Trust Your Gut

Arguably one of the worst aspects of getting older is losing the ability to enjoy 95 percent of the rides at an amusement park. As children, we recklessly throw ourselves onto the Tilt-a-Whirl and Scrambler, worrying only of being squished by our riding companion. We laugh with glee as the Wipeout takes us around and around and we beg to ride another time.

Now, at the ripe old age of 26, just picturing those rides turned my stomach. I can barely watch them at fairs and parks because within seconds, I am sick to my stomach. Recently I tried the Pirates Ship, thinking the gentle rocking would be comforting, but within one thrust I was ready to abandon ship.

I’ve become the friend who gladly holds your bags (you’re welcome) while you enjoy the ride and asks if we can ride the train and/or bumper cars again.

There was a time when I roamed carnivals and theme parks, undaunted by the motion of any ride. I proudly rode everything I could, not believing my mother when she said she couldn’t ride because it made her sick. Everything changed at the Big Butler Fair when I was in high school.

[The following story includes details of the first time I realized I had to take my motion sickness seriously, and contains certain reflections that may be too gruesome for your sensitive constitution. Read on if you dare.]

The Big Butler Fair is an annual hullabaloo held over the Fourth of July in Butler, Pennsylvania. It attracts guests from all over Western Pennsylvania with its standard fair atmosphere, boasting animals, greasy food, a fake freak show and drag races maybe? I don’t know. Imagine the mingling smells of all the food vendors, combined with the hay to keep the ground passable and the animal stench wafting from the barns and stables. The standard rides are all present, like the Zipper and Swings.  

One warm evening, my parents dropped me and my older sister, Kristi, off at the fair while they attended a work party. I don’t remember what we rode first, only that when we finished, I felt off. I believe this is the first time I began to notice my motion sickness, although I didn’t attribute it to that. I told Kristi how I felt, and she suggested we eat. As someone who would list eating as one of her favorite activities, I immediately agreed.

We browsed through the food aisles, trying to decide between pepperoni rolls, hot sausage sandwiches, blooming onions and the like. Eventually I settled on a gyro for reasons I still don’t understand. As delicious as it was, the feeling in my stomach didn’t go away.

me and Kristi, maybe a couple of years before this happened i dont know

What happened next is a true example of what it means to be a little sister. Even as a young teenager, my sister was still top authority and essentially we did everything she wanted to do. It didn’t matter how opposed I was, eventually she got her way. I could fight and pout, but I knew I would do listen. She’s my older sister, after all. 

“Let’s ride the swings”

Deep down, I knew this was a bad idea. My stomach basically screamed at me “NO IT’S A TRAP ABORT NO PLEASE GOD NO TRUST ME,” and I tried to listen. I protested, explaining I still didn’t feel well and asking for more time between rides. She countered with how slow the ride was, and how the breeze created from the motion might help. I tried to say no during the entire walk, but to no avail. Like every time before, my sister had her way and I was buckling myself in before I knew what was happening.

As soon as we lifted into the air, my stomach sighed and quietly whispered, “I tried to warn you.”

Before one turn was completed, I knew there was only one way this was going to end. The mouth sweats began and I tried to keep what was coming at bay, at least until the ride ended. I looked at the unsuspecting crowd below, just trying to live their best lives, and I panicked realizing there was no stopping the inevitable.

Suddenly, it happened.

The undigested gyro made its way back into my mouth with such force I had to clasp my hands over my mouth to keep it from exploding onto the masses below. It couldn’t be contained, so my only option was redirection. As soon as I gently floated away from people, I removed the hand barrier and let it fly.

In many ways, I’m grateful it was only the gyro I had just ingested. It probably kept the mess to a minimum. Far too late, the ride ended and my sister got out of her seat, smiling, until she saw me. Wind was my enemy and not everything cleanly escaped, so pieces of pita and lamb covered my chest and seat. Fuming, she basically ripped me out my seat, helped brush the regurgitated gyro off of me and the buckle and stomped away toward the exit gate.

As we walked, I tried to explain that I did warn her, but as I opened my mouth, it happened again. We approached our exit and I projectile vomited even more stomach contents. I had no warning for this one but felt immediately better, like a brand new woman.    

We then waited for our parents to come get us, my sister still mad about what occurred. Or maybe it was because I probably smelled like vomit. I can’t be sure. I, however, felt like a million bucks. A decade or so later and I still recall how wonderful and full of life I was.

[side note: my sister can still ride every ride everywhere we go and gets mad at me when I say I can’t like she hasn’t witnessed the proof]

Yes, this story is disgusting, but it teaches a vital lesson – always trust your gut. This is a very literal example of why you should listen to the voice in your stomach, even when you don’t understand. I didn’t know what was wrong, I didn’t think about motion sickness, but I knew something wasn’t right. Instinctively, I knew what would make it worse.

I didn’t trust my gut and I blew literal chunks all over my life.

We have instincts for a reason. Instinct is an inherent reaction to a stimulus. Inherent is something permanent and essential. So our instinctive reactions don’t come from learning or thinking, they come from us. While this can be seen in big, important areas like being afraid of the dark and heights, we also have instincts in most situations (that maybe we just don’t listen to):

  • When we like someone but aren’t really sure if they like us (instinct tells us underneath the mixed signals and desires if they weren’t into us, we would know)
  • When you hesitate about plans because you just know you will probably end up trapped at a field party until 3 a.m. (field parties are always a bad idea)
  • When you think a friend is being a snake but you have no real proof (snakes are clever)
  • When your boss has a Wolf of Wall Street quote poster and you’re thinking maybe this isn’t the company for you (no part of that story is aspirational)
  • Etc.

With everything in life, there are exceptions. Sometimes that person really does like you and maybe that party will be the best night of your life. Maybe your boss has that poster ironically and maybe your friend isn’t snake-y, just really stressed. This is where our thinking and learning comes in to process the gut feeling.

A great example of instinct is job interviews. When you go in, there is always a vibe. Sometimes you and the interviewer get along great and you know this is the right fit for you. Other times it’s so weird that as much as you need a job, you secretly hope they never call. Those instincts perceive what is happening and let us know what is and isn’t right for us. I’ve accepted jobs I didn’t have a good feeling about before and it never worked out. 

I say all of this knowing I’m great at trusting my gut and also not great at trusting my gut. When it comes to most things in work and life, I’m there. I hear the threat of vomit and I abort before I’m a risk to society. With boys, I hear it but I’m like no, no, I’m not going to throw up this time it’s fine. I choke it down for as long as possible trying to convince myself it isn’t happening but my instinct is always right. 

If you’re reading this and thinking maybe you don’t have good instincts, I don’t know what to say. My thought is thank God you’re alive now instead of scarier periods of history where instincts actually kept you alive. I mean, it could be worse.

Moral of the story: listen to the sweet voice of your stomach. Unlike your deceptive heart, it never leads you astray. When has it ever suggested pizza and it wasn’t a good idea? Or tacos? Or ice cream? It only has good ideas. This is important to remember. Trust your gut.

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