I have been known to take no left turns on my bike.
I only started cycling in Toronto a few years ago.If you know the city, you know that it’s not the most bike-friendly one. You are constantly in a battle with cars (particularly taxis and delivery trucks), other cyclists (particularly those who deliver food and who are not necessarily “cyclists”, you know what I’m talking about), pedestrians jaywalking and most importantly, streetcar tracks. Those stripes of metal on the road are the devil.
In the time that I started cycling in the city, I would say is when my late thirties started and I noticed a shift in being more fearful inching into my life. I immediately had rules for myself with cycling. I wouldn’t ever cross those evil streetcar tracks and I would make no left turns. I imagined me doing either of those things would result in immediate serious injury which would result in me being disabled and unable to work. And when you are a freelancer who relies solely on herself and her body to make a living (No, I am not a sex worker. You know what I mean. I need to be physically-abled to hull my camera gear around and point that camera at my subjects.). There is no room for broken limbs. A woman’s gotta work.
I wonder if I had started cycling in the city earlier in life, say in my twenties, would I be so strict with how I rule on two wheels?
I wouldn’t say that I am a fearless person. But I am not necessarily a fearful one. I’m not one to say no to doing things but I am also not necessarily a thrill seeker. I probably won’t ride that new rollercoaster at Canada’s Wonderland. But I will likely say yes to hopping on a plane to come help you in a crisis as long as I can sleep on your couch.
I have been known to jump on planes and fly to the other side of the world without an idea of what I would find there. I have swam at beaches where I was the only soul for kilometres and only later realised that perhaps that was not a smart idea. (Especially after reading Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country where he tells the story of the Australian Prime Minister being washed out to sea and no one ever seeing him ever again.).
I took over a $3500 commercial lease on my own as a young professional still holding down student loans without knowing if it would work out but definitely knowing that I would never know unless I jumped. I have taken risks and I have traveled to places and oftentimes didn’t give these things much of a second thought. I am pretty levelheaded and practical and rational. My head is on relatively straight and I have always trusted myself.
I remember reading a novel years ago where the main character was always thinking about all of the ways that things could go wrong and how she would be injured or would die because of it. As soon as I read those lines, I thought “She is my people”. This is my life. I am always thinking of ways that I could die or be injured in nearly every action that I do. When I walk down a set of stairs, I imagine how I could fall and all of the horrible things that would come from that, thanks to the stories that I have heard and the TV programs that I have consumed. For as long as I can remember, I know that I have had these thoughts of what could go wrong in nearly every situation. They are there, lingering in my mind but have never really taken ahold of my life or my being. They have always just been there.
But as I began my late thirties, I have begun to notice changes in these thoughts and in my life. I have always been a lover of ocean swimming. In 2008 when I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago I was the only person in my crew who happily jumped in the ocean to swim in a reef and experience the glory of Parrot Fishes and all of the other magical creatures that lived there. The same for when we went to the Daintree in Australia for our honeymoon and snorkeled at the top of the Great Barrier Reef, at the edge of it, where you could see sharks swimming deep below and then beyond that, complete darkness and the unknown. I’ve floated in salt water and I have ridden countless waves. I have been known to say “One day, I will live beside the ocean.” I have always been comfortable there and have always jumped at any chance to get in those waters.
But last year when we were living in Puerto Escondido, Mexico for a month, I experienced what must have been a panic attack. It was my first time experiencing such high anxiety. And it came out of nowhere or seemingly so. It was our second last day in that beautiful coastal town. Each day of our time there, we would head to the beach in the late afternoon after working at our little apartment. We would read and swim and take in the glorious sunset for thirty days and it was one of the best months of my life. On the second last day of this leg of our trip, after doing the above for nearly 28 days, my mind and all logic left me and I panicked while in those waters.
Now if you have been to Puerto Escondido or know of it, you likely know that it is famous for its surfing. People travel from all over the world to surf its waves. I have traveled all over the East Coast of Australia and I can attest, the waves in PE are out of this world. I am talking massive foot waves that would climax less than thirty feet from shore. They are stunning and powerful and terrifying. For 28 days I knew my limit of how to work with them. How to dive under the particularly big ones so I could avoid being tossed by those waters. But on that 28th day, I was done. My mind and body said nope and I panicked standing in the water staring at a ten foot wave that was headed towards me. I started crying in my complete panic. Josh was nearby and rushed over and I told him I couldn’t do it anymore. That I was scared and that I was sure that this last wave was it. That it would take me and sweep me out to sea and I would never been seen again. I was crying uncontrollably and he calmly said okay and protectively embraced me, strong as a tree and we stood there while the monster wave crashed on us. Once I felt it was safe, I bolted for the shore and the safety of my towel in an explosion of tears and I thought “what the hell was that?!”
I do not know if I have ever felt so scared or irrational in my life. My practical Virgo self was confused. What was that? Where did it come from? And did I now suddenly have a fear of the ocean, something that has always been so close to my heart?
Needless to say, I didn’t swim again on that trip. I dipped my toes in the water the following day but swimming in those waves once more was a definite no for this girl.
In the same way that I am (was once?) an ocean lover, I have always been a lover of travel. I have flown all over this world and have done at least 50% of those trips solo. I love traveling. I love every aspect of it. I love flying. Even on that one flight where they showed the viewpoint of what the cockpit was seeing for the entire flight, including the landing (which I don’t really recommend viewing), I was cool with it. I have been on flights where people in my party had panic attacks because they were terrified of the plane going down and therefore their entire family being killed. I have never ever considered that. I keep abreast to the news and any major plane crash but I have never worried about being on one. Not that I think that I am above crashing on a plane but in that I don’t know that it’s necessarily the worst way to leave this world.
We fly a lot. When my sister lived in Mexico for ten years, I would visit nearly three times a year. When I was photographing wedding a lot, I would shoot a couple of destination weddings a year. It’s rare for me to go more than four months without getting on a plane. In fact, it makes me a big angsty. I love Toronto. I love my life here. But I think that I love it so much because I get to leave and experience other places so much.
But the past couple of times that I have flown, I have noticed a change in my being. As I begin experiencing a change in altitude and realise that we are starting our descent and eventual landing, I become a little more alert. My body gets tense and I notice every detail and then assume that something is wrong. Assume that we won’t make it. When before I would sleep through this aspect of the flight, now I am feeling a little tense. A little worried. A little more aware. I wouldn’t say that now I am suddenly fearful of flying. That I have become one of those people. But I have noticed a change in my being.
I am not sure what all of this means that means. Am I suddenly being a scaredy cat? Is all of this occurring because I am gaining up to a new decade of life and suddenly my maturity and adulthood is advancing? Is this a symptom of aging that people don’t speak about? Or is my brain shifting me into a different person? Is this the same thing as an adult developing a food allergy seemingly out of nowhere? Will these things become full-fledged fears of mine? Will I become one of those people? All I know for sure is that while on my bike, I will continue to take no left turns. Safety first, dear friends.