Most of the time we don’t think of anxious people being big adventurers. Media images tell us that agoraphobics stay close to home. People with panic disorder tend to have day jobs with a high degree of control and predictability, right?
Well, these three anxiety superheroes shake up stereotypes and have found a way to be both anxious and adventurous in the world.
*Tim Cahill – founding editor of “Outside Magazine” – has traveled all around the world, set a world record for driving from Southern Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in just 23 days, has climbed up El Cap on a single rope, almost died while white water rafting through the Grand Canyon and has also dealt with panic disorder. Check out his story here or in his book, “Hold the Enlightenment“.
*Lauren Juliff – author of the travel blog, “Never Ending Footsteps” bought a one way ticket to Croatia in spite of an anxiety disorder so debilitating that at times she didn’t leave the house for months. Lauren has continued to travel all around the world, journaling her missteps and crazy adventures, while also dealing with panic and anxiety that pop up from time to time. You can read more about her travel and anxiety here.
*Tara Lepore – paleontologist, writer, world traveler, self proclaimed geek and anxiety superhero. Check out her anxiety story and how she faced her fears by climbing to the tippy top of St. Peter’s Basilica!
Are you an anxiety superhero that packs anxiety along for the ride instead of staying home? I’d love to hear about your adventures! And here’s a trio of posts I did a few years back about my travels to St. John – part one,two and three.
Ok, so the screen grab is kinda crazy, but this video is so powerful! Watch as Steven Hayes, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy psychologist and researcher, tells the story of his journey into and through panic disorder.
I spent a lot of years feeling ashamed of my anxiety. Feeling like it meant something was wrong with me deep down. Wondering if people would still like me if they knew. Even though I told my family and some close friends, I held these competing feelings of wanting to talk about what I was experiencing and also not making it a big deal.
The problem with not telling people, of course, is that it makes the anxiety monster that much bigger and higher maintenance. If it’s something you have to hide, then it must be pretty bad. And, eventually, you start feeling very alone.
It’s not the right time to talk about it, I would think. Or, I don’t want to get into it — because how do you explain that fears, which sound utterly ridiculous, feel very real in a moment of panic. And, how do you also explain that anxiety is only a small part of you, even if it tries to act big and has a flair for the dramatic?
One time I disclosed to a friend and she joked, “Well, at least you don’t hear voices in your head. . . do you?”
After having anxiety under control for a long stretch of time, I experienced a really hard postpartum after my 3rd child. Part of what brought me out and helped me heal was sharing with others what I was going through. I can’t tell you how many people stepped up and either said, “Me too” or “I get it and I’m here.” One friend said, “I hope you take this the right way, but it just makes me feel so much better knowing that you’re dealing with the same stuff that I am. It makes me feel more normal and less alone.”
Maybe there’s a gift in this anxiety after all? If we can stand psychologically naked among each other, we realize that none of us are immune to life’s challenges – And, just knowing that we’re all in this crazy life together brings us strength and makes the road all the more manageable.
A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law & I went to a talk on happiness by Catherine Sanderson. She was an informative, engaging and fun speaker. And one of the things she talked about that can detract from our happiness is comparing ourselves with others on social media like Facebook – or what she called “Fakebook”.
Rachel, my SIL, had recently taken a break by deactivating her account and I’d been meaning to try for a long time. It’s not that Facebook is all bad. I love keeping up with friends and family who I don’t see regularly. Sometimes it’s a great source for news and articles I may not have seen. And, I think it can be a powerful way to spread ideas and advocacy.
However, after that talk I intentionally checked in with my feelings when I was scrolling through FB. What I found was that it regularly made me unhappy and that I used it when I was bored, procrastinating or numbing out.
And, for the most part, my connections online didn’t feel like they translated to seeing people in real time. So why not just connect with people I love in person, through a letter or on the phone?
In real time, I want to know what is good and joyful in your life. But I also want to know what you are carrying inside that feels heavy. And I want to share those things with you about my life, too.
