OK, full disclosure guys. This is not the post I was planning to write this evening, but I’m feeling anxious about something and to be honest, I’m struggling to think of anything else. So, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone (and maybe shed a little light on anxiety) by writing about it.
We all experience anxiety differently and to different levels. But if you’ve never experienced it, I get that it can be tricky to understand how it feels or why someone acts in a particular way. So, if nothing else, maybe this post will help you understand a little more.
It’s Monday evening at the time of writing and tomorrow night I have to drive somewhere I *think* I’ve driven to before… but if I did, it was a long time ago and I can’t remember the route.
For me, driving is a big anxiety trigger and especially driving somewhere new.
The biggest fear I guess is that I’ll get lost or panic and swerve into someone. I’m not sure where this deep rooted fear of getting lost has come from, but driving has never been something I’ve enjoyed. I only learnt a few years ago and this was only because otherwise I needed to take two buses to get to work. If I didn’t have to drive, I wouldn’t.
Illustration by Ella Masters
So here’s what happens when someone tells me about plans that involve me driving somewhere new (I’m fine driving familiar routes). My immediate thoughts go to the driving bit. Not the fun plans or whatever else is going on, but purely on the driving. Everything else falls away.
I wonder if anyone else can drive and if I can get a lift with them instead. I wonder if I could get away with taking a train, claiming it’s “just easier”. I wonder if my dad can give me a lift.
If I have no other option but to drive, I immediately think about the route – is it somewhere familiar? Is it somewhere close to where I’ve driven before? I Google map the route multiple times. Driving it in my head. This helps a little, but let’s face it – a blue line on a map is different to being in a car on the road.
If I have enough warning and my dad is free, I might ask him to drive me to the place in question so I can physically see the route. Before I moved to Guildford me and dad drove from the flat to work and back again about three times. When I had CBT last year, I was told by my therapist that this is a ‘safety behaviour’ (you’re damn right it is) and something I should avoid.
The drive tomorrow is only 20 minutes away from my parents house, which is where I’m staying this week because they’re on holiday (I’m cat sitting). Because my parents are on holiday, this means I can’t do the route with dad beforehand (my CBT therapist would be so pleased).
Somehow, I also managed to leave my sat nav at the flat. Brilliant. So I’ve downloaded the Waze app and ordered a car phone holder on Amazon Prime and am currently praying to the delivery Gods that it gets here before tomorrow evening.
I’ve run through a few excuses in my head as to why I can’t go to the place in question tomorrow. They would be pretty convincing and would mean all of this stress would go away, and I have definitely lied to get out of similar situations in the past.
But then I feel the guilt. The guilt of not trying, of being weak. The frustration of letting a fear stop me from doing what I want. The shame of not overcoming this.
Before I go to bed tonight I’ll probably look at the route another few times before trying to distract myself with Grey’s Anatomy. I may not sleep well and I’ll probably be thinking about the drive all day tomorrow.
This is what anxiety does. It blocks everything else so that all you can see, hear and feel is the one thing that scares you. It consumes your thoughts and makes you feel physically sick, and in my case brings a lovely dose of chest pain and dizziness.
But… and there is a but… I will also do my best to remind myself of all the times I’ve pushed through this in the past. The fact that I have never gotten lost or crashed before. The fact that it will feel amazing when I’ve done it and that it will feel 100 times better than lying.
I’ll also tell myself to practice what I preach and be kind to myself. It’s OK to not have conquered this fear yet, nobody’s perfect. I’ll remind myself of how I felt before driving to work from the new flat for the first time and how easy it feels now. I’ll consider how far I’ve come and smile.
I’m 90% sure tomorrow will be absolutely fine and I’ll update this post so you know how the story ends. Apologies for the slightly off-brand ramble-y post, but I think it’s important to share these moments and reiterate that we all have our struggles and we can’t all be strong and ‘together’ all the time.
It’s OK to waiver and it’s OK to freak the fuck out sometimes. What matters is how we treat ourselves during the process and I think I’m starting to at least get the hang of that part.
One step at a time, hey?
Update: I didn’t drive to the place. Situations changed and it made more sense for me to get a lift with others going from where we were to where we were going. A huge part of me felt relieved, a small part felt guilty. Like I “got away with it”.
I know I need to push myself out of my comfort zone with this, but I’m also willing to show myself compassion and take it slow. Trying looks different to everyone and even though it may not seem like it on the surface, I am (and anyone else struggling with anxiety is) trying.
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