open road in the mountains

My therapist changed my life. Actually, my therapist helped me change my life. What I couldn’t do and avoided for 30 years was drive on the highway. It may seem like such a simple thing, but it was a huge barrier in living my life. It was like having a self-imposed prison ankle bracelet, with the travel radius defined by my anxiety.

I couldn’t take jobs, go to classes, seminars, doctor’s offices, parties, weddings, funerals, meetings, shopping malls or travel in and out of the state. The list is endless of what I had to say no to. It not only affected my confidence, but my self-esteem.

For most of my adult life, I would have so much anxiety surrounding highways. I would have to keep my eyes closed just riding as a passenger in a car. If I didn’t close my eyes, I would look at the floor or at a book. Anything to avoid what was terrifying around me, being in a car on the highway. I would avoid side streets if they had a sign for the highway, just in case the road only led to a highway on ramp. I would drive hours out of the way on side streets, often driving in bad parts of town just so I wouldn’t have to go on the highway.

Mostly, I just didn’t get to live the life I wanted. I made excuses why I couldn’t go places. I declined countless invitations to do things. I frustrated my children because everyone else’s mom could drive places and I couldn’t. Occasionally, I would admit my fear to understanding friends, and they would let me ride with them. If we went as a group, then I was always eager to sit in the backseat. It is a little less terrifying back there, and it is easier to hide my fear.

My heart would race. My stomach would have butterflies. My hands would sweat. Heck, my whole body would sweat, but mostly, I would be so scared I wanted to cry.

Then, one day I was faced with a problem with no way out. I had to get to Providence, Rhode Island, and there was no way around me not driving there. I looked into the train and the bus, but the schedules wouldn’t work. I had no one else I could ask to drive me. I looked for every way out I could find, but there was none. I had to get over this fear.


I manned up to my problem, and I asked my therapist, Dan, if he could help me with my anxiety. I had four months until I had to drive to Providence, and I needed a miracle. I told him about my fears.

It started as a simple list. On ramps, trucks, big trucks, changing lanes, feeling trapped, driving fast and “not knowing where I am.” Also, did I mention being on ramps and merging onto the highway? Ramps felt like walking to a firing squad. There was no turning back.

The plan was exposure therapy. Exposure therapy involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety. If I knew he was going to make me actually drive on the highway with him in the car, then I never would have signed up for this. I had, in some fantasy, thought I could solve my fear sitting safely and comfortably on the couch in his office. I was in too deep now, as much as I wanted to chicken out, I had to persevere.

Dan first taught me to breathe. Who knew I was doing that wrong? Then, he taught me how to challenge my anxious thoughts. Then, we hit the open road. First, just getting on the highway and getting off the next exit. Eventually, we were driving farther and on different highways. He knew just how hard to push me and when I had enough. He became my biggest cheerleader, encouraging and believing in me even when I doubted myself.

Dan gave me homework. I have always hated homework, but who wants to get an F in their own therapy? So I diligently practiced driving between appointments. I would write my thought challenges and anxiety down in the journal he had given me. The hardest part was remembering to breathe when I felt anxious. I would bring my dog with me when I practiced sometimes, hoping she would help keep me calm. Mostly, she just drooled on the window, but at least I wasn’t alone.

I would conquer one aspect of driving, slowly pulling off that layer only to expose another fear. I had once thought being on ramps was the biggest obstacle but “not knowing where I am” ultimately proved to be the greatest hurdle.

As the date to drive to Providence approached, I still wasn’t sure I could do it. It was the overwhelming fear of “not knowing where I am” I was struggling with. My therapist and I decided to do the drive together the day before I had to do it myself. He understood there was no way to simulate going to Providence. I had to go there to see that I could do it. He blocked out four hours in his day, as it should take us a little more than three hours round trip.

We drove. I crossed state lines into Rhode Island with little fanfare. There was no marching band and confetti waiting for me at the border, but the significance of crossing into another state was monumental for me.

