“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”Voltaire
I have never liked roller coasters. On my first visit to Disney World, my parents and I waited for 2 hours to ride Space Mountain. I was around 10. I stood there, palms sweaty, heart beat racing. Ready to ride. Completely terrified. When the time came to step down into the middle of that car for 3, I couldn’t do it. I just could not do it. It’s not the drop, I explain to people, it’s the ride up to the drop. That slow tick, tick, tick up the first lift hill. Usually, on the wooden rollercoasters of my youth, there’s even a ladder or stairs next to the track slyly inviting me, the hapless rider, to just hop out. To change my mind.
However, if I know that there won’t be a steep drop after the slow climb. I’m totally fine. Upside down, later drops all fine. It’s just the BIG ONE after an initial climb that gets me.
Space Mountain doesn’t even have a big drop after a slow climb. Sure. I know that now. I’ve since ridden it dozens of times. But on that day, I was uncertain what the ride would be like and my guess was that it would be like the horrible “white rollercoaster” an old wooden rollercoaster that was my first rollercoaster experience when I was just 6 years old at Valley Fair in Minnesota. My uncle, who took me on that first ill-fated ride, said that I kept repeating the whole way to the top “I can just get off. I’ll just get off.” And then I threw up when we went over the hill. Just threw up in his lap. It was not a good ride. That day at Disney, my parents sent me through the “chicken exit” alone with my shame and rode the ride. Even after they got off and assured me it was not that bad, I was unconvinced and wouldn’t ride.
What finally got me onto the ride was the combination of certainty – there are videos of the ride on YouTube – and fear of shame in front of my then boyfriend, now husband, when I went back to Disney with his whole family – nieces, parents, brother and sister – on a “get to know my family” trip. It was my first time back to Disney World since that ill-fated trip with my parents. He promised me Space Mountain wasn’t that scary. He promised me there was no big drop. I wasn’t sure whether he was right, but then there WERE the YouTube videos. I gave it a go. Sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing, all definitely there. But the desire to fit in, to be a cool, fun girlfriend pushed me into that same middle seat of 3.
It was the unknown and my assumptions about the unknown that got me that day with my parents. Like most people, I have a hard time waiting for results or for certainty. I generally feel desperate just to know what will happen. I hear this same sentiment all the time from clients and from friends. Waiting for the results of lab tests, when we applied to private middle school for my daughter, when I applied to college. During the wait, I don’t think I even cared what the results would be, I just wanted to know. I think the reason it’s so uncomfortable not to know is the unspoken thought that:
“I don’t know how I will cope with what happens.“
We don’t know how to cope with what we can only imagine will be a horrible drop after a long and torturous climb. The reality is, that we CAN cope with most anything. We just don’t want to cope with all things. I could have coped if I didn’t get in to the college of my choice, of course I would have. But I didn’t want to. I can cope with the lab results not being what I want them to be, it might not be easy and it might not be good news when I get them, but I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, but I’m scared that it will be painful or unpleasant. There will be next steps to take in any situation.
I like knowing what comes next so I can make a plan for how I’m going to approach it. It’s easier to be executing a plan than it is to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. In my opinion, the worst moment on any major rollercoaster is the moment where you feel the click as the climb mechanism switches to the pulling mechanism that drags you down the hill. There’s a pause. That pause is the worst. Once the car is dropping, I’m usually too busy carrying out my carefully thought out plan: 1) scream, 2) squeeze my eyes shut while, 3) gripping the lap or shoulder restraint with both hands as tightly as possible, to worry any more. I’ve realized that it’s not scary anymore on the drop – it’s just not always fun. So I avoid the coasters with a big drop. I’ve accepted that while I CAN cope with the drop. I don’t want to.
And, with roller coasters, that’s generally OK.