Day Thirteen – Today’s challenges

Todays challenges:

*Take my girls skating about 30 minutes from our home.
*Drive over the very evil Enon bridge
*Drive to my Mom’s house and cross another two (big, but not so evil) bridges
*Continue to work on wanting that free floating anxiety/agitation that seems to stay with me some days and not resist it so much.
*Stop obsessing about whether 150 feet above the water will feel too high and work with the feelings it brings up. 🙂

Travelogue Part Two – In Flight Adventures


So I’ll be honest with you. I was not happy to be sitting on that first plane before 7am in the morning.

As the aircraft sped up to takeoff speed & gradually lifted off the ground, soaring upward towards the clouds, I felt waves of anxiety coursing through my body. I figured that I had two choices: freak out the whole way to the Carribean or do my best to accept that I was going to be 35,000 feet in the air for a few more hours and get as comfortable as possible.

I thought about my tool belt of coping skills and started saying to myself, “I want this anxiety. I want it to get stronger.” And, you know what? It was working. I couldn’t make the symptoms any stronger than they already were.

Then, I thought about Dave Carbonell‘s “Rule of Opposites” – doing the opposite of what feels “safe” in an anxiety provoking situation. So, instead of pulling down the shades & pretending I wasn’t on a plane, I started looking out the windows. I found that I really do like to see the tree tops, little tiny houses, and the outline of roads. Who lives in those homes & what is their story, I wondered.

Something else that really helped was the Truth Based Technique I read about in David Burn’s book. I wrote in my notebook:
*How many times have I gotten so anxious that I ran down the aisle of the plane screaming?
*How many times have planes had to land for me because I absolutely couldn’t handle symptoms of anxiety?
*How many times have I curled up in the fetal position under my chair & cried until it was all over?
Ahem, I think we know the answers to all of the above.

There were more moments with waves of fear and extended periods of time where I felt that pit in my stomach , but it was all manageable & my skills came in handy. Before I knew it, we were in Atlanta & preparing to board our second flight.

For our second flight, the longer flight, our seats were in the back of the plane. I’m not sure why the back of the plane is worse, but I kinda feel more claustrophobic back there. Our flight time was 3 hours & 12 minutes (but whose counting) & in my head I felt like a 2.5 hour flight would be so much easier. Isn’t it funny how our brains make up rules about what’s safe & what’s not?

Once we found our seats, we looked at each other at the same time — we were definitely in the “party” section of the plane. Three babies were in the back with us & some rowdy folks were starting the party early with cocktails. I wondered if some of them were drinking to cope with their own anxiety. A moment before take off, the 5 year old cherub behind me started to giggle & said, “Hey Mom! What if the plane catches on fire & we crash? Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

Hey kid – who asked you? Huh?

Finally, we landed in St. Thomas, USVI – just a ferry & a few taxi rides away from our final destination, St. John. The whole plane cheered & clapped at the successful landing. Steve & I stepped off the plane, walked down the roll away staircase out onto the tarmac & just kept grinning. This was going to be a blast.

So, let’s recap. What helped?

*Showing up & being willing to try something that creates anxiety
*Paradox/Bring it on mentality/Make the symptoms stronger
(Reid Wilson, Don’t Panic – newly revised)
*Truth based techniques (David Burns, When Panic Attacks)
*Rule of Opposites (Dave Carbonell, Panic Attacks Workbook)
*Supportive mate
*Engaging with others/humor
*Being ok if none of these worked

Stay tuned! The next installment will be about our adventures in paradise!

Travelogue Part One – Getting on the plane

Friday night before the big vacation takeoff:

I am feeling excited, shopping for last minute beach towels & sunscreen, packing into the wee hours of the morning. I write little notes for my girls and fight the urge to say things like, “If we don’t make it home, I want you to know. . .” and fill up their journals with memories and dreams for their futures.

I crawl into bed & the anxiety steps things up a bit. Adrenaline becomes my bedmate & I know I’m not going to get much sleep. I remind myself that this is to be expected. I expect to sleep terribly and feel anxious, even panicky. I haven’t flown in almost 3 years & I’m leaving my children behind for a week – something I’ve never done before. Next to my bed is a pad of paper for notes & I write down, “I want this anxiety” – just in case I forget when the alarm goes off. I snuggle up to my man & try to ride the waves while he snoozes with ease. Thank God only one of us runs anxious!

