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The roller coaster


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


As a child, I was not fond of roller coasters and it took nearly seventeen years before mustering enough courage to give it a go. Perhaps my stomach was averse to the steep slopes, constant twisting, and furious turns, leaving it on the verge of regurgitation rather than invigoration. This was not my idea of having fun by any means.


But it would be difficult to find a better analogy for how most of our emotions have been happening these past several months. This last week was a particularly fitting example for me. The emotional highs and lows haunted me with the expectations of riding a roller coaster at night.


As I now reflect on the week’s events, there was nothing unusually traumatic which should have triggered such diverse and opposing feelings, and after a little time has passed, it seems trivial and almost pitiful to have allowed them to overwhelm me; especially since many others are facing much more tumultuous circumstances than I.


Hang on for the ride


Typically – well, at least pre-COVID times – lines for roller coaster were long and slow. Anxious riders eagerly awaited their turns and when it finally came time to board and buckle in, their hearts began pounding as they slowly trekked up the long incline to begin their breathtaking excursion.


After all the twists, turns, and upside-down moments of their adrenaline-charged ride, the reactions could be as different and varied as the number of people on board. Some were extremely exhilarated and rushed to do it again while others wished it would have ended after the first loop. But no matter which feeling each rider encountered, the ride always came to an end.


The E-Ticket Ride


In the days before amusement parks utilized unlimited passes, riding the attractions required purchasing tickets and the cost for those various tickets was based on how exhilarating the ride was. Disneyland graded their tickets with the letter designations A through E; the E-tickets being the most sensational. The expression an “E-Ticket ride” was born from those green coupons and each time I hear it, I can’t help but smile.


The Matterhorn was one of those rides for which I never used my E-tickets. Even the slightest thought of being forced on that ride would set the butterflies in my stomach on a hurried frenzy. As an adult, I finally overcame my fear of that once-ominous attraction, but admittedly, it still is not my preferred form of a fun time.


The ride begins

Interestingly, our emotional roller coasters sometimes evoke similar perceptions as those we experience at amusement parks. While some may enjoy the crazy twists and turns, others would prefer to sit them out. We seldom have the option to disembark from our figurative roller coaster. In fact, we rarely have the option to choose which ride we’d like to experience. The only choice is to hang on and ride it out – or that may be what is often perceived to be the only choice.


We must learn how to more than just survive these troubling conditions, but indeed thrive during these difficult and turbulent times.


Keep in mind all our experiences differ and extenuating circumstances may require the aid of a trained professional, but the best time to take action is when the bumpy moments begin. Our emotions can run fast and high; in a matter of minutes, they may demonstrate completely opposite extremes.


An effective way to help curb your emotional episode is to do your best to take a deep breath and try to remain calm. Next, attempt to observe it and watch it unfold, asking yourself why these feelings are unfolding in this way and at this moment. The worst thought or reaction you can have is telling yourself you are wrong for experiencing the feelings the way you currently are. This kind of demeaning self-talk is damaging and is merely shame trying to entrap you in a broken place.


Sometimes I’ll say to myself or even out loud, “I’m feeling awful right now and I’m okay with feeling this way”. Allowing and accepting this unwanted frame of mind as well as acknowledging it and understanding you are not a terrible person for having these feelings, has the power to diminish and weaken its hold and influence over you.


Undergoing awful feelings is not something people prefer nor gleefully choose, but everyone encounters them. No one is immune. Yours are not an anomaly and you should not torture yourself for suffering through them. Being aware these types of moods are not exclusively yours will alleviate the shame which habitually accompanies these destructive emotions.


The one expression I often hear when it comes to defeating these kinds of situations, is “letting it go.” While I would never disagree with this advice, some have difficulty comprehending what that precisely means or how to implement it. If our emotions were something we physically carried, letting it go would be as simple as dropping it or throwing it in a trash can.


Letting something go emotionally is more about self-perception and the awareness that our actions did not provoke these negative consequences. When we do become aware of our uninvited emotional state and realize we are not terrible people for experiencing it, this is a helpful step toward “letting it go.”


Remember also there is a strong possibility if others were in your shoes, they would be experiencing similar moods. Realizing both your current state is normal and not uncharacteristic, you can now consider forgiving yourself for having those emotions in the first place. Say to yourself or even out loud, “I forgive you for feeling this way.” The self-forgiveness will metaphorically allow you to take your hand off the emotionally damaging bag and discard it.


Hanging on to emotional baggage frequently comes into play from uncertainty and a need for answers which may never be possible to find. Continually searching for why something occurred will have a greater impact on not allowing you to let it go and can be the reason you are unable to do so. However, we can always forgive ourselves for believing we did something to create the anxiety or we are somehow unworthy of anything better.


There is still plenty of uncertainty facing us and the end of this roller coaster continues beyond our line of sight. But this is no reason to constantly be tossed and turned at the whim of any obstacle in our path. Begin today to do your best to negate life’s challenges and learn to overcome them with some simple techniques. If you have any questions, you are always welcome to leave your thoughts below or reach me directly at: john@shamedoctor.com


My thanks to Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.