How Mantis Helped Squash My Anxiety
On opening day of the 2014 season, I got onto Gemini and got a nasty headache. For most, such a thing would be easy to shrug off and eventually forget about. But when you suffer from a series of personality and anxiety disorders, things like this can literally ruin entire weeks.
That headache nearly ruined the entire season for me.
It had been a while since I had gotten on a roller coaster. Up until my amazing brother got my daughter, fiancée and I season passes, my trips to Cedar Point had been intermittent, and when I was there, I was usually with my daughter and her friends and couldn’t get on anything anyway. It worked well for me, because I was able to hide under the “I’m watching the kids” umbrella and not have to admit that even the sight of some of the coasters at the park had me shaking and gasping for air.
For years, I blamed these coaster related panic attacks on Millennium Force. The year the coaster opened, I was 17. I went to the park with some friends, but before heading to Sandusky, I had a completely unrelated panic attack that was still lingering while I waited in line. It was hot, and the line was loud and crowded, so my anxiety couldn’t seem to settle itself. By the time I got into the train, I was entirely convinced that I wasn’t going to survive the ride.
Panic and anxiety do weird things to people. It’s as if it has the ability to supercede your higher brain functions and forces you to believe in complete nonsense. When I hit the bottom of the first hill, I had no surge of calming chemicals wash over my brain. When the 2014 season opened, I still hadn’t gotten over that feeling of hopelessness I felt on the ride. Looking at it looming over the park was a constant reminder of those horrifying few panic stricken minutes from 14 years ago.
I am very lucky to have a great brother and fiancée, who were supportive and patient with me while I panic attack-ed my way through the coasters at the park. I cried going up the first hill on Blue Streak. But over time, I began to learn how to work with my anxiety, and I discovered that by refusing to let it overcome me, I was capable of doing so much more than I thought possible. The next couple of trips had me going on Mine Ride, tackling Gemini and Blue Streak again, and feeling more confident that someday during the season, I’d be able to get on Millennium Force again.
And then I found out that Mantis was getting squashed. This was particularly rough for me, because a few years back, my brother and I rode in the front seat of Mantis together. It was the first coaster we had ever gone on together, so having to say goodbye to something that held such good memories was tough for me. I remembered back then, being utterly terrified, but I was too embarrassed to tell my brother about it, so instead of looking to him for help, I tried my best to keep it all hidden away. I felt sick and panicked afterwards, but was still proud of myself for doing it.
Opening weekend of Halloweekends, my fiancée, brother and I found ourselves there on Saturday. I knew it was going to be my last time at the park before Mantis was gone forever, and I knew that if I didn’t ride her one last time, I’d spend eternity regretting it. Despite the panic attack that washed over me immediately, I was confronted with the reality that I was going to regret not riding her while we were there. I waited in line for, thankfully, a short period of time, but by the time we were walking up the steps, it was clear that I was moments away from passing out. I couldn’t breathe. I was crying, shaking. I couldn’t tell anyone specifically why I was so terrified, which is a pretty good sign that it was anxiety, not legitimate fear, that was crippling me. They kept asking if I wanted to get out of line, and while so much of me did, I knew I would regret it. So I forged ahead, got on, hyperventilated up the hill, and…
…enjoyed every second of it. My legs were a bit shaky as we walked down the stairs, but I was so proud of myself for doing it. I considered that to be the biggest ride I had been on so far that season, and it opened up a surge of confidence in me that I hadn’t expected to experience that year. We rode Mean Streak right before the witch came out to let her friends loose, and I realized, as we were walking underneath the ride, that I was going onto it without my anxiety beating doubt into my brain. That night, as we left the park, I was able to look at Millie with enthusiasm instead of fear.
The day that Mantis was squashed, I offered to come out to the park to pick my brother up. He found out, while talking to Kristen on Millie, that if he and I walked through the exit gate, we could get on that night without having to wait in line. I was faced, again, with a situation that would leave me full of regret if I didn’t go through with it. I’d like to say that I got onto Millie with gusto, but I’d be lying. Knowing that I was going to be doing this, I had to pull my car into a rest stop halfway to the park to collapse into a full blown panic attack that had be crying with my head against the bathroom stall door, shaking uncontrollably and making myself sick for nearly 20 minutes. But I remembered my ride on Mantis, and reminded myself that my anxiety is no longer capable of controlling me. Taking a deep breath, I got back in the car, and about an hour later, I found myself going down the first hill on Millie, and loving every second of it.
This blog post was meant to be a story about my favorite memory at Cedar Point in 2014. But it is impossible to pinpoint a single moment in the season, because for me, my favorite moment started on the first day and ended on the last. It was the slow but steady crawl from terror to enthusiasm, from anxiety to excitement. From headaches and crying to my newfound goal of riding Millie at least 100 times next season. My favorite memory, if it could be narrowed down to one sentence, it would be this. As saddened as I am that Mantis is gone, she left quite a legacy for me, because if it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have ever beaten my anxiety and gotten back on Millennium Force.
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