We don’t do that with everyone, but when we choose to share well rounded, real stories from our lives, it helps us connect and have intimacy. And, as Catherine Sanderson reminded us during her talk, it’s in the hard work of building and maintaining relationships with real people that we find the greatest happiness.
If or when I go back to Facebook, I’m going to do it with more intention and less frequency. I can ask myself – Why am I going online right now? Is this making me feel connected and engaged? Or am I feeling unhappy and numb?
What do you think about Facebook and how do you use it in your life? Have you taken a break before and how did that go?
Here’s Catherine Sanderson’s talk on “The Science of Happiness” and be sure to see her speak if she comes to your town!
A few days before my flight and after many supportive texts between my Anxiety Girls, this beautiful collage showed up on my doorstep with a note that said, “Just a reminder of how lovely and strong you are!” Another morning this week, a friend left a bouquet of daffodils after hearing that my Grandma had passed away. Messages of love and support and strength came pinging in all week, in fact. Even though I blog about anxiety, I don’t share it with everyone in my day to day life. But the friends & family who knew I was struggling this week came out in force and I couldn’t be more grateful. Spoiler alert – I made it home safe & sound after two good flights! Worst part- the anticipation. More to come soon.
So, my sweet 97 year old Grandma just passed away on Sunday and I’ll be boarding a plane tomorrow to fly to her funeral service. She was a strong and gentle soul who gave the best hugs and loved us all unconditionally. Flying kinda terrifies me. But I loved my Grandma & it’s important that I show up to support my Dad and family so I’m doing it anyways.
If you’re someone who experiences anxiety/panic, especially around flying, you know that I’ve been a hot mess of anticipatory anxiety this week. Upset stomach, waves of adrenaline, moments of sheer terror as I imagine being up 35,000 feet in the air.
What’s frustrating is that, just like any anxiety producing situation, it will all be fine no matter what. “Good gracious”, I tell my brain – “All this fuss and distress over a 2 hour plane ride is ridiculous!”
What terrible thing has happened in the past? Sure, I’ve felt waves of panic while on a plane before. The feelings and thoughts are scary when you can’t leave the situation, but they pass. And, really, what are you going to do? To the best of my ability, I ride the waves of adrenaline – I work on allowing the feelings as much as possible – and sometimes I even get bold & ask for more (paradox). After that, I return to what I was doing before. Sometimes I have to do this over and over until the sensations go away, but they always do. Promise. And honestly, on every flight I have a moment where I love looking out the window, admiring the beautiful clouds.
I’ve also felt super anxious before a flight only to feel fairly calm during the whole ride. But in both cases, I’ve lived to tell the tale and the worst thing that happened was I felt scared. I have never gone all Ricky Bobby on a plane or impersonated Kristen Wig in Bridesmaids.
So what am I doing to prepare & cope? I’m not a big meds person, but I always take a little xanax when I fly. My doctor prescribes me just enough to get me there & back. It’s not perfect, but does help relax my body. Maybe someday I’ll choose to fly without meds, but for now I’m totally ok with it.
I’m also watching flight videos to try and quickly desensitize and have skimmed Capt. Tom Bunn’s book about flying without fear. In between I may have sent out a few prayers to God that I wake up with an on/off switch for my amygdala. I just think that was an error in our design.
Maybe the biggest thing I’m doing to cope, however, is committing to showing up tomorrow. When my sweet brother (who loves to fly) picks me up to go to the airport I will get in the car. He’ll drive & I’ll be shaky for a few hours as we head to DC. But along the way we’ll sing, play the license plate game and together we’ll board that damn airplane.
Here’s what I’m carrying on board for some healthy distraction tomorrow. And following are some videos I’ve watched this week to get ready.
My carry on bag of goodies:
*Journal and pen -inside the journal I’ll write myself some reminder notes about how to handle anxiety when it shows up
*Grown up coloring book and pretty pencils
*Laptop with a few movies downloaded, plus Harry Potter on Audible.
