“You couldn’t pay me enough money to ride Tower of Terror. The last thing I would ever ride in Disney World would be Tower of Terror.”
As I stood in line with 2 of my younger sisters to ride (yes) Tower of Terror over Spring Break, these words, which I had told someone the night before, replayed in my head. I wanted to laugh at myself, but I wasn’t laughing. I was just standing in the midst of sweaty grandpas with their grandsons and a high school band on a school trip and a bunch of families with matching t-shirts that said “[Jones] Family Spring Break 2016.” And praying. Praying so hard. Praying, “God, please let this not be as painful as I think it’s going to be and please let me make it off of this ride without being wheeled out on a stretcher.”
So, this is the part where I’m supposed to tell you about how I conquered my fear and I had the best time of my life on Tower of Terror and rode it 6 more times, right? Well, haha, hmm… Let’s just say people with severe anxiety and a 13-story drop (and back up, and drop again, and back up again, and I lost count after that) don’t mix well.
I kept my eyes closed from the beginning (as seen in the photo above,) and for the first few seconds, I girly-screamed with my sisters, trying to have fun, thinking to myself, “Whoa, haha, umm, this is a little bit scarier than I thought.” And as my stomach dropped, that girly-scream became a grown man-scream. And as the ride came to a jolting halt and rocketed back up, my voice stopped coming out and all I could think about was gripping the handles and the fact that I wasn’t quite sure I was still alive or breathing.
After what seemed like an eternity (but was actually less than 5 minutes I am told – I don’t believe it), the ride ended and I got to get off (praise Jesus! Hallelujah! God bless America!). I could hardly stand up my legs were shaking so bad, and my sisters laughed wildly at me and took snapchat videos and made me check my heart rate on my Fitbit multiple times (it reached 130, FYI) as we walked back outside to join the rest of the tourists. My parents laughed hysterically at me, too. Oh, what a magical experience I had on the Tower of Terror!!
But okay, enough of my rambling… So why did I feel the need to tell you that story? Well, #1, to show you what an absolute mess I truly am (if you didn’t already know.) But that isn’t my main point. My main point is this:
I did it. I was absolutely petrified, and I pretty much hated every moment from when I buckled my seatbelt to when I unbuckled it, and I simply cannot tell you that I will ride it again whenever I go back to disney World. But for the rest of the day and for the rest of the trip and probably for the rest of my life, I was and will be able to say, “I rode Tower of Terror and survived.” Also, my dad owes me $5, because he bet me that I wouldn’t do it.
Now, I know, for most people, this is probably a minor accomplishment. And most of you reading this are probably laughing at me. Fine, fine, fair enough. But keep this in mind: this girl is extremely claustrophobic. This girl can’t even sit in the front row at church without feeling like she’s too closed-in and can’t get enough air. This girl is extremely scared of heights. This girl has to close her eyes whenever her plane takes off and pretends she’s trying to sleep but is really just praying, “God, please please please let this thing land soon.” Let’s be real, this girl is scared of almost everything. And this girl rode one of the scariest rides in Disney World. Now, make fun all you want, but I’m pretty dang proud of myself, ladies and gents.
On another note, I bought a shirt a few months back that says, “FEARLESS” in bold letters across the front. (If you know me, you’ve seen it, because it’s my favorite shirt.) When I first bought it, I thought it was kind of funny: a person with severe anxiety walking around with a shirt that tells everyone she isn’t afraid of anything. I got a kick out of going in public and walking past people and thinking, Oooh, I bet they think I ride motorcycles or go skydiving or play in a rock band. It was so ironic to me, because I’ve always considered myself a scaredy cat, and I loved feeling like I was making people think I wasn’t one.
But then, recently, I found a quote from Taylor Swift. I don’t know where or when she said it, but it’s become one of my new favorite quotes. She says,
“To me, being fearless does not mean being unafraid. Fearless is having fears. Fearless is having doubts, lots of them. To me, fearless is being terrified, but you jump anyway. Being fearless is living in spite of the things that scare you to death.
And when I saw that quote, the first thing I thought of was my shirt. And I thought of that shirt in a whole new light. (Of course, that made me want to wear it even more often than I already did.)
All my life, I have considered myself a wimp. I never liked the high-dive at the pool. I never did rope swings because I was scared I would land, well, on land and not in the water (which actually happened once.) I slept with a night light until sophomore year, and I only stopped because my 8-year-old sister’s broke and she needed it. (That makes me cringe in embarrassment.) I absolutely hate driving in the rain or on poorly-lit roads at night or on the interstate at any time of day. I am a wimp, and I know it.
