As a little girl, I lived across the street from a park that had two carnivals a year, once for Memorial Day and again for the 4th of July. I have many happy memories of these celebrations, and one of my very favorite rides was the Big Swings. I would ride them over and over, loving flying above the ground as I had always dreamed I could.
Then, a couple of years ago, Mark and I went to Fantasy Island amusement park. We went on the Big Swings there, and I was terrified. I’ve been on less scary rollercoasters. I screamed and clutched his arm the entire time. When I got off, I swore I would never ride it again.
My question is, where does that fear come from? I decided to take an informal poll. I posed the question “what is something you loved as a child that you fear as an adult, and why?” Some (paraphrased) results:
“I used to love squirrels, until one bit me, and now I hate them. So fear of being injured; bad experiences.”
“Water. Used to love to swim but now I am aware of the potential dangers and fear drowning because of it.”
“I loved roller-skating as a kid, and had clip-on skates with a key. Then when I grew older, I went to a rink for the first time and had to use boot skates. I kept falling down. So, a lack of self-confidence.”
“Long car rides. Road trips sound fun but the thought also makes me claustrophobic and anxious now.”
“Heights. I used to love them as a kid, but now it makes me panic and get dizzy and want to drop to my knees. I realized it in my 20s when I tried to walk across a train trestle. I think it may have been a past-life recollection.”
None of this explains my fear. Nothing happened to make me hate the Big Swings. I was never injured, or humiliated because of them. I thought perhaps it was a fear of heights, but I’m not so much afraid of that as I am of my glasses falling off my face at such altitudes. There was no way to lose my glasses on this ride. Is it a fear of being airborne? But, as a child, all I wanted was to fly. When did that desire become fear?
If I had to make a comparison it would be to the water fear. Now that I am aware of the dangers of the ride, am I scared of it? And that fear, of course, can only come from one place.
Anxiety disorder: my Achilles heel.
My fears are often unfounded. Take washing dishes; I simply cannot. I have tried, on numerous occasions and in numerous ways, to try to do the dishes. Yet my anxiety, my fears, my germaphobia all get in the way and leave me sick to my stomach. I have been physically ill while doing the dishes before, and now I leave that job up to Hubs. Mind you, I used to be able to do this. There was a time when I was doing a show called When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? Great show, except for the five full breakfasts I had to make and serve at every performance. This resulted in a pile of dishes that I scrubbed clean each night after the curtain closed. But that was before.
Before what, exactly? Before my anxiety became so bad that I had to leave theater, leave work, leave the life I had built because I couldn’t handle the life being built inside my head. Still, this one fear eludes me. Is it simply my anxiety taking over that makes the Big Swings so terrifying?
The car ride fear. Anxiety is the culprit there, and the person in question is fully aware of it. I am aware of my anxiety only partially, and that has been an annoying little issue in my life. Sometimes I will find myself in the throes of a panic attack with no idea how I got there, and only after careful reconstruction with my therapist will I discover what one little trigger set it off. So, is it anxiety, like the car ride, coupled with fear due to new information, like the water?
I will likely not figure this one out. However, it did spawn many interesting conversations about childhood fears vs adult fears. I think that the take away here is that children are, mostly, fearless. They have no anxiety yet, they have no fear until they meet consequences, and those are always unexpected. Then, we age, and learn of the consequence of our actions, and we become afraid. Maybe we want to keep up appearances. Maybe we want to keep safe. Maybe we want to avoid situations that make us uncomfortable. What it really comes down to is that we learn what happens “after,” and that’s where the fear comes in. I wish I could summon that part of me that was a fearless child, before life made me jaded and expectant. I would tell her to go forth and do it all, no fear involved. I would make her take me on the Big Swings, and this time when I screamed my head off, it would be screams of delight.