As we approached our destination, I had a panic attack. Dan helped me get through the panic attack. We got lost. I made us go back to the place we left from before we got lost to do it right. If I was going to do it on my own the next day, then I needed to know how to do it without getting lost.

We made it back to his office, and I was exhausted. The trip had been draining, but also empowering. I accomplished a goal I hadn’t been able to reach my entire life. I drove to the state of Rhode Island!

My trip was never going to make the evening news. I hadn’t scaled Mount Everest. I had not completed the Iditarod dog sled race or flown solo around the world. I did what millions of people do every day and never think twice about. I just drove on the highway, but it changed my life. For that was the beginning of me living the life I had wanted, where anxiety didn’t have to win.

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My dear friends,

Before I began sharing about my anxiety, I was terrified to open up to you. I worried that disclosing my anxiety would darken the light, cheery nature of our friendships. I wondered if “anxious” would gradually become my sole identity, overshadowing the many traits that comprise who I am. My greatest hope was that you would understand that anxiety challenges me but does not define me.

The moment I disclosed my anxiety, my fears dissipated. I am incredibly thankful that choosing to be vulnerable about my anxiety has strengthened our friendships, created inextricable, deep connections and brought us closer than I could have ever imagined. Moreover, I am extremely grateful for your presence in my life and for the numerous ways in which you have supported me through the most difficult times.

Thank you for understanding whenever I arrived late to meet you for coffee, my hair disheveled, my eyes wet from an onslaught of panic, and my slight figure clad in an old, shapeless sweatshirt. I appreciate that you never commented on my anxiety-ridden appearance and always took the time to listen to whatever was on my mind as we sipped our drinks.

Thank you for your willingness to learn what I need when I feel particularly anxious and to respect boundaries. When we were roommates, you were always understanding of my need for space in times of anxiety, sending texts peppered with hearts, “I love you’s” and “It’s going to be OK’s” instead of entering my room. You came to know that sometimes, all I need is to know that someone is there for me, even if they are not physically close. More importantly, you always respected that.

Thank you for reminding me that the worries consuming me are unimportant in the grand scheme of life. In college, you were always by my side to reassure me that an “A minus” midterm would not affect my ability to graduate college Summa Cum Laude, obtain the job of my dreams and attend law school. Thanks to your encouragement and kind words, I now fully understand that small missteps cannot prevent me from achieving my goals.


Thank you for laughing with me when I make light of my overly-neurotic, irrational, anxiety-addled mind. In the worst moments, humor is my most effective coping mechanism. Your willingness to laugh at my self-deprecating remarks instead of shying away means the world to me.

Thank you for understanding whenever I am unable to do something. You have never treated me any less respectfully when I am overwhelmed and overloaded, and I love that you recognize and accept that I have limitations, just like everyone else in the world.

Thank you for pulling me away from my stressors for pure, unadulterated fun. “Legally Blonde” movie nights, lunches out, beach days, shopping trips and “Hamilton” sing-along sessions have all provided a welcome diversion from the anxieties that are prone to creeping into my mind. I am grateful that you have taught me the importance of taking breaks to refresh and refocus my mind and body.

Thank you for supporting me through the most difficult night of my life, for comforting me when panic completely overtook my mind, for treating me as compassionately as you always have and for encouraging me to prioritize my mental health. To this day, my health is a top priority, and I am willing to slow down when I feel overwhelmed.

Thank you for reassuring me when anxiety causes me to doubt myself. When I worry that I will never be gainfully employed, second-guess a piece of writing I sent out, or wonder if I am “the annoying friend,” you never fail to remind me I am strong, capable and loved, dispelling the pervasive “what-ifs.”

Thank you for reminding me I am never as alone as I feel. The stories you have shared about your experiences are a powerful reminder that there are a vast number of people in the world who share the same challenges. I have learned that if we support each other, stand together and share our stories and experiences with one another, not only will we become stronger and more resilient in the face of adversity, but we will also feel less alone.

