One of my AG’s (Anxiety Girls) texted the other day and asked how things were going. I told her that my family was planning a vacation and we just booked flights! A connecting flight on the way out and one non-stop on the way home. My text read:
“Terrified but saying yes and will figure it out.”
And that’s how it often goes with anxiety. We can let fear rule all our decision making or we can say yes – knowing things always work out – and figure out coping mechanisms along the way.
Every time I prepare to fly I feel sick to my stomach in anticipation. I imagine fantastic excuses for why I won’t be able to go at the last minute:
“Oh man, we all have lice!”
“Too bad, it’s the stomach flu!”
But, I get on that plane anyways – legs shaking, heart racing – and let the adventure begin.
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.
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.
Recently, I posted a page called “Finding Help” which talks about the steps to finding a great therapist. But, maybe you’re more of a self help kind of person and just want a community of people who you can talk to openly about life, including anxiety. Pull up a chair and let’s talk!
A few years ago, I invited some fellow Anxiety Girls to work through Reid Wilson’s book “Don’t Panic” and set exposure goals for ourselves. There’s just something about being accountable to someone else that helps with goal setting in any arena. It’s also comforting to talk with people who really get it. My sister-in-law & I joke that it’s nice to have people with whom you can let your crazy out. Because whether or not you can see it – we all have a little crazy.
We met for coffee every other week, at first, to discuss the book and our goals. As we got more comfortable and grew in our relationships, we hit the roads to do some exposure work together – highways, bridges, traveling distances were all part of our repertoire.
The group joined me as I drove highway routes and bridges that bothered me. Another time, we literally drove back and forth across the same bridge for 45 minutes, coaching and cheering on another Anxiety Girl as she faced her fears.
Life has gotten busy, though, and there are times where we don’t meet for months. That’s just the way it goes. But, it never seems to fail that one of us sends a a catch up email or text.
This past winter, we sat down in the hopefulness of a new year and imagined doing something big like an Anxiety Girl road trip. Laughing, we envisioned a reality show based on our superheroes. Anxiety girls take off cross country in an RV, armed only with a GoPro camera, travel journals and lots of snacks. By the time we got to the west coast, surely we would be anxiety free!
One of us said, “Yes! That sounds amazing – AND – what steps can we take right now to work toward something bigger? What if we started with a smaller road trip? You know, just for the day? Getting out of town would target highway driving & traveling distances, while we got to spend time together. And maybe we could go for a hike & grab brunch.” A month later, two of us took that trip! We both had moments of high anxiety and had a fabulous time!
In the future, we’re hoping to plan an adventure by plane or train. Or maybe we’ll take that cross country trip. Who knows? You may find us riding roller coasters & sky diving this time next year. 🙂
So, getting back to you . . .
Are you finding yourself facing anxiety alone and wanting community? Maybe it’s time to gather a few friends and start your own DIY anxiety support group.
I’ll be honest, this wasn’t my first attempt. I gathered some folks together many years ago to work through a workbook. It was great at first, but not everyone worked at the same rate. Some folks wanted to talk but not do the workbook. Others were uncomfortable hearing about other people’s fears. Life got busy, then it just fizzled. I really hungered for community, though, so I tried again a few years later and it took.
Here are some tips for getting started:
*If a DIY support group is in your future, start by talking to a few people who are interested in getting together to talk about anxiety.
*If you don’t think you know anyone with anxiety (really?), start by trying to open up the topic (when appropriate), step back and listen. Oftentimes you’ll find an “in” and people are relieved to know they’re not alone.
*Invite people to get together wherever suits – go for a hike, head to a coffee shop, meet out for a drink.
*Share what feels comfortable. Listen. See what people are looking for in a support group. Do your expectations match up?
*Maybe this becomes an anxiety book group. If so, check out the list of books in the menu titled “Bookshelf” for inspiration or find a book that works for your group.
*Maybe this is a goal setting group with regular check ins for accountability.
*Maybe folks just want to get together socially and talk with others who get it.
*And maybe you want to go crazy, get out in the world and do some exposure work together.
