Friday, January 9, 2015

When to push, and when to soar

This week kind of kicked my butt.

One of the things that has been a hang-up for me since my anxiety started is flying. Through therapy, I was able to conquer most of the things that caused me a lot of anxiety. Except flying. It's hard to do that--there are not a lot of baby steps you can take...you kind of just have to get on the plane and pray that you won't melt down and bang on the door to get out, all the while worrying what TSA will do to you.

Anyway, I am planning my 10-year anniversary trip with my husband. We don't take a lot of vacations. We've never taken one where we just check in to a place and enjoy. We're always driving around from place to place. Now, I lucked out in the husband department because he's not interested in travel like I am. It's not just because of my fear--I just don't think I need to see every crevice of the globe to feel complete. I do like me a getaway, though, and that's what we have planned in a few months.

And I've worked in therapy on my fear of flying. And I thought I was ready until I started planning this trip. I expected to have some push-back...after all, did I think I was going to calmly book and plan a trip and walk on a plane and ride off safely into the sunset?

It was like a switch went off, I tell you. Full-on fear mode. Not the way I want to live. Not the person I am inside. My mind was over the "fear" but my body didn't get the message. I had no idea my body would revolt on me like that.

The thing is, I'm not really scared of the actual flying anymore. Or being "trapped." I didn't know that my real fear is dealing with anticipatory anxiety. That black sludge-like feeling completely clouds your view of what's rational. It's completely crippling, and that  is what I need to learn to handle.

I didn't think it would overtake me, and it did. I began to be anxious all day and feel dreadful--and that's so far from my usually positive attitude. Faced with the fact that this is an area that clearly needs more work, I decided not to fly. And I felt horrible about it, because a woman whose favorite Bible verse is "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" should just be able to get on the dang plane, right?

In my mind, in my Type-A-push-myself-to-the-breaking-point, yes. When I started to feel the agony I was going through, and realizing that my mind may be okay but my body is still trapped in a pattern of panic, I put the brakes on. For years, I have been conquering things left and right by giving myself permission to take it easy on myself. Why did I think I had to push myself full-force into this? Because I had waited so long for it?

Truth is, I only started dealing with the flying fear a few months back. And while I quickly got over the actual "in the sky" part, I am not over anticipatory anxiety. I didn't book a flight because I was afraid to get on a plane--I held off booking a flight because I don't want to go through two more months of pure panic. I don't want to go down that road again. I want to take care of myself.Once the anxiety switch went off and I was panicky all day, I remembered that my mind is invincible, but my body still needs help. I have to respect it in all of its impaired glory.

That alone was a struggle, because my inner critic screams, "You're just taking the easy way out! You're always going to have anxiety before you fly because that's how it is!"

I don't know how to "fix" anticipatory anxiety yet. It is the most crippling part of a fear. Even when you're over the fear itself (I actually recall loving to fly) you still have to deal with old habits. My body has always been in the habit of anticipatory anxiety before doing something big. I could calm it with other "big" things but flying presents other pressures...a set time, don't want to ruin a trip, etc.

So now I'm back to the drawing board. Oh, but I did book the trip--I am taking a train! I took a train once in college and loved it. And my husband is okay with this. I am still going. I am still moving forward. (Something tells me that after 13 hours on a train, I will soon welcome a one-hour flight!)

This is still a positive step. It will help me deal with less-severe anticipatory anxiety. It will put me in a situation where I am not in control. It will help me with my traveling anxiety. Years ago after my anxiety emerged, I couldn't even think about getting in a car let alone a train. This is a baby step. As much as my critic wants to discount it, it's a positive thing.

I want to tell you that we can "just do it" when it comes to conquering fear, but I also believe in what my therapist taught me: "Set yourself up for success."

I want to be this glowing example of "have faith, just go for it." What I learned this week was that I do have faith, and it's not just in being able to do anything. It's in timing.

I can get myself sick over this, or I can plan a trip I enjoy that still challenges me. in the meantime, I must go back and work on this newly discovered problem: The thing I fear can be conquered, but dealing with the anxiety leading up to it also needs attention.

I booked my tickets yesterday on the train. While part of me felt let down, part of me felt happy because I was excited and not terrified.

While I don't want to run away from my fear of flying, I want to work on it some more so I can be more comfortable if and when I do decide to fly. This is the method that has gotten me through all of my fears, and I need to have patience and faith that it will carry me through again.


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