I have been fortunate over the past 20 years because I’ve been able to vacation each year, something that always filled me with excitement, especially during the planning phase. This all changed when I hit the lovely age of 50. Is 50 some type of magical number for change in many aspects?
I’ve planned a road trip to Colorado with my husband and we will be leaving in May. As I began to plan our trip my intrusive thoughts decided to visit. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) along with panic disorder, which is not uncommon when a person has GAD. Intrusive or Obsessive thoughts are not uncommon with GAD. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts, irrational at times and frustrating as hell. The thoughts are frustrating because they lead to more thoughts and take all the fun out of planning not to mention the idea of leaving.
We decided to do a road trip because I also have a fear of flying, go figure! I’m not too anxious about the road trip because it will be just me and my husband. My husband has become informed over the years about my illness and has a lot of patience with me. I feel in complete control when we drive together. I’m extremely thankful that he has taken the time to learn more about my illness and try his best to understand me.
So, what’s the problem you ask?
I worry about waking up early enough for one. After all, we are on vacation and it sucks to sleep half your day away when there is so much to see. I have a very hard time falling asleep before 4 am and an even harder time waking up before 11 am when I’m at home. I begin to think of my horrible sleeping habits and how I’m going to affect not just my husband but those around me once we arrive in Colorado. We are going to see my son, his wife and our grandchildren. My son and his family get up early, just as I used to when I had kids at home. They also want to take us to many beautiful places while we visit and of course, I obsess over the idea of not being in control before we leave. I should be excited that I have grown children who love spending time with us. Don’t get me wrong, the rational person in me is thrilled but my anxiety over-rides rationale. The increase in my anxiety has led to an increase in panic attacks.
If I don’t get enough sleep, I feel very sick, moody, shaky and I tend to have vertigo or feel dizzy for most of the day. My mind already began dwelling on the ‘what if’s.’ What if they plan an outing without running it by me and we need to get up early, oh shit… I’m not sure I can do it. What if they plan to go somewhere I’m just not comfortable, great… a panic attack may set in. What if they get upset with me because I can’t just suck it up and have fun? What if I say no, this won’t work for me, I’d rather hang out at the home today? What if I share with them that 11 am is just too early for me and I’d appreciate it if we could leave around 1 pm? These are just a ‘few’ thoughts that race through my mind constantly. Who wants to disappoint their children or grandchildren? What if I disappoint my kids and grandchildren? My stomach has butterflies and my heart is racing while I write about a few of the ‘what if’s’ that travel through my mind quite frequently before we leave for vacation. Can you see what is transpiring, a sequence of events which eventually affect the physical body as well. Mental health and physical health are intertwined.
I met with my Counselor Today
I shared my fears with my Counselor and he told me to be honest about my needs. He reminded me that young children are very accepting and non-judgmental.
My Counselor suggested that I may want my husband to talk to my family in order to reinforce that Anxiety Disorder is real and people need to show compassion along with being accommodating of my needs. Sometimes we need a family member to step in and remind those we love that anxiety disorder is real and it hurts the sufferer much more than those around them.
My counselor suggested with the help of my husband that we control our time and what it is we feel comfortable doing without making excuses. My Counselor also reminded me that it’s OK to do things that kids may not always find exciting because it teaches them that life isn’t all about them and it also teaches them respect for their elders. Of course, my Counselor wasn’t suggesting that we don’t do fun things with the kids, balance is the key.
My Counselor reminded me it’s okay to say no if I’m not comfortable with doing something. An example- we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park a few years ago and got out of the vehicle at about 11,500 ft. It was a beautiful drive and so was the area we stopped the vehicle. I was excited to roam and experience the splendid views. As soon as I got out of the vehicle I became dizzy and extremely nauseated. I had elevation sickness. My son thought I was just car sick. No, I wasn’t car sick or I would have felt ill while driving. I had to sit on a rock while they wandered off. I remember a few women walking by me and asking, “Honey, are you okay?” I said yes, I’m fine. The women said, “You don’t look Okay, you’re as white as a ghost.” When everyone returned from their short hike, they said we were going to drive all the way up the mountain which was 14, 700 ft above elevation. I relayed that I couldn’t do it because I already had elevation sickness. At that time I could feel the annoyance and that everyone felt I was over-reacting and just ‘anxious.’ I had to beg and we ended up driving down the mountain a bit and we found waterfalls streaming down large rocks and boulders. We pulled over and got out at 9500 ft, I felt just fine! It wasn’t my imagination but I must admit, I believe the elevation sickness along with worrying about upsetting everyone set off a panic attack. I don’t want to be put in a position like this again, so I need to remember, it’s okay to say no.
A few other suggestions my Counselor gave me– Take some audio books to listen to while in the car. Remember to try and focus on the day at hand. Stay centered in ‘today.’ Focus on our road trip on the way down, since I am excited about seeing a few places we’ve yet to see.
Most importantly, my Counselor reminded me to not worry about what others think but to remember that I’m loved and my family will accept me as I am much easier if I can accept myself.
One last note: It really does help to have a loved one speak on your behalf if others don’t quite understand Anxiety and Panic disorder, it validates the fact that it is real.
In all honesty, I’m absolutely looking forward to our trip and I have 2 more appointments with my Counselor before we leave. I think I’ve got this!
Originally published at medium.com