My need for adventure and fast-paced roller coasters

I once read in my favorite anthropology book (the only anthropology book I’ve ever read*), about the pattern of culture shock that each person experiences.

When we enter a new experience, our minds and bodies acknowledge the change in unique ways. Some people don’t notice the change at all, while other people shut down with any slight change.

Most of us ride an up/down wave, like one of those old wooden roller coasters. A new experience begins (a long-distance move, a job, a relationship or change in relationship, etc.) and we start an upward climb. We excitedly anticipate what lies ahead, our hopes face sky and all we see is adventure (you’ve heard this as the “honeymoon phase”).

I don’t like the cliché, “what goes up, must come down”. It leaves me constantly waiting for something bad to happen when things are going well. In this roller coaster story, the roller coaster isn’t going to crash. However, part of the ride is a race from a high to a low point…while always moving forward.

In this culture shock pattern, our emotions may travel up and down, like the highs and lows of that daring ride, while each dip becomes a little less intense and dynamic than the one before. Eventually, the ups and downs move in such a way that we hardly notice, and we coast smoothly along until the next major life event.

I drew a picture of this yesterday, as I remembered, once again, my culture shock pattern. “New thing” begins and for 3-4 weeks, I love every minute. Sometime in week 4, my mind and emotions turn against me and fear is all I see. I’ll notice it, and so begin the upward climb around week 6. The next dip won’t be so low, but it will happen. And so the pattern goes.

Current state: Life change: new house + life change: new job + life change: end of relationship(s) = shock times 3.

No wonder I’m tired and don’t want to talk about it.

So in the meantime, I’m taking an extra long time to unpack. I’m not responding to every email, text or message. I’m taking time to go out for a drink with a friend, and for late-night phone calls with another. I’m crying over lost loves or potentials, eating bowls of ice cream, and watching made-for-tv movies. I’m telling people what I really think and making plenty of mistakes. I’m celebrating remarkable friendships and skipping a few parties.

I’ve loved roller coasters since my dad and I first rode “The Dragon” at Adventureland. I go looking for their adventures as a means of survival, and plan to find many more over the next 60 (if I’m lucky) years. This post is a means of reminding myself of that adventure, and to remind us all to allow time and space for life changes.

I wanted to ride “The Dragon” for weeks and then freaked out when we finally buckled in. I probably scared my dad as I screamed in terror, in fear of my imminent death. Then surprised us both when I begged to go a second time.

*Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Paul G. Hiebert


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