My Anxiety Often Makes Me Say 'No' — Today I Said 'Yes'

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
Close-up of a woman laughing, covering her mouth with her hand.

Most of us have that friend — the one who knew you when. When you were a scrawny little kid with thick glasses and braces. Who saved you from a summer of sitting by yourself while the other kids did fun kid things. Or, at least I have a friend like that. And two years ago, she and her family moved from New York City to London, with the understanding that they’d be back to visit for one month every summer.

Then COVID happened. They missed their visit back to the states. They missed their next planned trip, too.

Finally, thanks to vaccines (yay science!) and testing, they were able to fly back this summer for that month-long visit.

Then, summer does what it always does and sped past. Suddenly, she had only a few days left in New York, and we’d only seen each other once. There were no hard feelings on either end about our limited time together. For her, she’d been on a whirlwind tour of family and friends. After two years, a lot of people understandably wanted to get their face time in. For me, I’ve been on a whirlwind life re-building mission since my husband died three years ago and always seem to have too much to do and not enough hours to do it in. We both understood.

Then she mentioned she was free on Wednesday. I was free after 11. The scheduling stars had aligned.

She said, “Come into the city. We’ll make a day!”

My body reacted before my mind. A tensing and a heat and a feeling like I needed to hold onto my chair because the ground wasn’t stable beneath me. Hello, anxiety.

My initial answer was “no.” I told my friend I so badly wanted to spend more time with her, but my anxiety roared to life at the thought of going into the city. In the past I might have thought of an excuse to explain my “no” — my work schedule, the dog, a deadline, but I’m too widowed for excuses and she’s too good of a friend, who knows me too well.

She understood. After another minute, I told her I’d sit with it and let her know.

Often my anxiety makes me say “no.” That’s been true for a while, but since becoming a young widow, that instinct to say “no” is stronger. I learned the hard way that the universe can be dangerous. I learned the bigger and happier your life is, the more there is to lose when it’s ripped away. Small and contained within my comfort zone feels safe. I learned to give myself grace for all the times I say “no” when I should say “yes” because I’m a work in progress.

I spent the night mulling over my “no.” If I didn’t see her this time, it’d be at least another year. So much could happen in a year. Since becoming a young widow, I’ve learned that, too. I’ve learned I don’t want to regret. I know regret and I know that when it gets a hold on you, it doesn’t easily let go.

I decided to examine the reasons my mind was screaming “no” and respond to each of them. If even one seemed insurmountable, I’d hold my “no.” I’d give my “no” grace.

There was transportation to consider. Most times, I use public transportation into the city. This time, it wasn’t available. I had to drive. Driving in New York City is — to put it mildly — an experience. Taxis dart across lanes to pick up fares, pedestrians cross as if they’re in a game of Frogger, and cyclists appear from seemingly nowhere. There are traffic lights and double-parked trucks and random potholes with steam coming out. But I needed to give myself some credit. I’ve done that drive before. It’s stressful, but I know what to expect. I know how to navigate it all safely. A two-year pandemic hiatus didn’t change that.

Then, there was traffic to consider. I wasn’t leaving until after morning rush hour. I could control the time I left and plan to leave before true evening rush hour. Also, I reasoned with myself, even if I got stuck in traffic, I’d be okay. I’d be home a little later than I’d intended, but that’s all that would happen. My kids wouldn’t be home waiting for me. The house wouldn’t collapse. My dog would probably be extra antsy for company, but nothing an ultra-long walk and treat once I got home wouldn’t fix.

Next up — parking. I panic just thinking about parking in the city. It’s a hard no for me. Parking lots are expensive, and not all that easy to enter or exit. But, what if I took parking out of the equation this time? What if I gave myself permission to splurge and park in a lot for a few hours? It was a one-time cost for a visit that was two years too late.

Finally — the loudest concern: the city is outside my comfort zone. I’m safe in my neighborhood, in the life I’ve created here. It feels like there’s a degree of control. The hard truth is though: that’s a mirage. Even in the little life I’ve carved out for myself, the bad thing can happen. There is so much out of my control, even in my comfort zone.

Ultimately the decision came down to this thought. When Wednesday bleeds into Thursday, will I be disappointed in myself? Will the worries loom as large as the regret?

I called my friend and said “yes.”

The trip wasn’t smooth. About three minutes after I merged onto the highway, the sky darkened. A torrential downpour started. My windshield wipers worked overtime and I still could see little more than red tail lights. My Apple Watch registered eighteen minutes of exercise because my heart was pounding so fast.

It was a summer storm and cleared quickly.

On the way out, traffic built up fast. Waze took me on a route that had me navigating all of city traffic. That earned me another seven minutes of heart-pounding according to my Apple Watch.

But in between, I spent time with my oldest friend, had lunch outside and walked along the water and shared the parts of our lives that got lost in translation when talking exclusively over phone and text for two years. In between, I had a day that made my entire soul feel brighter, like it had been recharged.

I don’t know that I’ll start saying “yes” more than “no.” One positive experience won’t cure that streak of anxiety. But maybe once in a while, it’ll be a reminder that I can say “yes” when my anxiety wants to say “no” because my anxiety doesn’t always know what’s best.

And for what it’s worth, my dog was happy to have her additional snack and extra-long walk when I got home.

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