Anxious Brains Can’t Pack

by @ReinaAnnie

Untreated anxiety is like a walk in the park—if that park is full of ravenous gators and you’re a cowering dead meat chihuahua.

<Unrelated, 10 years ago an ex-boyfriend and I were off-roading in his rigged up 1984 Bronco (I was so much cooler back when I drank) in the Sierra Hills not that far from civilization and this podunk-wished-he-was-a-militia man appeared out of nowhere on the dirt road, one knee down, his rifle sighted on us while his tan duster flapped in the breeze, encouraging us to halt our forward progress. We were trying to take the situation seriously but it was funny, this turkey playing G.I. Joe in the wilds of California. When we slowed and he walked the 30 yards to the Bronco, rifle pointing at us through the windshield, and asked, “what the hell are you doing out here, boy.” We reported we were joy-riding and he shared “you best get off this property right now…or you’re dead meat!” And he was dead serious. But everyone knows you can never take anyone serious if they use the term “dead meat” as a real threat and they are no longer in kindergarten. Even then it’s mockable. So I stayed silent, eyes straight ahead, because I didn’t want to test his short range shot by laughing in his face so my ex, with as straight a face as possible, said, “you got it, buddy,” and we sailed off, crying with laughter.>

Tangent aside, untreated anxiety is the pits. I didn’t know until I knew that it is really nice not to have a crazed metal cage around my brain where I over-examine each option, meticulously weigh each possible outcome of each possible situation and try my best to be prepared for what might possibly come so my overstimulated brain can feel safe. Fortunately, four years ago I surrendered to SSRIs and it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever done. That said, until then, packing for travel was goddamn hard.

Untreated anxiety presented as the afflicted (me) methodically (obsessively?) placing prepared outfits in layered stacks around (an overly large) suitcase (suitable for a family of gymnasts to call home) for weeks prior to a four day trip. When that became too overwhelming, the solution—I handily surmised with my wild brain—was to create an OCD-level excel spreadsheet with columns for Bottom, Top, Accessories, and Shoes for each day of the week and then break down each day and clothing category into sub-columns based on that day’s activities. Reasonably I needed to be prepared with three outfits for each day. There was cross color-coding and symbols and pivot tables. It was like giving an insanely hyper cat a quad shot of espresso. There’s a case to be made for being organized (let’s hear it for the hot tips in ladies’ mags!) but giving a bottle of whiskey to an alcoholic isn’t helpful and giving myself an excel spreadsheet to obsess about outfits was tops on bad ideas. I’d share the fact of my packing strategy with *normal* people, making a self-deprecating joke, secretly sussing out the weirdness level of my behavior. We’d have a laugh but I knew that something was Not Right.

It takes time for the nervous system to settle down after being in a hyper-adrenaline* state for too many years. My anxiety had grown neck and neck with my drinking, but when the drinking had to go in my early 30s, it was just me and my brain and my sky high anxiety and no buffer. For three long years after I put down booze I resisted the idea that I, me! with my special sparkle and unique glow! would take a pill each day that would ostensibly change my brain. Never mind all that whiskey I swilled for years. That was different. When I finally buckled to getting medical assistance, it was like that metal cage gripping my brain got unlocked. Small tasks became small tasks again.

But it’s not like—suddenly—I could pack, with carefree ease. That slow settling of my nervous system was a slow, slow burn. Soft openings of non-chaos that came with time, meditation, and practice.

Right now I’m packing for 3 weeks in Copenhagen. I still have shit laid out in sections on the floor surrounding my (more reasonably sized) suitcase, but no spreadsheet, it’s only 1.5 days until we fly, AND best of all, I’m not obsessively trying to pack for every possible scenario, in a panic I might not have the right jacket, as a way to bring order to my racing brain. In fact, I’m kind of not worried about it at all. Things are looking up.

 

 

 

*Totally not a doctor, but I adore Stating Facts that make sense to my life.

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