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What Happens When My Anxiety and I Go for a Drive

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It starts before we ever leave the house. Swirls of nervous energy swish through my body as the traitorous thoughts begin. It would be better if you stayed home. You might get in a car wreck. Think of all the bad things that might happen if you leave the house. You don’t really feel well anyway. My heart begins to race and it is hard to catch my breath. My mouth is dry.

I reach for the directions to my destination. They are carefully written out because I cannot trust the GPS. It might fail, says my anxiety. Then I would be lost in the big world out there. I might have to talk to strangers. The directions are ready but I am not. I need to get dressed.

I pick up the outfit I carefully selected and tried on last night. Today my anxiety is quite critical. Are you wearing that? Honestly, it makes you look like you are 80-years-old! Do you have any sense of fashion or style? I hang up that outfit and try on three others before I can quell the criticizing voice. I still feel inadequate but now my my rational side and my anxiety are informing me I am running out of time. I need to finish getting ready or I might be late. I cannot be late. I cannot not walk in late. Hurriedly, I finish dressing and apply some makeup.

I glance in the mirror to check my appearance. My anxiety points out every fault. You look old and tired. That lipstick is not the right color. You are having a bad hair day. That outfit makes you look fat. How can you go out looking like this? My hands get clammy and my breathing rate increases. I have no defenses against these thoughts as I struggle to remember what my therapist taught me to do to combat these types of thoughts. I cannot remember!

Knowing I must accomplish this task, I pick up my purse, keys and directions and head for the door. I make certain the dogs are in their crates, the lights and stove are off and I stop at the threshold. My heart is pounding, my breath is coming in gasps and I feel a bit dizzy. I can do this, I say to myself. I step outside, lock the door and walk to my car.

I slowly unlock the car door. So far, so good.

I stow my purse and directions on the passenger seat and cautiously take my place in driver’s seat, shutting the door. And like a tsunami, a panic attack strikes full force. My hands are clammy. I am hyperventilating. I think I might throw up. My heart is racing. I am freezing, yet I am sweating. I have a sense I could be dying, yet I know I am not in danger. I feel like I am crazy. My hands are numb. Where is my emergency medication? I cannot find it! I feel trapped in the car. Feeling trapped at the prospect of having to drive anywhere. Trapped and needing to call if I am late or do not arrive. I am trapped!

Unable to make a choice, my breathing accelerates as I go from chilled to overheated. My hands and feet now feel numb. I am certain I must be sick but I don’t think I can move. Anxiety and panic are winning. My world is spinning out of control.

Want to take a drive with anxiety and me? I often do not make it out of park.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic.

Originally published: February 23, 2017
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