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When Anxiety Starts a Cycle of 'What Ifs'

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My boyfriend invited me to Bike Party tonight. Considering how clingy it’s been lately, I extended the invitation to anxiety, as well. I may as well. It’s coming regardless of whether I want it to or not. Bike Party is a monthly, weekend event in my hometown, where a large group of people meet up at night on their bikes and ride a predetermined route together. There is music, and it’s overall a blast from what I hear.

Let’s all laugh out loud at once. What a perfect event for someone like me, who totes her anxiety like it’s the newest hot accessory. (Note the sarcasm here.) This is my literal nightmare. Large crowds, night time bike riding, cars, crowding, traffic, so many unknowns. Oh, hello anxiety!

I’ve never been to Bike Party before, mostly because of the aforementioned reasons. So many things could go wrong. I’m talking worst-case scenario things because obviously that’s where my brain takes me. Anxiety causes me to jump down the rabbit hole almost immediately.

Rather than think about how much fun I would have spending time with my partner, I think about the clearly inevitable moment when a car comes careening through the crowd of bicyclists, crushing us all in frustration. Rather than get excited about how fun bicycling is, I’ve already determined I will not be able to keep up with my boyfriend’s pace. Instead, I’ll be the heaving, sweaty, grunting person pulling up the rear, frantically looking over my shoulder for, you guessed it, inevitable careening car.

What if I get a flat tire? What if we go into a neighborhood I’m not comfortable with? What if I get tired but he wants to keep going? What if we get separated? I could keep going, but I’ll spare you the never-ending thought train.

Each of those “what if” questions has their own little cascading group of questions to follow it, similar to a family tree or a brainstorming exercise. Let’s just take the, “What if I get a flat tire?” question as an example. What if I get a flat tire? Will I have the tools to fix it? What if it’s not fixable and we have to walk? What if we have to walk miles? What if my shoes hurt my feet on said walk? What if we ran into trouble? Maybe I should just get a ride so I don’t have to worry about dangerous situations. If I got an Uber, do they have bike racks? Oh Lord, Jesus take the wheel.

Anxiety has determined this will be a bumpy ride. My boyfriend has been begging me to do this with him for years (Literal years.) Sure, I could say no. I don’t want to go. It would certainly end part of my anxiety troubles.

Ultimately though, if I was at home and he was out there, then I’d just be stewing about all the same worries, with him as the main character instead of myself. Now that I’ve finally said OK, all he can think about is how much fun we will have together. Meanwhile, I’m over here planning a doomsday scenario in my mind within seconds of agreeing.

I’m tired of living like this. It’s so easy to fall down the hole into the worry abyss, never to return. Yet, the logical part of my mind is strong, and urges me to just try. Because the one “what if” question my anxiety never seems to visit is: What if I have fun? Gasp!

So, I said yes, despite my anxiety’s best effort to stop me. When my mind is clear, Bike Party does sound fun in theory to me. I wish I could be cavalier and drop all my worries, but I have to accept my brain just doesn’t work that way. I’m going to confront the worries head on, woman up and hit the streets with my boo tonight. I may get squashed by a car, but probably not. I may get tired, but he won’t force me to truck on. I may get a flat. I may not.

Anxiety, buckle up. We are going on a bike ride tonight.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 23, 2016
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