Kayak Angst

While on vacation I read a book (Packing for Mars by Mary Roach—I highly recommend it) that mentioned a very interesting syndrome called Kayak Angst. I’d never heard of it before (and can’t imagine why I would have, being the land-based mammal that I tend to be), so I decided to read up on it.

It turns out it’s a type of panic disorder that’s been found mostly amongst the Inuit of Greenland.

Imagine this: You’re sitting in a kayak, all alone, in calm seas. There’s no land in sight, and the grey sky is reflected in the glassy water. Suddenly you feel like your kayak is tipping up or dropping down, and you’re convinced you are going to drown. You feel utterly lost, can’t figure out which direction is north or south or east or west. In a nutshell, you completely freak out. Your brain has absolutely no frame of reference. For all you know you could be floating in mid air, and there’s no one, I mean NO ONE for miles around to help you.

I cannot imagine a more hellish type of panic attack than that. Not only are you having a panic attack, but if you’re not careful while feeling like you’re going to die, you really could die. It’s kind of like a perpetual motion machine of anxiety.

Apparently a symptom of this disorder is a tendency to avoid kayaks. Well, duh. Wouldn’t you, after experiencing that? That’s not disorder, that’s freakin’ logic, if you ask me.

The problem in this situation, of course, is that as an Inuit in Greenland, that avoidance means you’ve just cut off one of your main sources of food for your family, so there’s a whole other level of anxiety piled on. For the love of God, where does it end?

I’ve been experiencing a figurative form of kayak angst for about a year now. I have no idea where to go or what to do. I feel as though I have no frame of reference to draw upon, and there’s no end in sight. Maybe I need to splash the water with my oar so I can figure out what’s up and what’s down.

Hopefully I’ll see land soon, ’cause it’s freakin’ cold out here.