Facing the Kryptonite: Taken Down by Anxiety and Rollercoasters

by Drew Kiess

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In most contexts, feeling like Superman would be a fantastic thing. Absolutely invincible—a man of steel. But what happens when some two-bit thug pull out that dreaded green rock? Steel turns to water and no amount of positive thinking seems to be good enough to get you back to normal.

 

That’s a bit what it’s like going through life with anxiety. I am claustrophobic and a agoraphobic, which means I am afraid of two things: Being in tight spaces and being seen being afraid of being in tight spaces. An anxiety or panic attack is bad enough on its own, but being seen having one is such an extraordinary dose of embarrassment that it has kept me from doing a lot of things that I would normally consider fun (or, at the very least, an improvement on doing nothing at all). For this reason, I drive separately to places. If I feel anxious, I’ll make up an excuse and drive home.

 

And so the prospect of riding with a group of friends to an amusement park three hours away to be strapped into a rollercoaster is about as kryptonite as it gets. I am trapped and have made some promises that I have no confidence in my ability to keep.

 

But, like Superman, it was “up, up, and away” anyway.

 

A mere fifteen minutes after arriving at the park, I found myself being strapped into my first coaster. I doubt it made much noise, but in my head, the vest restraints coming down sounded something like prison bars slamming shut. I was surprised at my ability, despite the tight restraints, to adjust in my seat.

 

Deep breath. And we’re off.

 

The climb began and I look down to see my feet dangling. My anxiety is hitting the level that if I were a cartoon, a steam whistle would have been going off. We hit the top of that hill and gravity takes over. Loops, twists, falls, climbs, banks, and two minutes later the vest comes up and I’m done.

 

And you know the strange part? I had fun. My anxiety spiked and I had fun. Perhaps, eventually, I could do another. But not right away, right? Only an idiot would do a second coaster that quickly.

 

Ten minutes later I was being strapped into my second coaster. This time, my reaction was quite different. The vest restraint included a skin-tight vest that pinned the rider into the seat. The moment that was secured on me, my chest began hurting. The sensation felt like I was a pencil being shoved through a straw. I couldn’t breathe, and it took everything I had not to rip the thing off and just get as far away from every living thing as fast as I possibly could.

 

The ride started, and for the minute and a half I was riding the coaster, I didn’t think much of the restraints (and may or may not have had a little bit of fun, but I will never admit to that), but when the car came to a stop, it felt like I was waiting for hours while this vest tightened its grips on my body, threatening to pop my head like a cork. My anxiety was through the roof and I was utterly and entirely embarrassed. I came with a mission to conquer this monster and I failed.

 

I rode only two more rides my time there. One was one of those classic log drop rides where your thrown over a waterfall and get drenched just because its fun. The other was a swing that took you twelve stories in the air at a 100 degree angle and swings you to the other side at nearly seventy miles per hour. Both of these were exhilarating and exciting, but I knew my anxiety wasn’t really in a place to take much more of a beating. If I did much more, I didn’t know that I would even have been able to enjoy being around my friends anymore.

 

Anxiety, in that way, is like a loose change jar. You can fill it with as many quarters, nickels, and dimes as you can, but sometimes all it takes is a few pennies to make a dollar. I was about at ninety-nine cents and had no desire to cash-in.

 

Attacking the things that scare is all about taking that one step further than we thought we could. If you think you can only take one step, take two. If you don’t think you can take any, just take one. You’ll be further along than you ever imagined. The only person you ever have anything to prove to is yourself. How far do you think you can go in conquering your fear? Let’s take one step further together.

 

In all honesty, I don’t know that I would call my trip a success. I faced some demons and lived, but I feel like I let them get to me more than I would have liked. But here’s the rub: I can honestly say that I enjoyed spending time with people I care about despite the fact that they saw me have a panic attack. And I left with a chip on my shoulder. Next time, I can go just a bit further. And maybe it’ll be just one more step than last time. But I am completely over letting anxiety tell me what I can or can’t do, and what I should and shouldn’t do in my life. Next time, I’ll be ready. Next time, I’ll take one more step.

 

Next time, I’ll leap tall buildings in a single bound.

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