Thank you for showing me how loved I am. Whether through your words or your actions, you never fail to express your love and support. Although you understand that anxiety is only one piece of me, you are always supportive when my anxiety challenges me, and you accept me exactly as I am, which is the greatest demonstration of love. I promise to stay by your side in your darkest moments, loving and supporting you just as you love and support me.

I love you immeasurably. You mean the world to me.

With love,
Your friend

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There are probably a lot of different emotions occurring, given the results of the U.S. presidential election and other smaller elections that have taken place. One of those feelings may be anxiety (worry/fear).

Before that and other emotions overtake you completely, here are some things I, as a licensed therapist, suggest you try — especially if all of this has been traumatizing for you:

1. Stop watching or reading any type of news or social media. The same things being reposted and restated can increase our levels of worry and possibly make us feel unsafe. Log off, turn it off, and/or put it to the side. Go find another activity outside of these things that is enjoyable to give you and your mind a break.

2. Pause and breathe. Take a moment to take a few easeful breaths. With anxiety, one of the things that can happen is our breathing can become more shallow and rapid. This can lead to a more sympathetic nervous system response: racing heartbeat, feelings of confusion and worry, and other emotions, such as anger, for example. What we want to do is create a more parasympathetic nervous system response. Take a step back, have a seat, and consciously pay attention to your breathing. Allow it to gradually slow down with each exhalation. Also observe what you see in your environment (noticing colors, shapes, textures, etc.).

3. Reach out to others. Call, message and/or hug the people in your life who you care about. Reach out to a mental health professional for support. Sometimes, seeing or hearing a comforting word or having a warm embrace can let you know the world is not a bad place.

4. Regroup and figure out how you can help others. Once you have taken a moment or a few to decompress, think about how this has impacted you. What is it you can do to help others in your own community? What issues are important to you? Where does a difference need to be made? Because honestly, that is where real change starts. It starts from within. It does not have to be anything big. Most of the time, it is the little changes that add up to make a huge impact.


Then wash, rinse and repeat as many times as you need to throughout your day. Finally, this last piece of insight:

5. Make an attempt, each day, to come from a place of compassion. Not only for others you encounter, but also for yourself.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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I am at a loss of words. Not because this result is entirely unexpected, but because deep down I have always known this was the reality of the world we live in. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, but as an individuals with both general and social anxiety, I see the extremes of the world far before anyone else. Unfortunately, sometimes those extremes are too real. One of those extremes happened yesterday, when Donald Trump was elected president.

Like many, I am frustrated with a system that allowed this to happen. I am angry, and scared. I’m not sure what we will do now, or where we need to go from here, but I know this is not the end. In the face of every challenge, Humanity has prevailed, and we will again. We will come out better, stronger and more loving after having gone through this. The world we had yesterday was not perfect, and it is no different than the world of today. We can still make a difference, and sure, things might get worse come Jan. 20, but regardless, we will prevail.

If you’re having a difficult time, it’s important to take care of yourself and those around you. Here are some things to remember:

1. You are not alone. Millions are scared and unsure of what the future carries.

2. Historically we’ve gone through this before, and we have overcome these systems of oppression every single time. Hope is still an option, we just need to hold onto it.

3. You have the choice: of shutting this off for four years, of fighting, of doing anything you’d like. It’s still a choice. We’re stuck with a president, but we get to decide everything else.

4. Some environments will be more toxic than others. Try to get to higher ground, where the air is cleaner. Rest, and when you’re ready find your way back through the miasma.

5. You have everything you need within you to make a difference. You can take charge of your life and change things. You can do that.

6. Find support throughout this all. Find people who are willing to go through this with you.


7. Most of all, remember you are a priority. You deserve the absolute best. This is why this is difficult, and this is why it’s going to be OK. Take care of yourself, and remember, there’s always Hope.

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I tucked my 2-and-a-half-year-old into bed last night. I softly sung the words of “Rock-a-bye Baby” while cuddled up to him so tight. I rubbed his hair. I kissed his rosy cheeks.

