Vacations are meant to be relaxing, but no matter where I went, or who I was with, I could never relax. I was too busy mentally preparing for a million worst case scenarios. I worried I’d forget something important when packing, then that the plane would crash, then that my kids would get sick, I’d get lost, I wouldn’t know how to use the transit system, I’d lose my debit card, my kids would be abducted, or my Uber driver will kill me. I could go on, but I think you get what I’m saying.
That may seem pretty intense, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to anxiety. That string of irrational worry is merely a moment in the mind of someone with anxiety. We can’t relax, because we are constantly bracing for the worst-case scenario, even when we aren’t sure what it is.
Being anxious is exhausting, and I would often end the day with a tension headache. There is no such thing as vacation for an anxious mind; it’s just the feeling of impending doom in a different location. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woke from a dead sleep in a hotel room, on the verge of a panic attack, worrying about God knows what. The list is long and largely improbable, but irrationality and improbability are basically the norm for someone like me.
It’s easy to see just how bad my anxiety was from this vantage point, because a little over a year ago, I finally addressed the monster in my mind. Now, I take a long-acting medication to control my anxiety, and I can’t tell you how different my life is. I truly thought I had my anxiety under control. I thought my lists, my processes, my coping skills were working, but OMG I WAS SO WRONG.
There are a million little things that have changed for the better now that I’ve addressed my anxiety, but putting them all into words is challenging. I’m more relaxed. I’m not constantly teetering on the edge of a cliff, wondering if this will be the moment I lose my footing. I’m not constantly considering the what ifs, and developing a plan just in case. I’m able to breathe, and to relax.
Last week, my family went on vacation for the first time since I started my medication. I packed the night before we left, which I never would have done before—my anxiety wouldn’t have allowed it. I would have made numerous packing lists, and started packing no less than a week in advance. I would have gone over the lists repeatedly to make sure nothing was missed. But not this time.
This time, I read a whole book while I was at the pool with my family. Before, I couldn’t focus on the words. I was too worried my kids would drown, despite the lifeguard, my husband’s supervision, and the life jackets they were wearing. But this time, I got lost in a great book while my husband and the kids played Marco Polo.
This time was different—this time it was actually a vacation. I didn’t worry about our plane crashing, or getting lost on the way to the resort. I didn’t panic in crowded spaces, or obsess about every little detail. In fact, I forgot to pack my daughter’s pajamas and my flip flops, but it wasn’t a big deal at all—like it would have been before. It didn’t ruin the whole vacation or even cause a hiccup. My daughter wore one of my t-shirts to bed, and I ordered some flip flops from Amazon Prime Now. It was totally fine. Oh, and I did lose my debit card, like I always feared I would, and again, I just dealt with it.
The ability to deal with a problem and not let panic consume you is something I didn’t realize was possible, but now that I know, I’m never going back. It turns out, vacation — and life — can actually be relaxing. Who knew?