I have met amazing friends through Bridget. Our village has expanded in ways I never would have imagined six years ago. When I first met this friend I was so intimidated. She has the best sense of humor, is gorgeous, more empathetic than I could ever hope to be and is seriously the girl you want to have as a forever friend. When she told me she had a challenge to share, I was honored that she trusted me and you the reader with her words.
It’s 7:15 a.m. on a Wednesday. I’m sitting on a worn leather couch that is positioned on a red oriental rug. The couch – 3 feet deep – feels even deeper to me, as there’s no comfortable way for a short person to sit on it without looking like a disaffected teenager. I perch on the edge holding my coffee mug. I’m surrounded by dusty overgrown houseplants (trees really) that don’t look like they’ve been watered in a decade and an odd collection of global knickknacks. I’ve always had the impression that these were purchased on trips abroad. I smile and nod politely while I’m given the customary local and national weather updates (did YOU know it snowed in Las Vegas right after Christmas?). I have no interest in the weather but always get it anyway. Then comes the last part of the routine, “so, what’s been happening?” My eyes fix on the fireplace and trace the outlines of lopsided flower shapes made by clumps of fieldstones.
I must get out of here. Right now. I don’t feel real; I’m disconnected. I have a fishbowl feeling. I’m floating, I’m outside of myself. My heart is racing, my hands feel cold and I’m starting to shake. I can’t breathe. I can’t swallow. My mouth is dry. I need to escape. There’s no escape. I’m going to lose control. I’m going to freak out and go crazy. Someone’s going to need to call 911.
So, what’s been happening?
I’m driving on the highway. I’m driving on the highway at night. I’m driving a long way, going to a place far from home that I’ve never been. I’m driving over a bridge. I’m going through a tunnel. I’m riding as a passenger with my husband driving. I’m riding as a passenger in a friend’s car. I’m driving someone other than my husband. I’m at a restaurant. I can’t swallow. I can’t finish my meal. I’m going to my husband’s friend’s house for dinner. I’m going to a concert. I’m riding on a train. I’m in an airplane. I’m going to the movies. I’m planning a way to sit in an aisle seat. I’m at work on a busy day. I’m at my mom’s house with my family. I’m merely thinking about doing these things. I’m terrified of having the feelings that may result from these experiences.
The anxious feelings start the week before, the night before; the morning of. This is “FANTASTIC”, or so I’m told. They are all opportunities to practice, to realize that these feelings, while real, are not a result of actual danger. These feelings pass. The catastrophic things I know will happen never do. I have homework. I practice doing these things. Driving over the bridge six times in a row, taking a flight to Baltimore and back. Driving on the highway at night with no destination in mind. Riding as a passenger while my husband drives. Eating out with my husband. I need to practice the strategies I’ve learned in the room with the giant couch. Notice the feelings and the physical symptoms, experience them but keep going. Stay on the highway. Stay seated at the restaurant. Go out to dinner with my husband’s friends. Go to the movies and the concerts. These are the ways to train my brain that the disastrous things I fear never actually happen. Does practice make perfect? No, but it can make it easier.
Challenge accepted. I reject these limitations. I am dually diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorders. And I am still okay.
She is more than okay, she is freaking fantastic. I promised, as we live and work in a very small community, that I would not publish her real name or photo. Though I do have a terrific one of us. I am trying so hard to protect her anonymity so I am leaving most of my gushing remarks out. I understand why, but I want her to know how much I admire her. When we first met and really until recently, I never knew of her challenge. She seems on the outside to be so together (and did I mention gorgeous). I was going to say she looked so strong to me, but in fact she is stronger than I ever imagined.
It showed me once again, that unless you ask you never know that someone is struggling.
What’s your challenge is a series that was inspired by a program I created at Abby’s school. I am amazed at how honest and hopeful the challenges have been. Thank you to all who have contributed. Especially my in-real-life friends, the ones who typically do not put their lives out there for the world to read. To submit your challenge, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org