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What Happens When My Anxiety Meets My Friends' Spontaneity

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My sister and I had been planning a trip for a few months. It would be a road trip during her school’s spring break that would take us on a loop of four states, two of which included friends we were excited to visit. We had the details settled and were excited to see the days on the calendar start to fly by, inching us closer and closer to our departure date.

A week and a half before we left, we got an offer to join a few friends on a side trip for a few days before our planned road trip. It would more or less lead into where we were already headed and could be a fun addition. It could be an added adventure. Sure, it would cost a little extra money, but what else had we been saving for besides adventures like these? It would be good, it would be fun, it would be spontaneous and easy.

Except it wasn’t.

Immediately upon hearing about this side trip offer, my sister’s mind was turning. This would be great! It would be so fun! She was ready to pack up, change the plan and leave the next day. But I clammed up. My eyes shied away from her and my mind began to race. The conversation we had been having shut down. I was a brick wall.

Having lived with me her whole life, my sister knows me. She can tell when I’m gone. So immediately after expressing excitement and anticipation for the trip, she began to back track. She saw the anxiety all over my face and did her best to counteract it.

“It would be fun,” she said, “but we don’t have to.”

Shortly after, she excused herself upstairs, saying she was tired and ready to get to bed. She knew I just needed to be alone. To think. To process. But what she didn’t know — what nobody can really know unless they’ve been there — is where my mind went after she left.

We can’t go. It said.

We had a plan and this wasn’t part of it. The change is too much. It’s too overwhelming. I can’t handle this. I have to say no. But, why can’t I just say yes? Why can’t I be more spontaneous like everybody else? Me saying “no” ruins this for my sister. I’m preventing her from doing something she really wants to do. Why can’t I handle things better? What is overwhelming about this? It’s just a few days, get over yourself. I’m 26, I’m supposed to take trips like this. I’m supposed to live in the moment. I’m supposed to be more fun. Why aren’t I better than this? Maybe I just shouldn’t go at all. They would probably have more fun without me, especially if something as small as this is “overwhelming.” I’m pathetic. This is ridiculous. Breathe!

I leaned into my hands, looking at myself in the mirror. My mind was a mess, but the voice of reason was fighting its way to the front.

Just breathe. It said.

We’ve been through this before. Breathe. You don’t have to decide right now. You don’t have to change everything right now. Take it in steps. Break it down into pieces. Breathe. You are not pathetic. You are not weak. You are not ridiculous. Breathe. You shouldn’t be someone else. You shouldn’t act a different way. You shouldn’t think different things. Breathe. You are perfect the way you are. You are OK. You are going to be OK. Just breathe.

My sister had gone to bed by this point, leaving the house dark and quiet. I breathed in and I breathed out. Maybe I wanted to go on this trip, maybe I didn’t. But I didn’t have to decide in that exact moment, it could wait until morning. I breathed in and breathed out. And whatever I decided, even if it ended up being me saying “no,” it would be OK. There would be other trips. There would be other days. So just breathe, I told myself. Right now, all you have to do is breathe.

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Thinkstock photo via welcomia. 

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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