Saturday morning – 4:30am:

I wake up with a real sense of dread. I feel nauseous & panicky. I look down at my “I want this anxiety” note with a smiley face & say “screw that – what a stupid thing to write”! In the shower, I’m weepy and yell out to my husband, “I changed my mind. I don’t want to go. I just want to stay home. I feel terrible.”

It’s so hard in that moment to believe all those coping statements and truths – that flying is much safer than driving; panic always goes away with time; panic & anxiety are uncomfortable, but not dangerous; it’s very likely that I’ll be able to relax into the flight once we get going & if not, I will survive.

The first step is making it out the door. Then, driving to the airport where I take .25 mg of xanax & review my options – “If we get to our first connection & I feel terrible, we can always come home, right?” Walking into the airport feels familiar – it’s been a while, but I’ve done this before. After going through the security lines & randomly having my shoes checked (are my Keens too stinky? I ask) I rush over to the gate attendant, tell her about my flying fear & ask for seats closer to the front. At first she says that the plane is full, but at the last minute I am called up to the desk & the lovely Miss Tina from Delta changes our seating to bulk head. I think I love her.

As they call our flight to begin boarding, Steve & I wait & I take another .25mg. The funny thing about many anxiety superheroes & meds is that we’re actually a little afraid of taking them. From the extremes of — “What if it’s too much & I stop breathing?” to “What if I take it & it doesn’t work?”

Finally we take make our way through the line and warm tears roll down my face as we board the plane. As we buckle up and they seal the doors, I close my eyes and remember where we’re going.


More to come:
*Travelogue Part Two: In flight adventures
*Travelogue Part Three: Island Mama

Learning to fly

I’m preparing for a trip & am choosing to fly after not flying for almost 3 years. Here I am a few months out & I’m starting to feel the anticipatory fear already. You know, some images here & there of the plane going down in a fiery ball & me thinking – Oh no, if I knew this was going to happen I wouldn’t have come – it’s not worth my kids being raised without their parents! Yikes!

Luckily, it’s not consuming, but it is somewhere in the background of my mental landscape & comes up when I start to think about the trip. Rationally, I know that it will alright once we’re off the ground and the flight is underway. I am really looking forward to getting away with my handsome man. And, I know that air travel is much safer than driving a car. But anticipatory anxiety & an active imagination team up to get me into trouble sometimes. So, I’ll be writing about this current anxiety & how I’m preparing. I’d love to hear your feedback about what works for you when it comes to anticipatory fears or flying.

Here’s my prep plan so far:

*Write down affirmations
*Take time to listen to my fear of flying CD
*Plan as much as I can to be comfortable on the flight
*Talk to my doctor about an Rx to relax (I don’t love taking meds, but flying is an exception!)
*Begin sitting with the anxiety – not spiraling into the what if thoughts, but sitting with & inviting the anxious symptoms that accompany the thoughts.
*Use my imagination to call up images of having fun & thoroughly enjoying the adventure.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I’m quickly learning that one of the problems with blogging is that you’re accountable. But then, maybe that’s one of the reasons I started writing.

So, this week my husband was out of town for work. Grandma came to visit the first half of the week. The second half, I packed up my mini-van with 3 excited girls and we traveled about 90 miles to Grandma and Gramps’ house, which happens to be on the water.

About 4 or 5 years ago, I would get pretty anxious driving the highway route to her house that included two long, but low bridges. I worked on it first by driving with my husband as a passenger. Then I graduated to following Grandma’s car while I drove my own. And, finally, I took it on by myself (that is, me with the kids).

Just when I felt like it was no problem & couldn’t remember why it seemed so difficult, this particular town decided that they needed bigger bridges to let the passing cargo boats go through. “Dammit”, I said, “Why would they destroy those sweet little bridges? There’s no way I’ll ever drive over those huge monsters.” I was really irritated. Why would the town do that to me? ‘That’s fine, I really love the scenic views of the back roads’, I thought. ‘There’s no shame in driving that way.’

Well, over the past year I’ve driven over the new “monster” bridges with my husband riding as a passenger & cheerleader. It’s been predictable – real scary at first (I hate the ascent); then not so bad; and finally no big deal as long as someone was with me.

