Anticipation is the worst when you have anxiety. You never expect things to go well. You picture the worst, and the worst you fantasize about is always over-the-top.
When my son lived at home and was late getting back from work, my first thought was not “I guess his shift ran late”. Instead, my brain would picture a car break down, my son getting out to check, and a truck running him over. I would imagine the police showing up, giving me the news. I’d imagine going to the hospital to identify the body, even though I’m not sure they do that. I’d picture the funeral home, the arrangements, the service. I’d see my family and friends there, trying to comfort me in my devastation. And, as my thoughts wound down that path, I’d feel it. I’d end up a weepy mess, and once I managed to pull myself out of my mental meanderings, I’d get angry with myself for the trip.
My son was always fine, as were my parents, my friends, my house, and anything else my anxiety decided to obsess over.
Anxiety makes you imagine the worst. Imagining a negative outcome is my default setting. The upside is I get to be pleasantly surprised when things work out.
Today, I’m pleasantly surprised.
I’m back from five days of camping and mostly, things went well, notwithstanding the fact that I reek of wood smoke even after showering and shampooing three times. It will take a few days for the smoke to dissipate. I remember that now.
The place I camped at was beautiful, as the pictures above and below demonstrate. The campsite is only an hour from my home but I live in British Columbia – the great outdoors is never far away.
We set up by a river. The constant rushing of the rapids, the bubbling of water over rocks created a lovely and consistent background noise that was very peaceful. My typing seems loud and irritating in comparison.
Across the river, a span of about twenty feet that you wouldn’t want to wade through unless you had a desire to be swept downstream, trees covered hills that gave way to mountains. It’s a relatively virgin forest and would be difficult to navigate but nonetheless, I wished I could make the trek and hike my way up to sit on the fields that dotted the peaks.
I sat and watched the water and the trees and the racing clouds and the leaping fish and a family of ducks that raced the rapids for hours on end and never got bored.
The weather wasn’t splendiferous, save for the last two days, but camping in the drizzle can be a fine time if you’ve tarps and shelters and a nice fire going, which we did.
I had some issues to be sure. My pre-trip anxiety got it right in a few areas. Eating was difficult. I eat according to a set and rigid schedule. That doesn’t play out well when vacationing with friends who are much more haphazard. I ended up utterly confused and stressed about how much I’d eaten and what I’d eaten and if I should eat again. Because my eating was messed up, I wasn’t as consistent with my meds as I should have been. I hope that decision doesn’t bit me in the ass.
Socializing had challenges. I don’t drink at home on any regular basis but one must keep up with the Jones’ so I sipped vodka coolers through the day. Day drinking is de rigeur when camping with my crew. Unfortunately, the drinking made my eating disorder concerned. How many calories are in each can? What kind of intake adjustment will you be making? I admit I made an effort to restrict and limit my portion size in response.
Camping also severed my daily routine. I knew it would; it was part of what fueled my anxious anticipation and made me contemplate not going.
My at-home pattern is rigid. I do the same things at the same time every day. A lot of these things involve my computer, or in a pinch, my phone. Camping meant all of that would be different. I didn’t even have cell service. I’d been warned about that but assumed it wouldn’t apply to me. Surely my phone would work; surely, I’d be able to get online?
No. I’ve been off the grid for five full days.
I learned a couple of things about my routine, that thing I engage in to keep me safe and on-track in my recovery. I learned that it’s stressful. It keeps dangerous impulses in check but it’s not soothing by any means. Sitting in a chair in the sun beside a roaring fire, listening to music and idly flipping through a magazine is soothing.
I also learned that I can change my routine and survive. I’ve been wanting to for some time but fear and anxiety held me back. What if letting go let me fall?
It took several days to get to a point where I felt easy, where I wasn’t pacing round the site and smoking my body weight. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ready to pack it all in and head home on day three. “Enough”, said my anxiety. “Enough”, said my eating disorder. “Go home. You don’t know what’s going on. Your emails are piling up. Current events are occurring with you. You’ve abandoned your responsibilities. Plus, you’re eating too much and you’ll get fat – there’s no exercise happening here at all. You can’t check in on the people in your life to make sure they’re okay and you can’t organize or fix anything and it’s all wrong and you need to go home, now.”
I didn’t and I’m proud of that. Of course, I didn’t have my vehicle but I didn’t even bring it up as an option. Didn’t make my friends talk me out of it. I stayed, and organized the tent til it was perfect and kept the picnic table tidy and gradually began to ease.
Long and deep conversations and periods of introspection helped, as did the “you’re okay” mantra I uttered.
And I am. I pushed through my anxiety this time, didn’t cave, didn’t let it take over, didn’t throw up in the forest – though I really wanted to – and had a good albeit smelly time. I was reminded just how much I like water and rivers and sunshine and forests.
They don’t fix everything but they do make me feel better. That’s something to remember as I work on a new morning routine, make some shifts in the way I’m living my life, and try to keep the lowered level of anxiety going.
I expected it to be difficult and long and challenging break. I expected fun because I enjoy my friends but I also expected it to be triggering. All of my expectations came true but there was more than that. I pushed through the anxiety and things ended up being fine. Good, even. Which just goes to show that anxiety-driven anticipation is often bullshit and should be taken with an enormous grain of salt.