But recently, I did what was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done: I stood in front of my entire school at an assembly and told my story. The story of the day I had my first panic attack, the story of the months in which I began to realize I had anxiety and depression freshman year, the story of the dependence I began to feel on boys and how I thought I needed a boy to make me happy, the story of how I completely lost sight of God in my life and stopped believing in Him for a short time. I didn’t leave anything out. And let me tell you, it’s scary enough to sit here behind this computer screen and tell my story. But to stand in front of the entire school, to stand face to face with my peers… That was terrifying.
When I was done, multiple people approached me to tell me they had struggled with the same things, and that was my main motivation for giving my talk, so hearing that made it all worth it. But later, another girl came up to me, and I will never forget what she said: “Thank you for that. Thank you for being so open – you are fearless.”
Yeah. Yeah, I know. I wanted to say, “Okay, wait, hold up, I think you’ve got the wrong person.” I wanted to say, “Hey, girl, did you know I woke up crying this morning because I didn’t think I could do it? Did you know I almost didn’t come to school today because I was so scared?” She could not be telling me I was “fearless.” I was the most fearful person I knew.
But throughout the rest of that day, I heard those words echoing in my head: “You are fearless.” And every time I heard it, I believed it a little more. Until eventually, I realized it was God saying those words to me in my head. And I realized that He’d been saying it all this time – He just had to say it in the form of another person to make me believe it.
I got home that day and started a list entitled “All the Things I Thought I Couldn’t Do, But Did.” And writing this list boosted my confidence possibly more than anything I’ve ever done.
My list included everything from “made it through freshman and sophomore years” (which no one ever thinks they will make it through) to “sang the National Anthem at a Vandy basketball game” (prior to which I spent 2 hours swearing I would either throw up or pass out if I had to walk out onto that court.) I was so shocked – all these things I had been so scared of, and they were all things that I actually did.
I don’t tell you this to say, “Look how brave I am.” I tell you this to say, “Wow, I’m the biggest scaredy cat on the block. But why should that stop me?” I tell you this to say that Taylor Swift is right (I mean, when is she not?) – you don’t have to be unafraid to be fearless. I’m not saying you should go jump off a cliff or go on a ghost tour or let spiders crawl all over you; those things are completely unnecessary and you are completely justified in your fear of them. I’m saying you should let your faith be bigger than your fear. I’m saying you should go try out for that part you’ve been wanting or go run that half marathon you’ve been wanting to sign up for or go sing that song for your friends even though you’ve only ever sung in the shower. I’m saying go tell someone you trust that you are struggling and that you think you might need help. I’m saying line up all those big fears you have, point to them one by one, stare them in the face and say, “You have no power over me.”
Now, maybe I should use the oh-so-overused pop hit “Brave” by Sara Bareilles to capture the theme of this blog post. But although I do love me some Sara Bareilles, I’d like to go with something different – a title that seems to directly contrast Ms. Bareilles’ song (which I still jam to, shamelessly.) “Fear” by Ben Rector. Listen to it. It’s become my anthem.
The main line of the song is, “I learned to dance with the fear that I’ve been running from.” Recently, I have made this my motto. Because here’s the truth: I’m probably never going to totally overcome a lot of the fears I have. I will most likely never get on a plane and say, “Wow, this is so much fun!”, or enjoy being in small, crowded classrooms, or drive through a thunderstorm in complete peace. These are facts that I have fully accepted and fully understand. But here’s the second half of that truth: just because I can’t overcome these fears doesn’t mean I can’t face them. I’m not going to cower in a corner and hide from them, or find ways around them for the rest of my life. I’ve always been very competitive (just because I’m far from athletic doesn’t mean I’m not competitive in other ways, mind you), and I’m not one to just forfeit. I’m not going to let my anxiety win. I could never live with myself if I did.
The Bible says, “Do not be afraid,” 365 times. That’s a daily reminder to start living fearlessly. So start today. One of my favorite quotes is, “Don’t worry about how far you have to go. Be proud of how far you have come.” Do that. Write your own list of all the things you thought you couldn’t do, but did. The time you graduated from high school (which will *hopefully* be me in 1 MONTH), the time you went rock climbing, the time you gave that presentation in front of 100 people, the time you did that triathlon… I don’t care if it’s the biggest thing you ever accomplished or just the fact that you got out of bed this morning. I don’t know your story. But you do. And I know for a fact that when you look at your life and the things you’ve done, you will realize that there are so many things you thought you couldn’t do but actually did. And then you’ll keep doing those things you think you can’t do, and your list will grow. It’s okay if you’re scared. It’s okay if you’re terrified even. You can be afraid, and still be fearless.
And if you ever need some motivation, just remember this: If I can ride Tower of Terror, then you, my friend, can do anything.
God loves you so so much,