themighty logo

When Anxious Fears Control Your Daily Thoughts

I’ve always lived in the land of the overly cautious: I try not to break the rules, I wait a few extra seconds before crossing the street, I go back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove. In other words, do nothing to cause danger and do not take risks. Fear is the driver of it all.

One experience pushes my level of fear into overdrive, and it looks like this:

“This turn is too tight.”

“We’re not going to make it.”

“Who thought a two-way tunnel was a good idea?”

These are the unspoken thoughts that travel through my mind as my boyfriend is driving us to New York City for my 28th birthday. I am sitting in the front seat and enjoying the ride until things get uncomfortable.

I do not talk about my fear, but I do tell him to slow down and move out of the left lane. I remind him, gently, I think, to stay away from the cars ahead of us recklessly switching lanes.

He doesn’t complain but suggests I try to take a nap.

My body goes into a slight panic, which he can sense even if I try to conceal it. My heart beat increases, my foot presses down firmly on the car floor as if I’m pushing down on my own safety passenger brake. I grip the handle of the door tightly, and if it’s really bad I will shut my eyes.

We do not go on road trips but a few times a year. I cannot pinpoint when my anxiety got so bad. In the car, my mind goes into high alert. I sense danger. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no control over the cars speeding by. Sometimes I glance over and monitor the speedometer. Sometimes, I just close my eyes again.

I have used public transportation as my main way to travel since I moved to the Washington, D.C. in 2006. I even use it when I travel back home to New Jersey. My ultimate preference is the Amtrak train. Maybe it’s because I feel safer in larger vehicles. Maybe it’s because I know the train is on a track and the odds are in my favor.

I go straight to the cafe car and search for a “safe” seat. The ideal is to have the whole section to myself, but usually there is at least one person across from me with a table dividing us. I sit in the blue leather seat and put down my oversized purse. I take out my books, sunflower seeds and my headphones. I breathe. I can completely relax because I don’t see a threat to my safety.

I’m surrounded by people but still feel like I’m in my own world. There are four large windows on each side of the aisle allowing me to observe the scenes outside and let my mind drift.

None of this serenity is part of a car trip. The difference here is I am not in control. I can’t simply wait a few extra moments to cross the street just to be safe or run back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove before I leave the apartment. In this situation, all I can do is close my eyes and wait for it to stop. It is the same way with life; as hard as I try to control my thoughts, there will be ones that slip through the cracks.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.