Many moons ago there was a theme park in the western suburbs of Sydney. It was called Wonderland, and it was a magical place. They offered day passes, weekly passes and family discount on yearly passes. Bless my parents, they always bought yearly passes. This meant after school, on weekends, and public holidays we spent a lot of our time on rollercoasters, giant drop rides (called the Space Probe), and eating an insane amount of fairy floss.
My dad and I would spend a lot of time of a small rickety roller coaster meant for kids, but it was far more terrifying than the sturdy Demon rollercoaster designed for adults. I loved it. I loved the blood pumping through my veins, I loved the rush of adrenaline as the rollercoaster dropped, or shot backwards and did loops. I craved more. I wanted the post-ride body shakes. We would take family trips to the Gold Coast to get bigger, more insane rides and get that kick of terror and adrenaline. Usually we were flooded out every time we went (QLD and I do not get along) but there was always some kind of “indoor” coaster that we could get our thrills from. I lived for those days with my family, and I have to admit, I think of them fondly with a heartbreaking regularity.
A few days ago I went to the Moomba Festival held in Melbourne. Now, I have a thing about easily built/dismantleable rides. I don’t trust them. Call me crazy, paranoid, or just kookoo, I don’t care. I don’t trust ’em not to give out on me. But somehow I found myself on two rides. The first was the Pirates Revenge. A small water based rollercoaster with two levels and two drops. The first drop prepared you for the higher-than-it-seemed-from-the-ground second drop.
It was a lot of fun. With two of us sat in a little log boat, no harness, no belt, just wet hand railings in cold water, it was a fun little scare. We got a little wet, a little thrill, and a lot of laughs. Once the ride was over, we walked around a little to shake our legs out and dry off, when we rounded the corner and came to the very luminescent FREAK OUT.
This beast swung, spun, and flashed insanely bright light at you in random bursts while music blared from surround sound speakers. The seats rocked side to side in as the giant claw swung faster and faster, higher and higher. My friend and I looked at each other, grinned, and bought tickets immediately. I was excited to get that adrenaline rush I had missed so badly, I ignored my brain telling me it was a collapsible, moveable ride. The things we do for that sweet, sweet chemical rush.
We boarded the ride, the one, tiny bar was lowered over my hips and then the sides of the platform dropped off to allow the wild swinging motion to happen unhindered. It was as the ground fell away and the ride lifted itself I realised I’d probably made a mistake. I hadn’t been on a swinging ride in many, many years. I wasn’t use to the type of adrenaline hit I would get before I had anxiety. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and for the first 12 seconds I calmly enjoyed the rush of air past my face. Then the ride began to go vertical.
There’s a point of anxiety that builds up for me that makes me want to scream. Usually I take a pillow out to my car, drive to an empty parking lot and just let loose. It’s cathartic. I realised at that 13th second, I was allowed to have an outlet from all the stress and anxiety I’d been feeling about my life. It was socially acceptable to just bellow and swear, and lose my shit while swinging wildly about 30 meters in the air. So I screamed. I shouted curse words that would make the devil himself blush. I closed my eyes and said my favourite comical (but never quite sincere) phrase whenever I make a mistake “I REGRET EVERYTHING!” Through the rushing wind and stomach turning jolts of the seats rotating, I heard my friend laugh. I started laughing maniacally, eyes closed, trying not to let the feeling of my injured ankle going numb bother me.
The ride began to slow down and I could hear the blood rushing away from my head and back to my feet. I could feel every heartbeat, every hair follicle on my head and I could hear everything everyone around me was saying or doing. I was so hyper-alert, I needed a minute before I got out of the seat. My friend was wild-eyed and green. He said I looked rosy and deliriously happy. And boy, I felt delirious. We went for a walk to calm his stomach and to walk off the anxiety/adrenaline shakes that were wracking my body.
Now, I have a weird caveat to my “No moveable rides” rule. I LOVE carousels. Maybe it’s because of how much fantasy I read and watch, maybe it’s the magic lights and slowly spinning creatures, maybe it’s the creepily jubilant music that plays, but I believe carousels are magic. There’s a reason they are the ride of choice declared as the teleportation device, or the tool used to conduct magic in modern magical society. Just staring at a carousel makes me calm and content.
Staring at that beautiful piece of machinery, I realised with stunning clarity I felt better than I had in months. I no longer felt stressed or overwhelmed. I no longer felt paranoid, or exhausted, or peevish. I felt calm. I felt like I could carry on fighting the good fight of day-to-day life unhindered. That’s when it dawned on me that I was so used to getting smacks of chemical rushes during panic attacks in bad moments, the rush was no longer a good, enjoyable thing. My anxiety over the last few years had robbed me of my desire to feel shaky and out of control. The thrill of feeling hyperalert and aware was now terrifying because it meant something was going very, very wrong. The need to feel a chemical rush was replaced with never, ever wanting to feel elated or invincible because that feeling now meant issues and problems and panic attacks. The ride has rid me of an abundance of pent-up energy in a positive way.
We wandered around for a while longer, admiring the artwork and installations around the fair grounds. We shot some hoops, discussed food options, and finally my friend was looking a little healthier and I was back to regular vague awareness. Reflecting back on that night I’m glad I ignored my brain telling me not to get on the ride. I was positive I was going to have a melt down once I got off the ride, but I had defeated a fear in a positive, safe environment. I’d gotten on a move-able, collapsible ride. I had managed to inadvertently stabilise my dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine and norepinephrine; Something I haven’t truly felt in years.
To think, I use to think I was an Adrenaline Junkie when I was a teenager. Sure, I’ve thrown myself out of aeroplanes and been on a few rides since, but nothing has ever compared to this feeling of being completely back in control of my own life. Hopefully he feeling sticks around for a little while longer, because this is a high I could get use to.
Until next time, stay silly and thanks for reading xx