The Longest Drive

I’m doing it again.

I’m waiting for perfection.

I haven’t blogged as near as much as I’ve wanted to, and besides lack of time (or reaching for the glass and wine and a blanket instead of the laptop) there’s really no good reason not to be writing more frequently. I’m beginning to think, however, that this pesky little perfectionist in me may have something to do with it.

I keep waiting for the perfect thing to write about, edit it a hundred times, and then finally put it out there. When it’s perfect.  Didn’t I promise transparency, though? Didn’t I tell you to give yourself grace and embrace your imperfections? Looks like I need to start taking my own advice.

I started following a blog recently, and the author posted a new goal of trying to blog everyday. Everyday! I can barely put make-up on everyday. Today I didn’t even get dressed until almost 11am (not that I wasn’t super productive though…it’s amazing how many household chores you can get done in your pj’s! And thank goodness no one can see my glorious outfits in morning carpool line!!).

I’ve accomplished some pretty noteworthy things in the past few months, and I have hardly written a thing about them. Why?! Part of me thinks no one really wants to read about it. That’s the other pesky friend in my head, the low self-worth one. She’s just hanging out up there with little Miss Perfect, having a cocktail and scheming away and how to rob me of a full, content life. Sorry ladies, time for last call.

In the spirit of celebrating my accomplishments, I am determined to write about my drive yesterday. I took the longest drive with the kids I’ve ever done…7 hours from Destin to Kennesaw by myself. BY MYSELF!!!!! As I traversed those long, seemingly endless stretches of highway, I thought, I need to blog about this!  Yet those snarky frenemies in my head started inflicting doubt. It’s just a boring drive. Why would people want to read about that? People drive all the time. They don’t want to read about it. 

So I didn’t take to the keyboard, although I was fresh off reaching this huge goal and teeming with disbelief and pride.  It was partially out of pure exhaustion that I failed to capture the moment in words…I’d driven the farthest I had been in about 10 years, and I still had to unpack and put the kids to bed without a husband. The wine and cozy blanket were the clear winners.

Here I am though. I’m going to write about this, damn it! Sure, my kids are yelling at me from downstairs and I should be starting dinner, but they will survive a few more measly minutes. I can at least get started and stop if they start beating each other up. Clock is ticking.

While I ruminated on whether anyone would want to read about a boring drive home from the beach, I had a thought. When I first started grappling with this anxious driving business, I was desperate for answers, advice…anything to proove that I wasn’t alone in this. Enter the smart phone. I Googled driving anxiety, then searched and searched for someone with a similar story. There were some forums here and there, some technical psychology sites, links to this and that; I did read some snip-its of similar experiences, but nothing that I could really connect with. I ended up finding an anxiety Facebook group, so I put a couple of posts out there and waited. I needed support and reassurance. The most poignant response I received was from a woman who had just started driving on the highway again, after 20 years. In my reply, I remember asking her how she did it? She mentioned that it took a great support group and lots of courage. That’s one of the trickiest parts of recovering from the grips of paralyzing fear…there’s no clear answer. No one size fits all. But we crave a sense of community, a support group of our own, for whatever we may need. We cannot do it alone.

This is why I write. Because maybe there’s that one person, who was like me 6 or 7 years ago, desperately searching for a common thread, for a link to a glimmer of hope. Someone out there needs me. More than likely, it’s several someones.

Back to the drive. I have said for years, one day I want to be able to drive my kids to the beach. It has been a goal for so, so long. I really am still in disbelief that I actually did it. I’m like that though, slow to react; I kind of go into shock until reality sets in. Anyway, the opportunity kind of just presented itself unexpectedly.

We took a family trip down to Ft. Walton Beach, right outside of Destin, FL. I was so excited that Jason could finally join us; he is so hard to pin down with his work schedule. When we arrived I realized that it was booked until Monday, and we had planned to come back Sunday. By the time Saturday evening rolled around, Jason made a suggestion; what if he flew home (he had an international flight he had to catch the next day) and I drove the kids home? Then we could stay an extra day.

Could you do it? he asked.

Pause.

This is where the fear wants to control you. You hesitate, you start to make excuses, you try to find every reason not to face your fear. Jack has school. I really miss my bed. I don’t know if the kids can ingest another meal of popcorn shrimp. But I knew better.  Here was an opportunity. Not only to extend our wonderful, priceless family time, but to practice. To take the fear head on. I did not pause for long this time.

