His whole life, Antony had dreamed of being in the circus. His focus had wavered over time, from clown to lion tamer to elephant wrangler, until he’d settled on the acrobats. He was enchanted by them. The way they could fly! He would watch them soar, high above his head, wonder in his small brain pushing out all rational thought. He begged his parents every time the circus came through to go, just so he could see the people doing daring maneuvers in the sky.
The journey toward his fantasy becoming reality started with a tumbling class. That’s what it was called. Tumbling. He’d scoffed at it at first, thinking of it as an activity for toddlers. This notion was dashed on the first day. He really had to work at the exercises. Tumbling was, indeed, the foundation to his dream.
After tumbling, gymnastics. Again, he worried – this time about the ratio of guys to gals. Again, he needn’t have. There were also plenty of beginners with him so he didn’t stand out.
When he started to learn the uneven bars, he discovered a slight lurch in his stomach when he’d get a little too high. Antony refused to tell anyone. He was afraid of being judged, afraid of being told to stop. It was normal, he convinced himself. It had to be. He’d get used to it, or get over it. Either way, the problem would stop. The only way he would be able to fly was to get past this.
But it didn’t fade away, that nausea and tightness. He didn’t become numb to it. In fact, every time Antony faced the uneven bars, it got worse. It bled onto the parallel bars quickly, then infected the pommel horse as well. Soon, he couldn’t even navigate the low balance beam without a spike of anxiety so severe that he was left crouched and sweating on the mat.
His coach tried to help. His parents found him a shrink. Nobody could break through the wall of fear that paralyzed Antony, and could not stop the growth of it. Deep diving into his past revealed no underlying reasons. He’d not fallen from anything recently, so there was no new trauma.
Every day, it seemed, his fear got worse. More rooted into him. Eventually, it got to the point that Antony couldn’t even go to the circus to watch the high-flying acrobats he’d loved so much. Merely witnessing them in action caused a profound panic spiral.