August 20, 2013

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Although I rode a few roller coasters when I was young — including Space Mountain, which at the time was considered a premiere thrill ride — it was never my thing, and even back then it never appealed to me to be jerked back and forth, or pinned to a wall by centrifugal force, or in a mock free-fall.

Thirty-something years later, this dislike has morphed into a rampant loathing. Some physiological change has occurred in me, I think, because these days I actually hurt on rides. It all just feels really, really wrong, like my insides are being shaken and my head is going to blow off. I can’t even watch other people on rides without getting all clammy and skittish. And if it is my own family member? Then I experience full-blown anxiety, as I project my own terror onto them. Basically, I just don’t want them (or you, actually, or me) to go on any more crazy rides! Okay?!

(Yes, I do realize there must be a psychological component to all of this, too. We can discuss that some other time.) (Maybe.) (We’ll see.)

To be honest, I don’t even like being on a swing at the park — or doing a cartwheel! It feels bad. Huh. I am sounding really insane.

So imagine my state of mind as I stood in line for The Barnstormer last winter at Disney World. My eight-year-old and I were on a short, “girls only” trip and, although I had made it clear before we left that I would not be going on any of the big coasters, I did not yet realize that there were new rides in the recently opened expansion of Fantasyland.

The Barnstormer was described by Disney as “a pint-size thrill ride,” “tame,” and “short.” There were little kids in line — lots of them. I figured if they could handle it, I could, too. But mostly I just really did not want to disappoint my daughter.

“Why is your face like that?” CJ asked, as we inched closer to the front of the line.

“I’m fine,” I said, fully panicking. I had one hand in my bag, feeling around to see if I had any special meds left over from my flight. I did not.

In addition to wanting CJ to have a blast, I also agreed to The Barnstormer as a test. A friend had recently told me that she use to hate roller coasters but now loved them. Her secret: screaming. She realized that trying to “hold it all in” on coasters was causing the extreme discomfort she felt. And while I didn’t plan to fully scream on the “pint-size” ride, I did decide to focus on my breathing.

It turns out this was good advice. As we climbed up, up, up in our little car, I inhaled and held my breath. But as we fell down, down, down, and were pulled around a corner, I made myself exhale. And inhale. And exhale again. Breathing, I believe it is called. I had to focus intently on doing this.

I realized for sure, that day on The Barnstormer, that I have been holding my breath on rides my whole life — and on airplanes during take-off and landing, and even in elevators — only gasping for air when I need it. The difference was immediately apparent — I suppose the difference between breathing and not breathing usually is quite apparent! And although I didn’t love the ride, and I was still not about to get on the “real” roller coasters, I was fine.

I thought of this all again last weekend as I went down a waterslide with my daughter — the kind that is a full tube, so it’s pitch black inside — we’re talking can’t-see-hand-in-front-of-face dark. I know, I know, this was not a big roller coaster and it lasted maybe ten to twelve seconds; still, I really did not want to go on it. But CJ wanted me to, so we got into the two-seat raft and, after a push from the attendant at the top, we sped quickly into the darkness, around corners and down drops we could not see or anticipate. I reminded myself to breathe the whole way.

I honestly hope to never ever go on a big coaster again in my entire life — fortunately, CJ has her dad for that, although I won’t be watching — but I actually liked that water slide, at least a tiny bit. A thrill seeker I clearly will never be, but when CJ asked if I would go down the waterslide again, I nodded, and she smiled, and we were both happy.

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