Yes. 

Yes! Challenge accepted. Was I really going to do it? Then Jason went ahead and booked his flight. It was done. I was in.

Yes. This is why we needed another day.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t even that worried. Usually, the anticipatory anxiety would fester and build until I was a hot mess of nerves. But we just enjoyed our last day of glorious beach vacation time, sipped frozen drinks while our kids played in the pool (side note: the day when both your children can swim unassisted in a pool is AH-MAZING!!!), Jason flew out, I enjoyed another frozen pool drink, we watched the sunset from the beach, swam until dark, ordered a pizza, and called it a day. I even slept like a rock. It wasn’t until the next day that my nerves started acting up on me.

Looking back, I think that packing the entire condo up into the truck while you are alone with two kids and a dog was maybe more annoying than the entire drive, but thanks to the trusty old iPads, I got the job done.  So we all strapped into the F150 (Jason’s car, since mine was at home) and I started taking deep breaths. This is it. I have to do this. 

I find necessity to be a very helpful motivator. There was only one way home, and I was it. But I was nervous. I adjusted my seat belt. I entered the address in Google Maps and dissected each possible route.  I ate a protein bar. Mom, I’m ready to go! My son was clearly not in the mood for stall tactics. Time to go.

I decided to take a different way then how we came in, really only for old time’s sake. Back in high school and college I could drive to Destin with my eyes closed, we came down so many times. I can still see myself, driving in my white ’88 Honda Accord, windows down, music blasting, usually a best friend or two riding along. I used to put the car in cruise control and drive Indian-style, for goodness sakes. Please Lord don’t let my kids ever do that. There were no smart phones, no navigation systems; it was just me, a road atlas and a Sony Walkman CD player that would play through the stereo via cassette tape. Free as a bird (and probably listening to Free Bird).

So I started on the route, reminiscing over familiar sights and smells, noticing changes here and there, but mostly enjoying the scenery.

Until I came to the bridge.

The Mid-Bay Bridge seemed familiar, I’m pretty sure this was the route we used to take into Destin back in the day. These days, however, bridges are not my friend. As part of my anxiety I suffer from agoraphobia, which is a fear of being trapped or stuck in an enclosed space. A bridge leaves no room for error. I must maintain complete control and competence on a bridge.

There was a girl in college with me that was deathly afraid of bridges. I was with her once when she had to cross a bridge, and people had to literally hold her hand to help her across. I remember thinking that was crazy. How could you be scared of a bridge? I know now. I think of her all the time. Crazy how things can change.

I glance at the navigation map…wow, that’s a long bridge. I must maintain myself for how long? The impulsive thoughts come quickly…should I turn around? Should I reroute? Can I pull over if I need to? Can I do this?!

Yes. I can do this.

It is not a walk in the park. I take deep breaths. I try to control the AC so that it’s just perfect. I prepare to be uncomfortable. And then…I’m driving over the bridge. Guess what? I just go with it. Then, I turn the moment from dread into complete wonderment.

Look at the water guys! (They are engrossed in the iPads at this point) Put your iPads down!!! Look at the sailboat! Look at that pelican on the pole! Say goodbye to the ocean, guys!

This is the good stuff. The good that is happening in the moment. I declare the goodness out loud, and flush away the negative. Then, just like that, we are over the bridge.

Getting over that bridge seemed to be the push I needed to make it through the rest of the trip. After that, it was smooth sailing. The small highways didn’t look all that familiar; I’m pretty sure there were some new ones built in the 15 years since I’d driven down here. There were some pretty sketchy, remote areas (at one point the road didn’t even register on the map), but most of the route was straightforward. In the past I never had anxiety about being lost; I always considered myself having a decent sense of direction. We drove through a couple of rain storms, had to let the dog out to pee on the side of the road, then Jack had to go (which resulted in stepping in an ant hill, which he was quick to brush off, but then decided he would stick it to the ants by peeing on them). We hit up two Love’s truck stops (which were eerily similar and packed with way too many tempting kids toys), stuffed our faces with McDonalds and Pringles. We listened to Katy Perry on repeat (per Allie’s request) and laughed at Bear when he got his head stuck in the Happy Meal box scavenging for rogue french fries. Jack had a timer set on his phone to track how long it would take us to get home, but he still kept asking.

Mama, how many minutes are in 2 1/2 hours?? After many appeasing answers, I finally responded with, I can’t do math in the car. 

