Friday, June 27, 2008

I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

I’m quickly learning that one of the problems with blogging is that you’re accountable. But then, maybe that’s one of the reasons I started writing.

So, this week my husband was out of town for work. Grandma came to visit the first half of the week. The second half, I packed up my mini-van with 3 excited girls and we traveled about 90 miles to Grandma and Gramps’ house, which happens to be on the water.

About 4 or 5 years ago, I would get pretty anxious driving the highway route to her house that included two long, but low bridges. I worked on it first by driving with my husband as a passenger. Then I graduated to following Grandma’s car while I drove my own. And, finally, I took it on by myself (that is, me with the kids).

Just when I felt like it was no problem & couldn’t remember why it seemed so difficult, this particular town decided that they needed bigger bridges to let the passing cargo boats go through. “Dammit”, I said, “Why would they destroy those sweet little bridges? There’s no way I’ll ever drive over those huge monsters.” I was really irritated. Why would the town do that to me? ‘That’s fine, I really love the scenic views of the back roads’, I thought. ‘There’s no shame in driving that way.’

Well, over the past year I’ve driven over the new “monster” bridges with my husband riding as a passenger & cheerleader. It’s been predictable – real scary at first (I hate the ascent); then not so bad; and finally no big deal as long as someone was with me.

So, as Mom & I drove our separate cars this week she checked in.
“Which way do you want to go?”
“Let’s drive through the point.” I said.
“Wanna lead or follow?” she asked.
“I’ll lead.”
“Alright. See you there.”

As we approached the first bridge I felt a flutter of adrenaline, but it was alright & I felt good. But, my mind was already thinking of the return trip. I could always take the back roads and it would be no big deal. Then again, I’d started this blog and had been talking about facing your fears. Didn’t I just say that I didn’t avoid anything in my daily life anymore? Well, this route was not part of my daily life, but avoiding anxiety in general does tend to feed the beast.

Over the visit, the thought of crossing those bridges stayed with me, popping up here and there in the middle of otherwise fun events. This morning I woke up feeling anxious, but also feeling like I really had to do it. It was important not to run away. But, a chorus of voices offered differing points of view.

“You have to do it. Avoiding fear makes it grow exponentially.”
-Well, I don’t HAVE to, but the 2nd part really is true.

“Just take the back roads. It’s not big deal. We’ll be back next week & I can really take the time to practice and do it over and over again. That’s a good idea.”
-Sounds reasonable.

“Looks like rain. No one would expect me to drive over big bridges for the first time in bad weather.”
-True, but Gramps’ says the rain isn’t coming until much later.

“Then again, not doing it today will make it harder next week. What’s the difference. If you’re going to do it next week, why not today? Getting to the top of the bridge will take 30 seconds & it’s all downhill from there.”
-But what if I can’t. What if I have to stop on the bridge with my babies. (Insert image of kids crying on top of the bridge while I’m frozen with fear. Fast forward to images of them all in therapy because of me).
-Ok, in the 12 years I’ve been dealing with this crap, that’s never happened. In all my
experience and in all the books I’ve read, the thing you fear never happens. It’s a hoax. Am I going to let myself be tricked today?

“Do what will make you proud later today.”
-Alright, I’m still anxious, but bring it on.

As I packed my bags, I scribbled out a new coping card to carry with me. I looked over some notes from a pain coping class I’d taken as we prepared for baby #3 (the same philosophy that I teach to expectant parents -- I’ll post later about how amazingly similar childbirth support & prep are to working through the sensations of anxiety). "Looking good man, keep going" is from a sweet note my 8 yr. old made for me before her baby sister was born. You have to read Ina May to get the horse lips reference.

We began our drive. I looked at the faces of my sweet girls. They weren’t worried. Why should I be? I told them that we were going to drive through the point and over the new bridges. “Remember how Mommy’s been working on driving over those bridges? Will you help cheer me on like last time?”

Silence at first. Then a request for food. Then music. Finally I heard from the back, “Go Mommy Go!”

“Yeah! Ok, I wonder how many seconds it will take to get to the top of the bridge and then all the way over?” (I was thinking 30 seconds to the top, max). “Will you help me count?” They were sold. Now I had to work with anticipation.

As we drove the 30 miles it took to get there, I had some waves of adrenaline and visions of getting stuck on the bridge. I was still looking for a way out. I countered those unhelpful thoughts with mantra’s – I can do this. Up and over. Don’t fight it - that’s it. Lean into it. Watch the feelings go up and down. You are stronger than these sensations. I remembered uttering some of those same words, with compassion, to a powerful Mama in labor just last week.

3 miles to go. I called my husband for a little support and he didn’t answer (you needed to do it without me, he later said - which was true). I thought of my friend Melissa, who I teach with, as she leads parents through contractions and heard her voice, “Get up in the face of this sensation. Don’t look for a way out. Do it like your life depends on it!” It may sound dramatic, but my life does depend on it.

Now here’s a funny twist about anxiety for me & many others. The moment I saw the incline of the bridge, I felt relief. The anticipation was far worse – it always is.

I turned on Stevie Wonder (who helped get me through postpartum) and we counted to the beat of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. It took 22 "Stevie Seconds" to get to the top & I yelled out, “Woohoo!” out of relief, put one hand in the air and did a little dance. We kept counting – 46 seconds was how long it took in total. The second bridge was 21 seconds to the top and 64 total. I thought about how I could have not done this today, but I did. I felt proud.

The rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. I threw in a book on CD for the girls, they played peek-a-boo and entertained the baby, we talked about what the world would look like if we could create it ourselves. And, in small, but life changing ways, we can.


Sarah said...

You are such an inspiration to your girls who see you facing fears bravely. So many people think protecting our children from our struggles is the best way to parent, but our kids may be facing similar things as adults and will have the best possible role model. I love, love, love that you involve them and don't hide from them.
And go you with your bad self! Are these the bridges around West Point? I don't even have a terrible bridge thing (I used to have a tunnel thing) and I don't like those!

Daniel said...

What a beautiful story of courage and commitment to realizing your power. It's so tempting for me as a parent to pretend that the kids are unaware of my fears and insecurties. I admire that you share your worries with your children so openly and enlist their support. Seems like you're building some pretty sturdy bridges with your kids.

Anxiety Girl said...

Thanks! Talking to my kids has been a process. When I started getting back on the highways, after a little hiatus, I worried alot about what to tell them. First it was, "We're just all going for a little family drive." Then, I started saying, "Sometimes Mommy gets nervous on certain parts of the highway where it gets busy and sometimes on bridges. And, when I start feeling nervous, practicing helps me feel better. Aren't I a great driver with all this good practice?" At this point, they will request it if they're in the middle of a new book or want to hear a CD - "can't we drive just a little bit further?"

I'm hoping that talking about it on their level will help give them skills & a safe place to talk if they happen to get those family genes. :)

John said...

I've always hated bridges that arch up, and suddenly you lose the horizon. Last fall, I was driving alone to New Jersey and had forgotten that the Delaware River Bridge is the largest twin-span suspension bridge in the universe. I had thoughts heading north that I would get off before the bridge and find another way. And then suddenly there was the friggin' bridge and traffic was insane and I was stuck in the middle lane going up the arch at 70 miles an hour cursing over and over and over again out loud as the old familiar tingling made its way up my arms and legs. I had to pull over when I got across. And then I wisely found a different way home that -- surprise -- found me on a different curving arch bridge in Philadelphia during rush hour (and got me lost in Baltimore and NE DC twice). That second bridge in West Point still makes me a bit nervous -- I always ask Nikole if she doesn't want to stop for a McFlurry or something...

Anxiety Girl said...

Isn't it funny how sometimes we get just what we need? What a great story! I wonder if I'll ever get to the point where that losing the horizon is no big deal. My brother - same gene pool - says that he LOVES to be at the middle point on a bridge because he feels so free. Now that sounds crazy to me, but it's also an inspiration that it's all about perspective.

Let me know if you want to borrow Stevie Wonder the next time your family goes through West Point!