What a Garbage Man Taught Me About Anxiety


Yesterday I hit a garbage truck. In New York City.

It was early in the morning, and I was on my way to an appointment with my therapist. Parking in the city is a pain, so I was relieved to spot an empty space that did not include a fire hydrant. Problem: it was blocked by a garbage truck. I managed to pull in front of the garbage truck and squeeze my way into the spot. Bad angle, but I was in. I figured I could fix myself when the truck moved on – if it would just move.

Next thing I know, there’s a knock on my window. Now what?

“Hey, you’re blocking the trash with your car.”

Omg, my day just started and I’m already pissed. I figured I was at a bad angle anyway so I would pull out so they can get the trash and then pull back in.

“OK,” I said (calmly). “I can pull out so you guys can get the trash.”

Out I go. Thing is, with two lanes on my side of the street, the garbage truck pulls beside me to retrieve the trash. Mission accomplished: trash retrieved. Put my car into reverse and began to pull back into my coveted spot. Unsuccessfully, of course. Here’s what happened next: crash. And then: crap, I hit the garbage truck. And then: omg omg omg omg. Anxiety skyrockets to 10 and I am gathering myself to fall apart.

Then came the garbage man. The garbage man without a name who literally restored my faith in all of humanity with his kind words and smile. He stayed with me and helped me park. He directed me into and out of the spot multiple times as I was so flustered and anxious I kept on overshooting my mark. He also fixed my car because I had apparently only unhooked the bumper, so he put it back for me. Then he gave me a pep talk about remaining calm and told me I should try not to get ruffled, so I won’t make mistakes. He told me that “slowly is quickly” and I shouldn’t feel pressured. He told me to focus on the task at hand and do it until I get it right. He told me I was going to be OK and that it was fine, I didn’t even need to fix my car because it wasn’t damaged. It was all I could do not to break down in front of him.

So, Mr. Garbage Man — though I do not know your name and you don’t know mine, know you have made a difference in my life. Know that on the streets of NYC, alongside the curb full of trash, you have imparted wisdom and lessons for life I will not soon forget. Know that in the midst of what could have been a complete catastrophe, you were my calm and support. Thank you with all my heart. You were a small window of my day, but you and your words have remained a part of my life. You have no idea what you did for me.

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Thinkstock photo via mrdoomits

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