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I Cried on Space Mountain

November 25, 2013
stars by Natmandu

‘Stars’ by Natmandu via OR my view of Space Mountain.

Intense. Not in control. Loud. Blind, with flashes of light. Pushed. Pulled. Shaken. Fast, fast, fast. Dropped, falling. Too much. Too much. Too much.

Too much stimuli crashing against my senses. My amygdala going haywire and flooding my body with adrenalin. Nothing for my neo-cortex, my reasoning brain, to latch on to for reassurance. Emotional overflow and absolutely no self-regulation.

“Oh my God, I broke you girlfriend!” she exclaimed, her jaw dropped in almost comic horror as we trotted up the exit ramp almost at a run.

I wiped my eyes and desperately tried to stay ahead of everyone else until I had myself under control, but it was too late. My boyfriend’s youngest cousin and self-avowed Disney devotee (and employee) easily kept pace with me despite her shorter legs.

“Are you okay?!” she sounded shocked.

“Yes, yes,” I waived my hands in front of my face, half-laughing, and trying hard to smile. It really was a ridiculous situation. I choked out the words as the overload subsided. “I’m just overstimulated.”

We reached a lobby area at the top of the ramp and the rest of the herd gathered around, Colin and his aunt and uncle, his other cousin and her boyfriend, thankfully distracted by the photos from the ride. Everyone looks like they’re having a grand time, with big smiles and hands in the air, while I grip the rails for all I’m worth, eyes tightly closed, teeth exposed in a face contorting grimace. Kindly, no one comments on that.

They ask if I’m okay again. Everyone looks concerned as I wipe my eyes one last time and reassure them. I really am okay. Or about as okay as anyone who just touched the equivalent of a mental tazer can be.

I excused myself for the ladies room and headed for the farthest end at a determined pace, passing a dozen empty stalls. Once inside I let out a long sigh, reassured by the closeness of the thin walls, my ability to see my entire surroundings, the relative quiet (compared to the ride), and the complete lack of flashing lights or other people within my field of vision. I blew my nose.

How ridiculous! But not entirely unprecedented. I felt caught in a flashback. I was eight years old again and had just stepped off the very first roller coaster of my entire life, the Oriental Express at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City. I had been entirely unprepared for that ride and came off shaken and bawling. I refused to go on almost every ride there for most of what remained of our two day family vacation, except for a couple very gentle ones where I could see everything that would happen before I set foot on the machine. Eventually, I did go back and conquer my fear of the red roller coaster, riding it and several others in succession, and moved on to even more intense ones after that. But none of them had been in the dark, literally without any ability to see the next corner coming. That all seemed a very long time ago now. I hadn’t even thought of it in years, not even just moments before, when we boarded Space Mountain.

I thought it would be the crowds that got me, with all their movement, and noise, and pressure. They were very stressful, but I’m used to. I could manage. Space Mountain took me entirely by surprise.

Colin and his family love Disney, both -world and -land. They love everything about it: the rides, the parades, shows, fireworks, costumes, characters, sets, shops, restaurants, pins, traditions, secrets, history, facades, and even how well they handle the parking.

My family, on the other hand, despite our three or four amusement park vacations when I was young, never once contemplated going to Disney. It just wasn’t our thing. Too expensive and crowded and contrived and very far away. You were more likely to find us in a national park or a natural history museum or, heck, just wandering around town to see what was there, but always staying away from the crowds. If there was a line, we didn’t go.

Since Colin and I have been together, Disney has been a sore subject between us. He wants to share one of his favorite things with me and include me in his family. I understand. But I also want him to understand and accept that his thing he loves so much is very difficult for me.

“It’s okay,” he says. “We’ll just go for a half day.”

I feel relieved. Maybe we can compromise. Maybe he gets it.

“They close at midnight and we won’t even get there until noon.”

I feel like he just slapped me. Twelve hours is not a ‘half day.’ I was thinking six hours or less. I’ll never last for twelve hours. I’ll start freaking out and he’ll be disappointed, and anything that was fun up until that point will be tainted.

“You’re always talking about the power of the mind to change situations,” he protests. I don’t really think he understands how I can object so strongly to somewhere I’ve never been. “I’m an introvert, too. But I just filter all those people out. Why can’t you do that?”

Why can’t I do that? I went hunting for an answer. I learned a lot about introverts and highly sensitive persons and self-monitoring and genetics and neurology and biochemistry. What it all in my head? No, and yes. I used that to explain that our brains are wired differently. I can use the power of my mind, but I’m working against a neuro-biology that he’s never had to deal with. (Probably. I’m not a doctor and I’ve never had an MRI, so I can’t confirm this, but it all fits with the research.) He sort of gets it, but I can see the doubt.

I think all that doubt got erased on Space Mountain. Although Colin can filter out strangers, he’s always well attuned to the people he cares about, including me. So he gives me a hug and lets me bury my face in his neck. He stays close and holds my hand and keeps checking in with me to see if I’m okay.

The other cousins go trotting away and we follow, zigzagging through the teaming crowds under a million miles of twinkling Christmas lights, past the Christmas parade in full swing, from Fantasyland through Frontierland and into Adventureland.

We end up on Indian Jones and I can feel that overwhelming sensation staring to build. So I do something different. I meditate.

Well, not exactly. I can’t even manage a trance state on a cushion, let along a raging roller coaster that hurls giant boulders at you. I just center myself on my breath. Breath in, fast curve, breath out, bats in the dark, breath in, big drop, breath out (shout a little), giant bolder, breath in, big plunge.  I stayed focused on my breathe rather than letting my focus become shattered and overwhelmed by everything that was happening around me and to me. I laughed and gasped and didn’t cry a single tear.

“You okay?” Colin asked as our carriage pulled back into the station.

“Yeah, that was fun.” I gave him a thumbs up. He looked confused. “I meditated,” I told him.

He laughed. He didn’t push me to stay longer when it was time to go. I think he understood that five hours was a long time for me now that he’d seen me do it. And there’s hope for that to increase in the future.

Now that I know I can center on my breath, I want to go back on Space Mountain. I want to put monks on space mountain and hook their brains up to machines. I want to meditate more and see what else I can do. I don’t think I’ll every love Disney, but maybe we can at least be friends.

space mountain


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