So, as Mom & I drove our separate cars this week she checked in.
“Which way do you want to go?”
“Let’s drive through the point.” I said.
“Wanna lead or follow?” she asked.
“I’ll lead.”
“Alright. See you there.”

As we approached the first bridge I felt a flutter of adrenaline, but it was alright & I felt good. But, my mind was already thinking of the return trip. I could always take the back roads and it would be no big deal. Then again, I’d started this blog and had been talking about facing your fears. Didn’t I just say that I didn’t avoid anything in my daily life anymore? Well, this route was not part of my daily life, but avoiding anxiety in general does tend to feed the beast.

Over the visit, the thought of crossing those bridges stayed with me, popping up here and there in the middle of otherwise fun events. This morning I woke up feeling anxious, but also feeling like I really had to do it. It was important not to run away. But, a chorus of voices offered differing points of view.

“You have to do it. Avoiding fear makes it grow exponentially.”
-Well, I don’t HAVE to, but the 2nd part really is true.

“Just take the back roads. It’s not big deal. We’ll be back next week & I can really take the time to practice and do it over and over again. That’s a good idea.”
-Sounds reasonable.

“Looks like rain. No one would expect me to drive over big bridges for the first time in bad weather.”
True, but Gramps’ says the rain isn’t coming until much later.

“Then again, not doing it today will make it harder next week. What’s the difference. If you’re going to do it next week, why not today? Getting to the top of the bridge will take 30 seconds & it’s all downhill from there.”
-But what if I can’t. What if I have to stop on the bridge with my babies. (Insert image of kids crying on top of the bridge while I’m frozen with fear. Fast forward to images of them all in therapy because of me).
-Ok, in the 12 years I’ve been dealing with this crap, that’s never happened. In all my
experience and in all the books I’ve read, the thing you fear never happens. It’s a hoax. Am I going to let myself be tricked today?

“Do what will make you proud later today.”
-Alright, I’m still anxious, but bring it on.

As I packed my bags, I scribbled out a new coping card to carry with me. I looked over some notes from a pain coping class I’d taken as we prepared for baby #3 (the same philosophy that I teach to expectant parents — I’ll post later about how amazingly similar childbirth support & prep are to working through the sensations of anxiety). “Looking good man, keep going” is from a sweet note my 8 yr. old made for me before her baby sister was born. You have to read Ina May to get the horse lips reference.

We began our drive. I looked at the faces of my sweet girls. They weren’t worried. Why should I be? I told them that we were going to drive through the point and over the new bridges. “Remember how Mommy’s been working on driving over those bridges? Will you help cheer me on like last time?”

Silence at first. Then a request for food. Then music. Finally I heard from the back, “Go Mommy Go!”

“Yeah! Ok, I wonder how many seconds it will take to get to the top of the bridge and then all the way over?” (I was thinking 30 seconds to the top, max). “Will you help me count?” They were sold. Now I had to work with anticipation.

As we drove the 30 miles it took to get there, I had some waves of adrenaline and visions of getting stuck on the bridge. I was still looking for a way out. I countered those unhelpful thoughts with mantra’s – I can do this. Up and over. Don’t fight it – that’s it. Lean into it. Watch the feelings go up and down. You are stronger than these sensations. I remembered uttering some of those same words, with compassion, to a powerful Mama in labor just last week.

3 miles to go. I called my husband for a little support and he didn’t answer (you needed to do it without me, he later said – which was true). I thought of my friend Melissa, who I teach with, as she leads parents through contractions and heard her voice, “Get up in the face of this sensation. Don’t look for a way out. Do it like your life depends on it!” It may sound dramatic, but my life does depend on it.

Now here’s a funny twist about anxiety for me & many others. The moment I saw the incline of the bridge, I felt relief. The anticipation was far worse – it always is.

I turned on Stevie Wonder (who helped get me through postpartum) and we counted to the beat of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. It took 22 “Stevie Seconds” to get to the top & I yelled out, “Woohoo!” out of relief, put one hand in the air and did a little dance. We kept counting – 46 seconds was how long it took in total. The second bridge was 21 seconds to the top and 64 total. I thought about how I could have not done this today, but I did. I felt proud.

The rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. I threw in a book on CD for the girls, they played peek-a-boo and entertained the baby, we talked about what the world would look like if we could create it ourselves. And, in small, but life changing ways, we can.