Overcoming Anxiety, even if for a day

In October the Coastal Carolina Fair comes to town. Picture your typical carnival scene: funnel cakes and corn dogs, Ferris wheels and weird people dressed in costumes. Don’t forget the “safe” rides that were built in *ahem* a day! Needless to say an anxious and OCD person like me has learned to stay away from this yearly event. Even when I used to like amusement rides at places like Carowinds and Six Flags I would still refuse to ride carnival rides. My quality control flag goes up in my mind as I think about the ride operator letting people on as I watch him munching on his corn dog and accidentally bump the sensor that detaches the rail cars. Anyhow, so the Fair came to town. An old friend I had not seen or talked to in 20 years recently added me on Facebook. Our parents were really close friends when we were young, and as we grew up they just drifted apart. So we had been talking and she asked me one day, “hey would you like to get together an catch up? It’s been like 20 years!”. So anxiety-causing situation number one starts. My mind reels as I think, “what do I say to someone I haven’t seen since I was playing barbie dolls?”. Needless to say I was already starting to feel nauseated. She then proffers, “I know! How about we go to the Fair together?”. Anxiety freak out number 2- I haven’t been to the fair in years! Furthermore I haven’t ridden a roller coaster, or any ride for that matter, since my meltdown two years ago. It was two years ago in Disneyland, “The Happiest Place on Earth”, (riiiiight) that I realized the panicky situations taking over me were a sign of severe General Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder.

So there I was, standing in the parking lot looking for a girl I hadn’t seen in forever at a place that gave me the creeps just thinking about it. But there I was. I had determined in my mind that this would be the moment I would overcome- or I would die trying. Why should I let a mental disorder keep me from having friends and having fun? As I met up with my friend, I realized something. I had forgotten she is hearing impaired. As I started talking to her (she reads lips VERY well- I do not), I realized something very important: she does not let her disability stop her from living life. This girl started to inspire me, and I felt like we had never lost touch. But despite the fact that I was so proud of her for not letting life get her down, it didn’t help me feel any better as we walked towards the hand stamp line to pay for our unlimited rides pass. This girl reminded me of what I was like five years ago. Brave, loved heights and exhilarating rides- and unafraid to conquer new obstacles. Where had that girl gone in me? Anxiety had chewed her up, depression had swallowed her. I had to do something. I quickly typed my friend a text explaining to her what I have been through in the last two years. She shook her head, smiled and said “Me too. But you can do this”. Oh how I wanted to believe her. What could I say? I said what I thought I would never again say: OK. Let’s do this. Let’s ride. As we went from ride to ride, I stood a moment in front of each, assessed the speed and strength of the back and forth motion, and said a quick prayer. “God, please don’t let this be how I go out. I don’t want to die at the fair.”

Six rides and six hours later, I was exhausted. But, I was excited. I had just done something I thought I would never be able to do again. Not only did I swallow the fear of talking to someone I hardly knew anymore, not only had I gone to a public place with thousands of people crowded in a small area, but I had dared to ride a rickety, fast and adrenaline pumping fair ride. More than once. This was a feat. Was this a big deal to anyone else? No. Did people think I was crazy as I stood in line, catching my breath and mouthing silent prayers for survival? Probably. But I know you understand. You who are reading, you probably know what a big deal this is. How these fears and anxieties I swallowed all in one day meant stomping on one more demon. I was one step closer to getting back to me, back to normal. I don’t know for sure if I will ever go back to the same me before all of these mental wars hit, but I do know this: I conquered fear with confidence. And if I can do it once, I can do it again. I hope you find you can conquer your fears too- even if it is just a carnival ride.

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