After some pillow talk, he fell asleep. I held him closer. I looked at him, so innocent, so sweet. Listening to him breathe in and out, I whispered into his ear, “I’m so sorry for being me.”

Earlier in the day, he had jumped into the front seat of my car while I was trying to get him inside from preschool. He was pretending to drive the car. I was so stressed. It was cold. I am so pregnant.

I just wanted to get him inside so I could sit down. I didn’t want to stand in the cold. He laid on the horn. I looked around to make sure no one was disturbed by this, and I yelled at him.

“Mommy said no!”


I felt my anger building. I threw down all of the stuff I had in my hands, and I pulled him out of the car. He threw a fit in the middle of the road. I hated this moment. I hated that he wouldn’t listen. I hated that I couldn’t stand to be out there any longer, and I hated mostly that I couldn’t “enjoy the moment,” a moment he was enjoying so much.

Anxiety robs you of so many precious moments.

So what is there to be anxious about in this moment? Well, it’s not necessarily one trigger in one moment. It is the anxiety that builds all day, every single day.

You grow tired. You physically hurt. You cry. You obsess. You struggle with simple decisions others wouldn’t think twice about. You wake up every morning wishing it were bed time. You count the days until it is the weekend when you can have some help.

You cry because you hate feeling that way. You feel guilt. You have a wonderful husband, a beautiful child and one on the way. You have a steady job, a home. You live comfortably. You are blessed.


You are ungrateful? That’s what you will tell yourself. Reality? You are plagued by your own mind.

Anxiety robs you of peace of mind.

There is never a moment you feel at ease. You will check everything 100 times. You will look for potential dangers, and you will fix them. You will worry about 10 minutes from now, 10 hours from now and 10 years from now in one minute. Your mind will race, and you will be completely exhausted.

You are a problem solver in your mind. If you don’t fix it all right now, then it won’t get done and something terrible will happen. It will be your fault. When someone, anyone, breaks your train of thought, you will lash out at them. Don’t they see how important it is that you figure everything out right now?

Unfortunately, it might be that sweet, innocent, rosy cheeked 2-year-old asking for more milk, or trying to jump on you for attention. You love him so much, and you’re trying to solve any potential problem for him. All he wants is a glass of milk and a hug.

Why is this so hard?

This post originally appeared on Jack’s Mom of Many Trades.

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I posted earlier this week on social media late at night, in a full-blown anxiety attack, about how it’s OK to admit you struggle. But, being the human I am and feeling fearful of judgment and letting people see the “messy, not so funny, not so inspiring” side of me, I took it down.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I felt like I needed to remove that part of my story. Was I ashamed? Was I worried about exposing myself? Was I sharing too much?

Then today, with this heaviness on my heart, feeling completely overwhelmed and overworked on everything in my life, I cried. Not a few tears and a laugh about it after — a meltdown. A lock-yourself-in-your-bathroom, sob-’til-you-can’t breathe, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking cry.

It was then I realized just how much I was carrying around. I’m a conundrum. I’m a happy anxious person. Being happy and anxious is confusing. It’s like you’re on a high wire and you’re balancing just to keep it together.

The thing is, my anxiety doesn’t give a sh*t if I’m happy or not. It comes, and I get overwhelmed. I start to think about how whatever is making me feel happy might end up falling through, or what if someone is silently judging me and doesn’t think I deserve it? What if I actually don’t deserve it? Oh man. I didn’t know this room could spin. Maybe I should sit down and cry. And that’s how I ended up on my bathroom floor.

My point to all this? Yes, I’m happy. I’m grateful for my incredibly blessed life. I believe each day is a blessing and so is this life I’ve been given.

And I’m anxious — sometimes to the point of being frozen by dread. Can’t-breathe, can’t-speak, can’t-think kind of dread.

And I am learning I can be both, and do as I have always done — keep on embracing each day, the good and the bathroom-floor-crying bad. Just talking about it makes me feel better.

Follow this journey on Surviving Shelby.

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