Anxiety is just another fact of my existence. I don’t talk about it much because I don’t really think about it much. Having a low level of social anxiety coursing through my veins when I leave the house is normal for me. It’s so normal, I don’t even have to think about what to do to cope with it. I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s unconscious for me. Most of the time it doesn’t interfere with my functioning.
But, like my depression, my anxiety will occasionally flare up, sometimes for no identifiable reason.
That’s what happened this past week.
I was planning to spend a few days in Chicago. Aside from dinner with friends both nights, I was going to spend most of my short stay in my hotel room, writing. I was going to drive up there, leaving between eleven and noon, making my usual pit stop for gas and food, and get to my hotel right around check-in time. It’s been a few years since I’ve made the Chicago drive, but it’s one I’ve made often enough that I know it pretty well.
I anticipated a little anxiety. I usually have it on the Chicago drive. No big deal. I also anticipated my anxiety to spike when I got into the city, even though I knew my hotel was easy to find, just because driving in Chicago always makes me anxious. It has to do with not being exactly sure where I’m going and not wanting to look like an idiot.
I did not anticipate my anxiety being high when I woke up that morning. Coping slowed me up considerably and I ended up leaving later than I wanted to, but I left, reassuring myself that I’d be fine once I got on the road.
When I got to my pit stop, I still wasn’t fine. Normally, I get gas, go to the bathroom, grab something I can eat while I drive, and get back on the road as quickly as I can. This time, I lingered, eating in the parking lot, reluctant to resume my drive. But, I did, once again reassuring myself that I’d be fine.
By the time I got to Chicago, I was wound up tighter than three-day clock. I know I looked like a complete and total moron when it came to parking and checking in at the hotel, but I couldn’t stop myself from being anything but flustered. Failing to interact with fellow humans like a competent person did nothing to unwind that spring between my shoulder blades and by the time I got to my room, I just wanted to cry and then go home.
Instead, I chanted and coped and journaled and unwound that spring little by little. By the time I left for dinner, I was feeling better. The anxiety still had a weird edge to it, but it was back to what I think of as normal levels. And it stayed that way until it was time to check out.
I found myself once again lingering and I had to force myself out the door to the elevator because my need to not check out late is a serious drive. Once in the car, I programmed my phone’s GPS (even though I really didn’t need it), took a breath, and drove out of the parking lot. Anyone who might have seen me driving those few blocks through the city to I-90/I-94 or on that stretch of Interstate probably questioned my sanity (as well they should; sanity has never crossed my mind) because I talked to myself the whole time. Out loud, telling myself what a good girl I was, how good I was driving, how proud I was of me. A constant stream of praise that didn’t stop until I hit I-55 and felt “safe”.
Crazy? Sure. But it worked. I couldn’t hear my anxiety over all of the compliments. And because I couldn’t hear it, it couldn’t get the best of me. The drive home felt like every other drive home from Chicago, easy peasy.
Anyway, it’s not like my anxiety could complain.
I did take it to Chicago, after all.