My first experience with roller coasters was in 5th grade. I went to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH with my best friend and her family. I hopped on this tiny, simple rollercoaster called the Iron Dragon. Seriously, watch the video to see what a pansy I was.
A couple years later I ended up at Cedar Point again with my sister and her family. I ended up riding on the Iron Dragon again, and I managed to venture to the Blue Streak. It seemed so scary at the time, but it is literally a down and back wooden rollercoaster that goes up and down a few times. It wasn’t a particularly rough or scary ride.
After my experiences with roller coasters at Cedar Point, I managed to avoid pretty much every ride that required me to drop quickly. I don’t particularly like the feeling of the contents of my stomach wanting to exit, and I certainly do not want to do something to intentionally cause that feeling! One day, to my horror, my brother told me that the freshmen trip during the first week at college was a trip to Dorney Park. Fortunately, I had decided to play soccer and had a tournament that weekend. I did not have to go, did not have to explain why I did not want to ride rollercoasters, and did not have to look like a loser.
I did not give roller coasters another thought until my son was old enough to start going to a small, family-friendly amusement park called Knoebel’s in Elysburg, PA. We went with another family that had a son (Xav) my son’s age (they may have been 3 at the time). Xav’s mom really wanted to ride on the Phoenix and the Twister, but no one would go with her. I ended up agreeing. I was terrified. I think I was physically shaking and worried about losing my lunch. I had so much fun that I think I would have repeated that experience all day (and years later I was able to take my son and youngest niece on the Phoenix for their first non-kiddie coaster ride).
If I had the opportunity to go somewhere with people who enjoyed coasters, I would go much bigger. I always looked at the big roller coasters at Cedar Point and wanted to ride and enjoy them. They looked like so much fun, and yet, so puke-inducing. So far, the best one I have been on has been the Impulse at Knoebel’s.
Moving from being terrified to experiencing thrilling joy has been a gradual process. Like, very gradual. I started at the age of 10 and did not manage to ride my first inverted roller coaster until the age of 36. Now; though, the faster, the better; the more twists/turns/inversions, the better; the more hills, the better. I need to feel the quivering anxiety as I board, the breathless anticipation as I climb the hill slowly, and the blast of thundering wind in my face as the rest of the world fades into the current moment. Riding a roller coaster is peace, peace of experiencing the exact moment I am living in rather than some past or future event or thought. Riding a roller coaster is a mix of pain and pleasure.
As much as I like roller coasters now, there are aspects of each ride that I enjoy much more than others. For example, my son absolutely loved Kozmo’s Kurves when he was younger. He loved the short line and that he was able to go around 3 times rather than only once (pleasure). He (but mostly me) hates the whiplash that it gives (pain). That tiny roller coaster is brutal!
The Iron Dragon gets so close to the water it sprays you in the face (I hate water – or at least being cold). The Blue Streak simply goes down and back with not much of a view. I do not actually remember being on the Twister (I also don’t remember my son getting staples in his head or going to Monster Jam, so that was par for the course that year). When I first rode the Phoenix, I hated that I felt like I was going to go flying off of the ride during the rapid-fire, small hills. Finally, I was not a fan of the incredibly long wait to ride the Impulse.
For the record, I have been on the Flying Turns trackless coaster as well. I did not like that it stopped while I was on it. I felt disappointed.
Stay with me for a minute. I thought for weeks, actually, months, about what my intention for this year would be. My brother provided some insight: “If kindness was 2019, this year I’ll submit kill, Kung Fu, kleptomania or Kegel exercises.” Well, I am sure that each of those could be beneficial in their own way, but those weren’t exactly what I was looking for (please understand that my brother and I have a very similar sense of humor – though I tend to be a little more dry at times).
Now I tie it in. I needed an unconscionable amount of courage to stand in line watching that first (and subsequent) roller coaster climb hills and come crashing toward the ground at a higher rate of speed than I was comfortable with when thinking of my stomach. My process in therapy is a lot like a roller coaster. I often feel the “quivering anxiety” as I sit in the waiting room, the “breathless anticipation” as I climb the stairs slowly and sit on the couch, and the “blast of thundering wind in my face as the rest of the world fades into the current moment.” I experience this up and down conflicting motion of accomplishment when I finally understand a skill or idea, stay present, or see general progress and walk out into the rest of my week to use or fail to use those things. Sometimes, therapy is so terrifying or feels like it is moving too fast, and I beg to get out. Sometimes, things do not go as planned and I have to slow down or stop for a while. Therapy is a mix of “pain and pleasure” or fear and confidence, dread and eager anticipation, perceived failure and accomplishment. If my process in therapy is a lot like a roller coaster, then maybe I need to approach therapy the same way: with courage.
My intention for this year is courage. I would not need courage if I did not have fear, but I have an excessive amount of fear related to therapy. Therapy is not the only thing I need courage to get through though. I need courage to get out of bed in the morning, go to the gym, make friends, eat food, make small talk, make healthy choices, and much more. Courage is this incredible ability to face perceived or actual fear and harm, but it includes another element. It assumes perseverance. Perseverance means I have to keep doing it. I have to keep facing the perceived or actual fear and harm.
I am determined to have courage to ride all of my roller coasters this year. Every therapy session, every morning getting out of bed, every workout, every potentional friendship, every meal, every conversation, and every decision. Starting now. This doesn’t mean I won’t try Kung Fu or do my Kegel exercises (you never know when you might have to fight…or keep yourself from peeing your pants – if I had known Kung Fu or had done Kegel exercises in second grade I could have defended myself and not peed my pants when my neighbor yelled at me for holding a baby bird I was supposed to leave alone).