What It Feels Like to Ride the Rollercoaster

Kourtni Weldon // As told to by Kourtni Weldon

The smell of funnel cake and cotton candy filled the warm, summer air. Children ran through the amusement park in pure joy. The whooshing noises swarmed the crowd as the roller coasters raced down their tracks. I stood in a crowded line, waiting to be let on to a ride that was supposed to be fun. Finally, it was my turn. I made my way into the ride, fastened my seatbelt and one of the workers double-checked it. I heard metal clanking as we were about to take off.

In that moment, fear began taking over all of my thoughts. As we met the peaking point of the ride, I thought about what would happen next. What if this thing is so old that it crashes mid-air? What if my seat belt is too loose? What if I slip right out of my seat and fall onto the concrete? As we jolted down the track, I could hear all of the other riders screaming out in joy. That is when all of the irrational fears left my mind. None of the scenarios I imagined had come true, but I knew the next time I rode the roller coaster, I would question them all over again.

After a long, stressful week of junior year, it was finally Saturday night; a night made for teenagers to go out with friends and have fun, free of stress from school—at least, that’s how it was supposed to happen. Looking around at my friends, everyone was completely carefree, as happy as possible, except for me. I felt it coming, the adrenaline rising inside of my body, the tension in the room as I became completely still. Thoughts raced through my mind at one hundred miles per hour. I saw the tears flow down my face, onto my neck and then leave their mark on my shirt. That was only the beginning, the roller coaster had just taken off.

After many minutes of being tangled in my own thoughts, my friends noticed what was happening. Here came the three words that no one likes hearing when they are upset. “Are you okay?” they asked; my friends now turned to me with a confused look on their faces. I couldn’t speak, because when I did, the words came out too fast, almost incoherent. I had reached the peak of the rollercoaster.

My friends tried helping the situation as much as they could, which I am thankful for, but with their eyes on me, my anxiety multiplied. That is when the “what if” scenarios start attacking me. Thoughts such as “What if my friends think I am doing all of this for attention?” and “What if I pass out because I am breathing so fast?” raced through my mind. Once I calmed down, I realized that I was panicking for no reason, which was very concerning to me.

All anxiety attacks do not look the same. Sometimes, an anxiety attack has me fighting to keep myself from shaking and breathing heavily, but other times, people do not even notice when I am having one because of how silent and “calm” I appear. It has happened multiple times where at the beginning of an attack, no one can tell it is happening because the typical signs and symptoms most associated with anxiety are not there.

Usually, after an anxiety attack passes, I overanalyze the situation. I will remember everything that happened and focus on every small detail. I try imagining what my friends were thinking in those moments and convince myself that they were silently judging me, even if they clearly were not. Then, I replay the situation over and over again in my mind, wishing I could go back in time and simply calm down. I tell myself that the next time I ride the roller coaster, I will not overreact; I will have fun like everyone else.

It is difficult for me to open up about my anxiety to the people I love and care for. The last thing I want is to create stress or worry in their lives. Keeping my problems to myself is better for everyone; however, I have had talks with the people I care for about getting help so I do not struggle as much, but I eventually turn the idea away every time. I do not want anxiety to have this amount of power over me and my life. It makes me second guess everything I do and say, and it is the isolating nature of anxiety in everyday life that creates an invisible boundary between me and the people I love.

The pounding of my fast heartbeat echoes throughout my whole body. My rapid breath mimics the pace of my shaking hands. Thoughts frantically race through my mind, bouncing from the right side of my head to the left. Every outrageous scenario embeds itself in my brain. As I try to keep my emotions hidden from the people around me, I feel the tears forming, begging to be freed from my eyes until they slowly escape and drip down my face. All the emotions come out at once, anger, fear and sadness. My arms and legs begin to shake and my breathing becomes noticeable. It happens so fast. It happens in public and in private, when I am with people and when I am alone; I am back on the roller coaster.