Anxiety: I Get It!
“Fears lurk just beneath the surface and are easy to detect.”
Mr. Curtain in The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
A couple years ago I had a conversation with my husband about the crippling effect fear has on us, and the way it keeps us from trying so many things. This conversation arose from a situation we were in at the time, one which made me a little disdainful of those who experienced inhibiting fears. Then my husband challenged me to analyze myself and identify my own fears.
I was fairly confident that I didn’t have any phobias that kept me from progressing in life. Public speaking? Good there. Spiders and snakes? Check. Yes, I was weak-kneed and dizzy in some situations involving heights, but had that ever gotten in the way? Not really. It’s not as if I live in a cliff-dwelling or am regularly required to ride a Ferris Wheel or traverse deep ravines using a rope bridge. You’ll probably never get me out on a glass bridge over a canyon, but I can ride in airplanes and climb a ladder (if I have to).
Then, of course, there was my fear associated with driving to new places, but that wasn’t so bad. After all, it’s reasonable to fear getting lost when you’re one of those people who automatically turns the wrong way out of every new restroom. And, although this fear was bothersome, it didn’t really inhibit me, right? Umm, right…
The more I thought about it, the more I realized how limiting my driving anxiety was. I hated, I mean REALLY HATED, driving on anything that resembled a freeway in the least. Highways came in just a little behind freeways and streets named with numbers were a close third. Words like “merge”, “east”, “traffic circle”, “changing lanes”, and “rush hour” were frightening. And my brain was shut down by sheer panic if someone gave me directions that included phrases like “just take a U-turn there”, or “this road takes a little jog over here, so you have to turn to stay on it.”
The first time I encountered a traffic circle (it was a big, scary one in Fort Worth), I just followed the person in front of me and was relieved I didn’t die. When I finally, years later, had to drive on one again I watched multiple YouTube videos before heading out and was drenched in sweat before I even got there.
I also have a bad sense of direction and was pretty sure I would lose myself forever if I went somewhere new. Shortly after moving to the Verde Valley I took a wrong turn on the way to the library and had to call my long-suffering husband for help. “Turn around,” he said, “Go back the way you came.” Following his directions should have been simple, but I was so flustered I couldn’t remember which way I’d been going. I actually required him to tell me which direction to turn out of the parking lot.
It should come as no surprise when I tell you that I couldn’t go out of town unless he came along to act as chauffeur. One day, when I declined a field trip because it was an hour away I realized that if I ever became a widow I would totally lack independence. Definitely something I needed to confront. I do not usually procrastinate, but in this case I found it desirable to do so, deciding that I would deal with my fear of driving by the time I turned the seemingly far-off age of 40. Ha! Little did I know that I’d be living in a city of four million just a year later, required to drive around and out of it for work!
My first downsizing client lived over an hour away and the drive included an hour on the 4th most fatal freeway in the US. I was pretty sure that taking this job was totally unreasonable. I tried to talk myself out of it, but finally consulted a dear friend and decided to take the plunge. I barely slept the night before I went to the house for the first time. (Don’t worry, there was no danger of me falling asleep at the wheel, I was running on adrenaline; I’d practically hyperventilated a couple times.) I arrived with a headache and clammy palms, my pants wet from where I’d been wiping them during the drive. I was totally exhausted by the end of the day, to say the least.
WHY ON EARTH am I telling you this? (I wouldn’t blame you if you’d already stopped reading. Except you haven’t, since you just read that…) I want you to know that even though I don’t routinely suffer from anxiety, I do understand it. A little bit, anyway.
I have now worked with two people who barely slept the night before my first visit, dreading the process that was about to begin. Exhaustion set in for them by the end of many of our sessions together. I get it. I get not sleeping, worried about something you know you shouldn’t really be worried about. I get that you tell yourself not to worry, you pray, you count sheep, but nothing works and you still aren’t asleep. I get that minimizing is an incredibly hard process for some, just like merging into a busy lane of traffic is difficult for me. I get what anxiety does to you.
BUT: If the thought of cleaning out ties your insides in knots, it might very well be something that you really need to do. Just think of me, on an on-ramp somewhere on the way to your house, panicking. I guarantee that it will help. Actually, it might not really help, but maybe it will make you feel a little better. 😉 I am proud to say that I’ve been doing a lot better about driving, only getting anxious once in awhile. I can even miss my exit and get back to where I need to be without totally losing it. I’ll take it.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash