Last night a good friend video called me from New Zealand. It was 9:30 p.m. in Denver, 5:30 p.m. in Wellington. I sat in bed under a thick down comforter with a cup of tea, while she was still wearing a striped summery top after just getting off work. Her hair was much longer than last time we Skyped — almost seven months ago — but the conversation picked up like we’d seen each other yesterday, as it always does.
We had a purpose for our call — to plan a trip for next summer. For almost a year we’ve talked about a backpacking/climbing adventure of some kind, evident by our Trello board filled with photographs of dream destinations like Patagonia, the Yukon, Peru, Norway, links to relevant must-read books and must-see movies, and potential dates.
It took us about five minutes to decide. Greece, August and September 2017. It will take some planning and a lot of saving, but we are confident and thrilled. I stayed up until 1 a.m., lying restlessly in bed, reaching for the phone to text her every time I pictured us high on the monoliths of Meteora, deep water soloing over teal Mediterranean waters, exploring the country’s ruins, and eating our weight in Baklava and fresh olives.
Then. Came the anxiety.
How am I going to afford rent and this trip? Could I end the lease and live in my van for the summer to save money? I pictured parking in someone’s driveway or out in the woods alone, driving up the coast and maybe spending the summer in Squamish.
The anxiety kept building. I remembered the loneliness, the depression and anxiety, the stress of running my business on the road, the yearning for community — for some kind of rooting and space that felt safe.
I became mad. Mad at myself and the universe for coming back to this feeling I’ve felt so many times before.. paralyzing anxiety. When will this be over? When will the stress go away for good? What will it take?
I fully reverted to crisis mode — the way I’d existed almost the entire time in the van. I began sussing out details in my spinning mind, still in the dark on my bed alone. My breath quickened and I tossed back and forth. Eventually I fell asleep, but in the morning the same nagging fear greedily grabbed at my heart.
I made a pot of coffee and sat on my bed and cried, disappointed that I again arrived at this place — not knowing what to do, frozen by anxiety and fear, worried about being alone on the road again and feeling lost and sad.
That’s when I realized it doesn’t have to be this way. Just like in climbing, the fear will never go away. And it’s silly to think that one day it will. Instead, to move forward and fully be in any experience, you have to shift perspective.
Anxiety, stress, fear — those feelings will always surface as long as you are growing, reflecting.. living. And that’s a good thing. Maybe if I saw these emotions as a marker for evolution I could be less traumatized by them.
Instead of the goal being to rid myself of fear and anxiety, what if I instead tried to diminish its effects, finding healthy ways to cope and feel the feelings, fully aware that as long as I am alive, there will be discomfort at some point?
Stress isn’t special.
Isn’t that a relief? Remember that every time fear or anxiety peaks into your consciousness. Instead of panicking, greet it like an old acquaintance. Oh, you again. Okay, how can we work together this time? Maybe then, when we can be compassionately accepting of its presence, we will actually begin to strip it of its power.