Whatever you do, go find your people! It may take time. It may not take at first. It might be just 2 or 3 of you. That’s ok. Make the time to get together and support each other. A bigger life is out there waiting for you!
Want to read more about DIY anxiety support groups? Check out this great article by Jessica Spires about how she started an informal support group in a pub. If you’re someone who wants something more formal, check out this thorough guideline on creating peer support groups.
Today I’d like to highlight Anxiety Superhero Erin Craig. Check out this BBC video of Erin taking on Scuba Diving certification! I love how she talks about not letting her panic disorder get in the way of trying something challenging and way out of her comfort zone. But also be sure to read the post which describes her experiences with travel and anxiety and how she found herself in Thailand in a scuba suit in the first place. Go Erin!
After planes, taxi’s & ferry boats, we arrived in the sleepy, little island of St. John and made our way to the Maho Bay Campgrounds where we stayed for a whole week. Now, some of my girlfriends laughed when I told them we stayed in a tent cabin, had to walk to the common bathhouse and fill water jugs every day. But, they have no idea what they were missing. There’s something to be said for simplicity and being so close to nature.
I gotta tell you, every anxious moment was worthwhile when I walked into our tent cabin & realized that we could sit up in bed & see the Caribbean ocean. Seriously – right from our beds!
During our vacation, we learned how to snorkel & saw the most vibrantly colored fish. It was like putting your face into a salt water aquarium. The first day we tried snorkeling, I felt a little tense, a bit nervous and then I remembered — it’s normal to feel nervous when you’re trying something new. Oh yeah. OK, let’s jump in then. On our snorkeling adventures we had the exciting pleasure of swimming with a few big & stripey barracuda, a big orange starfish, a friendly sea turtle, and a few nurse sharks. We met the most amazing people along the way and spent time in engaging conversation during breakfast and dinner each day, overlooking the Caribbean & British virgin islands from the dining pavilion. Our first full day there, we spontaneously decided to take a sunset sail with a couple we met at breakfast. There was also lots of time for hiking, napping, and for you parents out there – we were able to complete FULL sentences. We saw iguana’s & lizards in all shapes & sizes, ate delicious food prepared graciously for us all week long, sipped a variety of rum drinks here & there, and felt the weight of responsibility slide away for a while. Every night, we fell asleep to the sound of the ocean lapping gently at the shore; to doves who sang. all. night. long.; to singing frogs; and, most nights, a nighttime rain storm.
I did have moments of real anxiety during the vacation; nights were I felt on the verge of panic going to sleep, feeling very far away from my 3 precious children; creating images of a plane taking off & feeling dread that the only way home was through the air; and times where I just had an underlying feeling of tension. But you know what? I was able to handle those moments when they came up & I still had a fantastic time. Reid Wilson quotes Helen Keller at the end of his “Facing Panic” book & it stayed with me the entire trip & even back home. She said, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
The real truth for me is that anxiety is uncomfortable, it feels like something terrible is going to happen, but it’s not dangerous. On the trip I remembered a poignant moment when I was pregnant with my 3rd baby. I had a particularly intense panic attack the night before (intense for me, but my husband said that from the outside I just looked a little tense). After tossing & turning & having trouble falling asleep, I finally drifted off. The next day was one of those amazingly gorgeous January days where it almost felt like spring. I was working in the yard outside & looking up at the clouds, feeling the breeze across my hair & face, and it hit me – for as bad as I felt the night before, nothing bad had happened. It didn’t last forever; I didn’t go crazy; my panic was barely visible to the person I’m closest to; I was still able to fold laundry & talk during this attack which I perceived as intense; and, here I was standing in my back yard gazing at the clouds and almost forgetting that it had occurred. Huh.
I can’t believe how many weeks it’s been now since we came back home. If I didn’t have the pictures, it might feel like a lovely dream. If you’re considering an adventure, something that you know is safe, but scares you a little, why not try? People with anxiety disorders have a hidden well of courage they rarely acknowledge.
When you think about it, what amazing things have happened for you when you’ve been able to live a life of daring adventure?