I walked into the tiny room, a container about the size of a large walk-in closet full of hard, gray seats, one hand clutching my purse and the other affixed on my friend's arm. She pats this hand as we take our seats and strap our seat belts around our hips. I fidget with my purse, trying to make sure it is as secure as possible between my legs, because I have no idea what the fuck is about to happen, except that I'm pretty sure I'm about to throw up and/or have a panic attack, and that my purse cannot possibly be safe simply on the floor beneath my feet. Surely the violent motion that this small chamber is about to launch into will scatter all the contents on my leather bag immediately? I finally decide on an optimal purse position (bag firmly squeezed between my legs, strap wrapped around my wrists), remove my hand from my friend's thigh in favor of desperately gripping the hand rails on either side of my thighs, and brace for impact.
The doors in front of me close.
My nightmare begins.
What terrible thing did I decide to put myself through, you might ask? What could possibly have traumatized her so much? Was it an extreme haunted house? A space shuttle simulation? A kidnapping role playing game? An actual kidnapping?
Nope. It was a Disney ride. Specifically, the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout drop ride, which replaced the former drop ride in that building, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Now, you may remember from my former blog post about Disneyland that I had never actually been on Tower of Terror, because I was too afraid of the drops. You may also remember that going on new Disney rides that scared me ended up helping me overcome some of my anxieties. But in case you don't remember, here is an abridged quote from that blog post:
Over the years I would, of course, visit Disneyland several more times- when I was 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and then too many times to count after I turned 18. Every time I rode a new ride, building up in thrill and scariness....I didn't even try Star Tours until six months ago, and I still won't go on Tower of Terror (soon to be Misson: BREAKOUT) or California Screamin'. But with every new attraction milestone, I conquered my anxiety a little bit more. Disney rides, particularly the thrill rides, gradually taught me that my fears were not based in reality, but rather in projections of how I was afraid I might feel. I wasn't actually afraid of the rides, I was afraid that I would feel afraid during the rides. And that is what anxiety is- the anticipation that you will feel fear or that you will lost control. And even when the rides didn't go well (*cough*Matterhorn*cough*...and don't even get me started on Expedition Everest...), the experiences taught me that feelings of discomfort and fear are temporary and will eventually pass, which is a key lesson to learn when figuring out how to manage anxiety. In this way, riding the thrill rides at Disneyland became my own mini-version of exposure therapy.
All of the above is still true. Disney rides have consistently left me feeling stronger and safer than I felt before riding. But I did not have the "everything was alright after all" experience during or after riding Guardians of the Galaxy. In truth, the experience of riding the attraction was worse than I could have ever anticipated. Talking to my friends afterward, trying to understand why other people actually enjoy this ride, many of them said things like, "I love that feeling of butterflies in my stomach!"
Now, I don't know what butterflies these girls were talking about, because the sensation I went through on the ride felt more like giant anvils bouncing up and down in my gut. But whether you have butterflies or anvils, the phenomenon of "thrill-seeking," either on a thrill ride or something more intense like sky-diving or bungee-jumping, appears to be the active search for this feeling of fear. To this non-thrill-seeker, it seems that thrill-seeking is just a hunt to feel extreme unpleasantness.
I understand, in theory, the desire to thrill-seek. Around Halloween time last year I went on a deep internet rabbit hole reading about "extreme haunted houses," particularly "McKamey Manor" in San Diego (you can do your own preliminary reading here). I was so confused as to why people would willingly put themselves through such a horrifying experience- according to past and hopeful participants, the desire to undergo such a trying ordeal comes from a desire to test oneself, to prove endurance, to feel that intense rush.
But as someone who, on a daily basis, feels too much, the desire to feel even more will never make sense to me on a visceral level.
I could explain my version of anxiety as a constant probing of feeling and stimulus. Every little action is a little bit harder to do. Every feeling is a little more intense. Even certain fabrics are hard to wear, sometimes a bra in unbearable. My bed has to be made every day, because there's so much noise in my head at all times, so much information flooding my senses and my body, that sometimes the feeling of underwire on my skin and the appearance of a messy bed makes my head feel like it's going to explode. Everything is too much. I feel too much.
So I don't need to seek out experiences that help me feel more. I need the opposite. I need experiences that sooth. That distract. That bring comfort. That bring understanding.
It's the same reason I avoid sad movies- avoid them like the plague, actually. I've learned not to willingly put myself in a position to be emotionally destroyed- after I saw Black Swan in the theater, I cried for hours afterward, and couldn't pull myself out of the funk for days. It's hard for my brain to separate real feelings from manufactured ones- feeling sad while watching a movie feels almost the same as feeling sad over something in my actual life. Watching a sad movie is not cathartic to me- I don't have a quick, purifying experience that dissipates with the credits. The emotions stick with me. For a long time.
It's the same reason why, when a director asked me and the other members of a particular play ensemble to imagine death - like, really try to imagine it - I didn't feel overwhelmed or particularly frightened at the prospect of the total, ultimately unimaginable nothingness waiting on the other side. I felt relieved. I felt that peace would finally be possible.
You probably know this by now, but I don't believe in Heaven or Hell. I don't believe in any kind of afterlife. I believe that when you're dead, you're dead, and I find comfort in this belief, in the same way religious people find comfort in their beliefs. If there is no afterlife, if this life is all we get, our current lives inherently have more value. What's the point of living now if the best is only yet to come? I'm more driven to make my time on this Earth meaningful if I know it's the only time I have. But I also find comfort in the idea of nothingness. Of finally not feeling anything. I am still terrified of death, and I really don't want to expire anytime soon. I'm grateful that I've lived my entire life free from suicidal thoughts. But given that death is inevitable, and given that human beings will always attempt to prepare for this unfathomable inevitability by imagining what will happen when the time comes, I find comfort in imagining the peace and nothingness that I hope death will bring.
I walk into a tiny room, a container about the size of a large walk-in closet, but this time full of soft, white cushions. And this time, for better or for worse, I am alone. There is no purse to fidget with. There are no seat belts. I have no idea what the fuck is about to happen, but I'm pretty sure that whatever it is, I'm going to be OK. More than OK. I'm going to be happy. I'm going to be calm. Everything will be alright. There are no handrails to desperately grab onto. There is no violent motion. There is only peace, and a beautiful, probing quiet. I lay down on one of the cushions and drift off to sleep.
And then there is nothing.
Sweet, sweet nothing.
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And now, please enjoy this actual footage of me on the Guardians ride (lol!):