*Magazines with pretty pictures
*Knitting – I may knit something mindless or start another one of these cute hats.
*Choose a stranger on the plane and write a quick story about who you think they might be. You know, like mini-bio or where they’re headed after the plane lands. When I flew with my buddy Allison this past summer we alternated paragraphs, which makes it even more fun.
*Any game that involves the alphabet – an ABC list of names you would never name your baby, a list of places where you’d like to travel, a list of your favorite book characters.
*Who farted? Yeah, this is getting pretty mature. But laughter is the opposite of fear and this is a funny game. Can you tell who may have just farted on the plane?
A few resources I’ve used this week to prepare:
*These videos are great for info & desensitization.
This video is amazing – a Dad who works for Southwest created this video for his son who is on the autism spectrum:
Anybody see the movie Talledega Nights with Will Ferrell? When I’m feeling panicky, I always look the same on the outside – maybe a little distracted, but my same normal self. But on the inside, I’m always worried I’ll turn all “Ricky Bobby” and break into a run, trying to escape. You’ve got to appreciate the human imagination and all its glory. Can you relate?
Children of the 70’s who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood know that he famously encouraged us to look for the helpers in times of crisis and suffering. Spotting the helpers meant we were not alone – that we could trust in a basic sense of goodness in humanity.
Now, you and I both know that he was talking about real life crises – natural disasters, poverty, war. But one day his words hit home for me as I was taking a little drive.
Let me tell you a story.
A few years back I was doing exposure work on this one particular bridge/highway combo. It was just one of those spots that seemed to remain difficult for me no matter how many times I drove it. Because it was a challenge, it became my “go to” route for exposure whenever I would feel my overall anxiety popping up.
Three times a week, for about a month, I drove this loop over and over again, 45 minutes at a time. Students of anxiety will tell you that exposure practice needs frequency, intensity and duration to be effective.
One day while I was driving, I started to get that scrambly, panicky feeling as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was having a hard time remembering that in all my experience driving while anxious, I’ve never had to pull over because it was too intense. Not once. I worked on simply saying,”Yes! I want this discomfort!” but the part of me that wanted to escape quickly was gaining strength.
Just at that moment, I noticed there was a crew of workmen on the side of the road and a sizable pull off just before the bridge began. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? If I really needed help I could simply pull over and ask those guys!
It was like the heavens opened up and the universe provided me with my own highway support crew! I laughed out loud and decided to view their presence as a little gift. Each time I passed by the pull off and gathered strength to cross the bridge, I said, “Hey Fellas! Thanks for being there for me!”
A little while later, I passed by a police officer hiding amongst the trees, looking to catch people speeding. Instead of rationally checking my speedometer to make sure I was within the limit, I smiled again. “Wow, there are helpers everywhere today!” I later texted the story to my husband who noted that most people get anxious when they see a cop on the side of the road. I responded with, “Well, you know, one persons speed trap is another persons ride home!”
It’s kind of amazing how significantly my levels of adrenaline dropped as I utilized the combination of humor, paradox (seeking out anxiety on purpose), gratitude and was distracted by my imagined “out” – the ability to pull over with support. Was the imagined “out” a crutch? Absolutely. But, it also gave me the boost to keep going while saying yes to the anxiety for another few rounds that day.
This isn’t news, but it’s amazing how our beliefs and imagination have the power to either turn on or turn off physical sensations. It works both ways – our beliefs and our imagination can either send us reeling with panic & anxiety or strengthen us with the knowledge we can handle whatever comes up.
Sometimes you just have to find a way to keep going, to stay and linger with your fears and sensations a little bit longer. The best way is to experiment with acceptance and even asking for more. But in aiming for perfection we sometimes wait and wait and never get out the door.
So, today, do whatever it takes to make your world a little bigger. It turns out there are helpers everywhere. We are rarely alone in our pursuits and challenges. But the most important help we will find is right there waiting, inside of ourselves.