On I-10
Off the map!
She wore this the whole way home. My hero.

We actually had a decent time. The kids were great. Again, thank you Apple. We had a lot of laughs. I had a lot of time to think. I sang a lot of Katy Perry. But what I didn’t have a lot of, was fear.

Every mile, every second, every hour, was another step. A step towards freedom. I was building on this experience and coming out stronger because of it.

I did stall again, however, as I approached I-85. What had been simple, two lane divided highways for most of the trip were bound to end once we inched closer to downtown Atlanta. I stopped at the end of the smaller route 185 to get gas, clean out the car, let the dog pee…putting off the inevitable. Unless I wanted to add an extra couple of hours to the trip, I had to push on.

So on I went. The kids were getting a bit antsy into hour 6, and I couldn’t blame them. More motivation to take the fastest route…and the most intimidating. Three lanes turned into four, five, and finally I was in the middle of the eight lane connector. This was the stuff I had only reserved for my nightmares, and all of a sudden I was slap in the middle of it. But I was calm. I had to work at it, but I remained that way. As I hit rush-hour traffic in downtown (fabulous timing, I know), I realized that I could hop over to the HOV lane (yes, I Googled it and kids do count), but it was all the way over to the left. Much like the bridge I had feared earlier, the left lane is not my friend either. But I was ready to get through this as fast as I could if it meant getting home quicker. So over I went.

The big, scary connector up ahead.
At least Bear is relaxed!

I got some dirty looks (at one point I rolled the windows down so the kids were a bit more visible), but the HOV lane sped my commute up immensely. Next thing you know, I’m on 75 north, cruising with the rush hour crowd like it’s no big deal. I got this. I pull in the driveway and want to kiss the ground. Home. I’m exhausted. The car smells like stinky dog, sweaty kids and chicken nuggets. But we made it. I did it.

If the me from 6 years ago could read this, I’d be in shock. I wouldn’t believe it. It would be impossible to fast-forward through years of crippling fear and doubt to realize that a moment like this could exist. But what that younger, more fearful, broken me would see, is that there is hope. That fear does not win in the end. The the steps are small and painfully slow. Sometimes there will even be steps backwards, but there is hope in the end. There is always hope. No one can get you there but yourself, but you also cannot do it alone.

I met with a friend not long ago who specializes in natural healing and helps patients with anxiety, and had overcome it herself. As I explained the many outlets and paths I had been taking to find an answer somewhere out in the universe, she said something that will always resonate with me.

The answer is in YOU. You have everything you need right there, inside you. 

I finally believe her. I knew she was right, even then, but like all things in life, sometimes it takes the gift of time and wisdom to see what’s right in front of us…what’s been within reach the entire time. One day, I promise, you will be able to just reach up and grab it. And when you do, hold on. Hold on tight.

And by all means, freaking celebrate it.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Longest Drive

  1. I’ve been writing about my driving fear….looks like we live near each other. I have trouble driving from Dallas to Marietta. I have driven to the city many times and each time I panic. I am learning how to take each successful trip and reminding myself that I made it. Like you, I used to drive long distances with just a map and loved it. I did most of my thinking that way. I even got very lost and never batted an eye. It took me an extra hour to get home but I didn’t stress over it. Today? Just going to the Publix creates a bit of anxiety. My therapist suggested exposure therapy. When she suggested it, I wasn’t ready. I’m ready now and I make myself take longer and longer trips. I’m not sure I would be comfortable making it all the way to the beach, though. Good for you! One success down!

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  2. Hi neighbor! If you had asked me a few months if I would be able to make that drive from the beach I would’ve told you you were crazy. I am still in disbelief, really. There was a point where I could barely drive to work. Where certain stop lights and intersections and even the weather would make me avoid driving at all. After kids it was 100 times worse. I think it was a combination of going off of my birth control, weaning off of a previous anxiety/depression med, and learning the correct way to be mindful when dealing with my anxiety. I had to practice, during exposure therapy (which sucked!!!!!!), on not fighting the anxiety, but actually welcoming it as an observer and realizing that it would pass. The more I practiced with this mindset, the smaller the anxiety became. It was really, really, really hard. I am nowhere near done, but I can’t believe the strides I’ve made. Good for you for driving longer stretches! Have you read the Panic Attack Workbook? It helped me so much. I’m telling you, learning to invite your anxiety in instead of fighting with it was a game-changer. Best of luck to you! Maybe we will pass eachother on the road one of these days!

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