The kids are on spring break here and yesterday I did my motherly duty and drove my teen and her friend to an amusement theme park (6 Flags Great Adventure) which is over 100 miles away. It was a day of fun and roller coasters for them with school freinds and a day completely alone for me.
I let the girls off at the front gate where they met up with more freinds and then I had 8 hours to kill all by myself.
I brought a book to read, but didn’t feel like hanging in the car or napping even though I was tired from working the day before. I ventured out in the surrounding area and found a few shopping centers nearby and did a lot of walking and browsing.
Isn’t it funny how when you’re not in your hometown, there is no fear and anxiety in stores, even being in long lines. I had a zero percent chance of running into anyone I might know and that made all potential anxiety melt completely away.
It was really enjoyable!
I was online buying spring bulbs at a Christmas Tree Shop (love Christmas Tree Shops!) and the family in front of me had 2 full cart loads of stuff to check out. They were also slow as snails. Normally this would irritate me, and if I was anxious, this would cause me to feel all boxed in and trapped and potentially panicky. But today it was smooth sailing.
I made sure to appreciate how good it felt to be on that line feeling so calm and happy. A little thing to some, but not to this recovering anxious person.
I also really enjoyed walking around in the nice mall I found and then treating myself to lunch in the food court, right in the midst of a lot of hustle and bustle. I made sure to sit smack dab in the middle of all the activity and really enjoy my salad and Snapple and surroundings.
And now about the ride…
6 Flags Great Adventure is located in Jackson, New Jersey. It was over 100 miles each way from my house. I don’t love driving on highways but I have taught myself not to be anxious and usually do pretty well. but highway driving around big cities is a whole other animal altogether.
The way down was a good ride, I have to say. The day was bright and sunny and although it was very crowded on the highway, I did just fine. I made a note of mentally patting myself on the back as I noticed the highway was mostly 4 lanes. This was New York City and Newark NJ rush hour traffic after all. There was even a stretch of a few miles where it was 7 lanes each way. No joke. And I had to be in the left (passing) lanes according to my GPS.
The passing lanes are the panic attack lanes. Everyone with driving anxiety knows that. Well as I said, on the way down it was no problem. I was really pinching myself at how calm I was and how successful I was doing. I mean I was very very alert, and I only had white knuckles about 4 times, and these incidents involved being cut off short and those huge wobbly tractor trailers that come thisclose to swiping your car as they whiz past you at a million miles an hour.
But I was clearly in control of my mind. I remember during one long stretch where all the traffic just coasted along and looking ahead and looking behind me and seeing bumper to bumper cars and thinking I’m in the left lane, how easy would it be to have a panic attack.
No freaking way dude, we are NOT going there…
I think the fact that I did so well on the drive down was part of the reason I had such a great day all alone waling around in those stores. I was on an emotional high. I also knew that we’d be driving home in the dark (which I do not like) and I was trying not to get freaked out about that.
We left the park at 6pm and the girls and I had to eat dinner, so we got on the road for good around 7pm. Dusk.
I do not like driving at dusk or in the dark. And by this time, I guess I had pretty much used up all my feel good driving moxy.
Driving home sucked. It was scary and congested. I don’t see as well in the dusk and that made me feel edgy and anxious as well. I realized I didn’t have my lights on and almost hit the ceiling. That reaction was a clue for how wound up I was. Damn.
By the time we were on that 7 lane stretch of highway, where I had to be in the passing lane, I did have a panic attack. My shoulders and neck were in a knot and I had a wave of freak out sensations and horrible thoughts. I thought I would suddenly lose control of the car. Meanwhile the aggressive commuter traffic is whizzing by me left and right non stop.
I desperately wanted to be in the right lane- there I could slow down, or even pull over if need be. But there was no way I could get there. Every lane was bumper to bumper and going about 70 mph.
It sucked, it was really really scary, but I had to remain safe of course. I stayed in my lane and let the wave of panic wash over me. I knew it would pass and die down. I knew that no matter what my crazy thoughts were telling me, I would NOT lose control. My precious daughter and her friend were my passengers after all.
So as the panic attack happened, I used the principles taught in the Anxiety Road Map: I remained laser focused on staying in my lane and just that. I was careful not to slam on the breaks even though that was the impulsive thought. I stayed in the moment, and did my very best to relax my muscles. I refused to entertain any negative freaky thoughts, even though it was hard.
So that panic attack passed and I continued driving like a quivering ball of jello. I did calm down and I was grateful. It stayed that way for a little while.
Until panic attack 2 struck. Basically the same thing happened again: I was stuck in the left lane with poor visibility and aggressive traffic front back and sides. I did the same thing and let it wash over me again, and it did pass again, thank God.
I remembered as the 2nd panic attack was happening something I read from the late Dr. Claire Weekes – this is the worst the anxiety can do. It can make me scared. It can’t hurt me. I am not in any real danger, I AM in control. This gave me comfort in the moment, even as the panic attack was coursing through my system.
By the time I rolled into our driveway last night around 9:30 pm about 300 miles later, I was mentally and physically exhausted. And very very grateful to be home.
My daughter came up to me as I was getting ready for bed and gave me a big hug.
“I love you Mommy, thank you for driving us today and staying there all day even though it was boring for you. You’re the best mom.”
You’re welcome sweetheart.
I wish you peace,