Back when I was a wee-little kid who loved playing with Micro Machines and G.I. Joes, I remember the thrill of going to Denver’s famous Elitch Gardens almost every summer. This was back when the amusement park sat off of Tennyson and 38th, complete with a sky ride gondola that carried kissing teens over the parking lot, and a “gum tree” which featured a layer of multi-colored chewed-up gum over its bark.
It was at Elitch’s that I rode my first roller coaster, called the Wildcat. It was an old, rickety wooden coaster that always sounded like it was on the verge of shaking apart.
I vividly remember that slow ascent up the first drop of the Wildcat, my friend sitting next to me. That loud, clank clank clank of the chain shaking the coaster cars as it dragged us higher and higher into the sky. I could hear my heart kicking against my ribcage, my fingers turning white from holding the lap bar.
My friend (who had already ridden the Wildcat) gave me words of encouragement. “This is going to be fun!” My grip tightened. My heart kicked faster. Clank clank clank.
We reached the top, suspended in that moment of calm when you can see the whole amusement park beneath you. Then we plunged downward, and my stomach floated into my throat as I screamed with terrible excitement, closing my eyes and pulling myself toward the lap bar while in freefall.
But when the coaster shot back up the next hill, the lap bar shot up too and smacked me in square the nose. My first ride on a roller coaster was an odd juxtaposition of physical pain, fright, and exhilaration.
People often mistake the road to recovery as just that, a road with perhaps a few pot holes or even some sinkholes to drive around. But depression and anxiety still toss my thoughts up and down, slamming them around like passengers on the Wildcat.
For me, the road to recovery certainly doesn’t mean I never get dragged down by depression anymore, especially when external stressors come screeching out of the darkness like shadows with obsidian claws, tearing away at anything that brings joy.
Instead of trying to completely eradicate melancholy from my life, I work to ride the cycles of depression and anxiety very much like I rode the Wildcat all those years ago.
Recovery is more about finding and using mental tools to just hold on to that lap bar as the world rushes towards you—not trying to escape that odd combination of pain, anxiety, excitement, and dread.
Maybe you have some really powerful mental tools yourself. What do you do to redirect your thinking from focusing on the chaos around you? And what do you do when those tools aren’t as effective?
Sometimes that means being so worn out from carrying all that weight on your shoulders, you cry in the shower and then toast your exhausted self some frosted brown sugar, cinnamon Pop-tarts for breakfast. However you choose to hold on to that lap bar.
I try to just take care of myself on those weeks I’m stuck on the Wildcat, hearing that dreaded clank clank clank every night. But I can’t fall all the time, as for every plunge, there’s a rise back to that temporary calm at the top of the hill, just before the fall again. Like waves in water, you can’t have the valleys without the crests.