Essay

I Want to be Lisa Kudrow – or – The Emotional Requisites to Ride This Roller Coaster

What I've learned about my general anxiety and myself through my inability to enjoy theme park rides.

I’m envious of Lisa Kudrow. Well, one of her roles, anyway,

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No, not that one.

In Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt she plays Kimmy’s roller coaster addicted absentee mother, and there’s a raw joy she’s able to draw from the coasters that I envy, not in coasters mind you, but in general. I’ve waxed poetic about how I’m not that kind of guy, whatever “thing” humans are supposed to have that allows people to just “enjoy” a thing, in this case roller coasters, it never got installed in yours truly.

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Pictured on the Left: Not me. Right: Surprise! Still not me.

I’ve tried, believe me, and of all things, roller coasters have been an interesting subject for learning about myself and my anxiety, with the strangest possible results and revelations.

A few years ago, a friend of mine visited LA and we went to Knott’s together on a random Tuesday in March. As a result, the place was deserted and most of the day there would be at most a ten minute wait in any line for a ride. It was a theme park dream come true.

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A map full of nope.

Knott’s has a map that rates their coasters on a 1-5 intensity scale, and my friend that day knew I was a coaster newbie, so we started with a 3, the Montezooma’s Revenge. Walking up the winding halls that on busier days would be stuffed with ride goers, my friend was talking about something casually and I was nodding along, barely talking. When we reached the boarding area, we were the only two people riding, I climbed in first and my friend after me.

As soon as he sat down, he jumped. He’d sat right against me and was stunned: “Dude, there is this INTENSE heat coming off you, and I can feel your heart pounding,” then he looked at my face and eyes and practically whimpered: “your face though, you look like you’re about to balance a checkbook.”

I nodded, “yeah, I’m scared as hell. Too late now.”

The Face

I have never bought those “in the ride” photos, not only because they’re a ripoff, but because I just don’t take good ones.

I know there’s a gag where people will go down the rides and intentionally pose for the camera looking super calm:

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Like these guys, but without the board.

Not me. At least not as any kind of gag. My expression is generally the kind of placid that makes it seem like I’m wondering if I need to pick up paper towels at Target on the way home. My friend at Knott’s thought, “well, clearly you’re not easily shaken” and took me onto a higher intensity coaster next.

After riding a 4, again with the same stony expression, he insisted we try the big bad 5, the Supreme Scream. At this point I tapped out.

What’s Behind the Face?

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Let’s dig in

I mentioned before, I don’t really have whatever off switch that activates for other people to automatically be able to enjoy that thrill. Even if other people are terrified getting on the ride like I am, their response is to hold on and scream.

My response is to face forward with a stiff upper lip and think through it. I anticipate the turns and twists of the ride, I talk myself through the inspections that the rides are subjected to so that there aren’t accidents, that nothing that the ride will do can be truly dangerous. Then again, I’m also talking myself through everything that can go wrong outside of my control. What if I have a heart condition and this is how I find out about it?

I’m thinking. I’m reasoning. I’m reassuring and convincing myself of realities that I feel I can count on. I am not, in any one second of any coaster taking off from the loading area “letting loose” and enjoying it.

It’s something people probably take for granted, but anxiety doesn’t always look like a blubbering mess, depression doesn’t always look like Eeyore-

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Sometimes it looks like this

Often times, my anxiety makes me the stiffest, hardest looking dude around. In doing so, it’s also keeping me from being in and enjoying the moment, it’s keeping me from being Lisa Kudrow, and I really wish I could be Lisa Kudrow.

If you’re reading this, go out and enjoy a roller coaster for me, or some other equivalent. Because regardless of how you connect with the experience, if you connect at all, it still means something to be in that seat. You learn about yourself, and you carry the memory- that’ll always be important.

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