike A: Yeah, he went about it very cleverly. Basically before hand he told me about how when they've got somebody who's not cooperating, and grabbing at their arms or something when they should be pulling the chute they spin them around really fast and eventually they can handle the Gs a little bit better than a typical individual, so the person on them will pass out and they will be conscious and able to do what ever they need to. We're in the middle free fall and he takes my hand and bends it down slightly, so I start spinning extraordinarily fast in one direction. The he stops me and we spin in the other direction extremely fast, then the next direction extremely fast, and then the next direction extremely fast, and my eyes were pretty much popping out of my head ...... and then he pulls the chute, and before I knew it we were just coasting again.
Dr. Carter: How would you describe that?
Mike A: It was definitely exciting. Going through my mind was; is he toying with me, or is he actually trying to knock me out, or what?
Dr. Carter: What do your friends say about all of these activities that you do?
Mike A: A lot of them say they'd like to join me or that they would never join me in a million years, it's one or the other.I try to get friends to go with me on a lot of this stuff. My co-worker right next to me, Stacey, went with me on the bull run. A couple of friends have gone skydiving with me. That's actually, surprisingly, the easiest one to get people to go with you for. It's like that bucket list item. Hang gliding ...
Dr. Carter: Have you ever been doing something and then caught yourself and thought, "why am I doing this?"
Mike A: That's a cliff diving mentality for me. Each time I am like, "why am I up here?" Usually you have to climb up to get there in the first place, and swimming is not my favorite. I'm literally jumping from fears that I hate, from the fear of heights that I hate into the water that's not my favorite. I'm like, "why am I doing this again?" Afterwards I'm like, "that was awesome," but at the moment right before you jump you're just like, "what the hell am I doing?" As soon as you get that thought, it's from my experience, is the time that you just say, "disregard, jump." If you look into that you're just going to sit there for the rest of the day.
Dr. Carter: Your thrill seeking, do you feel that it shows up in other areas of your life? Does it help you, or does it cause problems for you in other areas of your life that are not these sort of recreational activities?
Mike A: I think it helps me. I think it makes me more challenging of, not necessarily the roles I'm supposed to play and stuff like that, but more challenging of my limitations. Quite frankly I'm not really scared of things, because my biggest fears I try to challenge them on a regular basis, so essentially when you're not scared of anything you go full force with confidence.
Self confidence can be really helpful in, well, everything. I think having a list of experiences that I'm after, and an adrenaline kind of seeking nature, it kind of makes me more exciting, and I don't know, kind of makes everything better.
Dr. Carter: It must be a really, incredibly freeing experience.
Mike A: It really is, it adds a certain strength that I really appreciate. I don't know, I like being an adrenaline junky of sorts.
Dr. Carter: Is there anything that you'd like people who are not adrenaline junkies, or thrill seekers, to know about thrill seekers?
Mike A: That's a really good question. I guess it would be mostly the nots, not what they are but what they are not. They are not suicidal for one, I have no interest in dying skydiving, it's actually way safer than getting in your car and driving to work. I don't know, it's kind of an addiction to life for lack of a better words. I think it's not a disregard for life, but an addiction to life and trying to intensify the other moments instead of dull them out.
A heightened sense, probably the best way I can put it because there is sort of a come down from an experience like that. Like, after you skydive walking feels a bit weird, looking around things are different. Mind you, you return to normal after a fairly short period of time, like a week or two you get back to the same mentality and everything, but there is a point in time where it changed a little bit. It's kind of cool, and I think it heightens your appreciation for everything outside of just the thrill seeking. It's like a different perspective.