Most people who have met me past the age of 23 say that I am a daredevil, an adrenaline junkie. Quite a few of these friends met me at a very specific time in my life where I was living free in San Diego and taking advantage of almost every single extreme outdoor sport my money could afford. I had a great group of friends, my life was fairly stable, I was young and living it up.
There was a seemingly endless stream of activities that kept me going once I started with half marathon training and my body was fit enough to do anything I wanted (well, after that first recovery from knee injury, which was an eye-opener). I did a lot of daring things during that time of my life - traveled solo for the first time, bungy jumping, blackwater rafting, canyon swinging, skydiving, paragliding, scuba diving, shotover jets, indoor and outdoor climbing, zip lining...you name it. If there was a groupon for it, like helicopter piloting, I was absolutely there and first in line, encouraging my friends to come along with me.
I've read somewhere that after the age of 25, the fear of death sets in. That's why teens and young people are so willing, able, and enthusiastic about doing activities that would otherwise seem uncautionary to older folk. I am sure there are a lot of reasons for this - you're young and likely active and relatively fit, you have a stable enough lifestyle or one that allows you to feel safe enough to risk, your focus isn't on reproduction and rearing of kids, you have freedom and hopefully some amount of spending money to go out there and do what you want. To be honest, when I first read the article, because I was at a stage of my life where I was always doing something new, extreme, and active...I didn't really believe it. Of course I had friends who never wanted to do extreme sports and were not interested in pushing the boundaries, for sure. But I thought perhaps it was just an individual preference, rather than an inherent biological mechanism.
But after this weekend celebrating Goose's birthday with his friends...I now know that I have reached that biological milestone. For the first time in recent memory, I was doing an activity that literally made me feel sick with worry and made my brain hum with constant warnings.
We were go-karting.
Now I've never had too much issue with driving. I'm sure my parents will be glad to read that I've always been cautionary, unlike many teen drivers. The most I did was make sure I was always first off of the line when the light turned green, but that was just being silly and judging the reaction times of others, not because I was going particularly fast. Sometimes I get a little apprehensive when returning to driving after being abroad (and carless) for several months in a row, but it fades after that first short trip to the store. It really is like riding a bicycle.
But this time, as we entered the longest indoor go-karting track in the UK at Capital Karts, my alarm bells were ringing internally. As I watched the people before us zoom around the track, I could feel my anxiety mounting. This was no longer the adrenaline rush of excitement (though there was still a small amount of that), it was fear, dread, the warnings of risk.
As we got suited up and listened to the spiel about different colored flags and what they meant, I tried to calm myself down. It was just go-karting, something I'd done several times before. We were wearing full helmets, jumpsuits, and gloves. I was as well-protected as I was going to be in an activity like this.
We were given 15 minutes of practice laps to assign the order in which we'd start our real 35 minute race. I started last because they needed to find me a foam insert so I could reach the pedals.
I wasn't fussed about getting in a good position for the real race - I figured if anything, it would be better to start from the back because then I had more empty space on the track for myself before anyone else would come to lap me.
We started the actual race after filing into positions. I was third from last, the other two girls in our group behind me.
For the first three or four laps, I actually tried hard to get a good time. I did have the track to myself and was feeling pretty good about being able to take the right lines (outside, inside, outside!).
But then the leaders caught up to me. So instead of being able to concentrate on the track itself and where I wanted to be positioned for each turn, it was about getting out of the way of boys who weren't interested in being polite but rather getting the fastest time. Regardless of whether they hit you (which wasn't officially allowed) or cut you off.
It made my internal warning signals flare up again. I felt the adrenaline the whole time, but this was now doubled with anxiety about personal injury, about my friends or Goose getting hurt. My brain would just not shut up. So I decided I didn't care about the time, I wasn't trying to beat anyone, I was there as a birthday celebration...and slowed down.
It was good when there were pockets of quiet and I could do as I like. But I was constantly checking to see if anyone was catching up to me so I could get out of the way. I felt exhausted by the end, being on edge the whole time, even though I hadn't been going fast.
It was the first time in recent memory that I've felt this way. I've usually craved and enjoyed the line between excitement and fear. But I guess what they said was true - I'd started having those fears. I worried about the safety of the people with me, even though we were in a relatively safe environment. I let it get the best of me. I didn't like it.
I can only imagine what this will be like once I have kids (if I am fortunate enough to have any). I get it now, I totally do. But I am wondering if there are ways of letting go of that fear. It didn't seem productive at the time and I didn't like how it made me feel or act in the face of danger. There must be a balance between fear for your loved one's safety and being able to control it enough to let them live, to let you live.
I think this is something I'll look into further. I don't want to live in fear and I want to be able to enjoy my loved ones doing risky things from time to time in the course of their lives. Things can happen regardless of how careful you are about yourself or others. Being safe but still living life to its fullest.
If CBT is any guide on that, it's going to be about facing the situations that make me feel uncomfortable. Habituate myself with fearscapes so I can understand and then control the anxiety that will mount. Sounds like a new goal for this year, along with what I am already working on - facing fears, charging forward, living life better and without anxiety.
I'm feeling better about it already. :)
In the meantime, I'll leave you with this photo of someone terrified of go-karting, so I can laugh alongside them in how silly it is to be constantly afraid.