How taking on roller coasters helped in facing my fears

In confronting amusement park rides and my PNH, I found a way to grow

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by Brandi Lewis |

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It’s so easy to sit scared and frustrated when diagnosed with illnesses like mine, aplastic anemia and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). Together they brought back and heightened my sense of fear. As brave as I seemed on the outside, inside I was dealing with anxiety and learning to move past it to be a better individual.

Before I was diagnosed, I’d always feared roller coasters. The fluttery feeling in my stomach had been too intense for me to bear. I didn’t like the thought of being pulled 100 feet in the sky only to be dropped at an extreme rate. I couldn’t understand why anyone would love that.

The 10-year-old me was roaming around Six Flags with my family when my uncle dared me to ride the Great American Scream Machine. I remember standing in front of the white, wooden roller coaster, looking up at how tall it was. Hearing the screams of people riding it didn’t make me feel any more confident. I’d never been on a roller coaster before, but if you dared me to do something, even at a young age, I’d do whatever it took to win.

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As I inched closer to the beginning of the line, my body was filled with nerves and anxiety. I made it to the front and stepped into a seat. Everything in me wanted to turn around and back out at the last second, but my competitive side wouldn’t let me. I locked myself in and squeezed the handle. There was no turning back.

The roller coaster took off and clicked and clicked and clicked until we made it to the top of the first hill. “There’s only one way down!” I realized. As the cart leaned forward and took off down the hill, I closed my eyes and peeked every few seconds. My body was thrown left and right and left again. As the cart stopped at the end, I opened my eyes. I couldn’t believe I did it!

Much later, in my 20s, I’d just been in and out of hospitals for treatment. I wasn’t scared by the sight of a needle or blood at that point, but my fear of roller coasters had come back. It’d been years since I’d ridden one. I was ready to try again.

Before I even stepped inside the amusement park, I told myself that I’d ride a roller coaster. I didn’t know which one, but I figured that if I could get past the fear of fighting an illness, I could again get past my fear of a roller coaster. There was no dare this time, just my own conviction to push myself out of my comfort zone. The uncomfortable zone is where you grow, I knew, and I was determined to do so this day.

My family ran to the first roller coaster, but I said I was going to sit this one out. Cut to the third roller coaster, called Batman. I decided to give this one a chance. The nerves that I felt at 10 years old came back. I was fidgeting all the way until the front of the line. My stomach was full of nerves, but I tried to ignore it.

I sat in the seat, pulled down on the seat holder, and heard the click to lock me in. My mind raced with negative thoughts, but I wasn’t going to let them win. The roller coaster took off, taking us up and down and around repeatedly. As usual, my eyes were mostly closed, with a couple of peeks. Still, I made it to the end of Batman. That was my win for the day!

In retrospect, it was my own dare that I overcame.

My determination to push past fear and better understand myself was what I celebrated. That day I rode so many roller coasters. After getting over the first one, I found a new respect for myself and even rode the roller coaster called Superman — twice!

Fear has a way of paralyzing us and holding us back from unlocking another great feature of ourselves. With my illnesses, fear took a front seat and wanted to navigate every step of the way. But fear has also taught me how to ignore it and sit in the anxious, awkward, uncomfortable zone of life.

If PNH has left you or your loved one fearful, you are not alone. I hope my story encourages you.

Stay brave!

Note: PNH News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of PNH News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.