Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Scares You?

Put me on live TV and I'm calm as can be. Stick a needle in my arm and I won't look away. Need a giant bug removed from your bathtub? I'm your gal.

But put me behind the wheel headed to a never-before navigated destination and I am a wreck. Today I had to go to Westchester for work and while I was looking forward to a change of pace, I was, to say the least, anxious about the drive.

After a bad night's sleep, I spent a half-hour before the departure studying the directions on Google Maps, taking advantage of the photo feature to try to memorize what all the key turns looked like. There were things that didn't make sense - slight right towards 9A North, then slight left to 9A south for 354 feet, then right again to 9A. FDR, Harlem River Drive, Henry Hudson, Saw Mill, Hutch,684, many names, so many numbers. The over-preparation threw me into an even more nervous state.

I can't pinpoint what it is that freaks me out the most - fear of getting lost? crashing? wasting time? finding myself in a bad neighborhood? I think it's a general sense of being out of control - on a ride (did I mention I really don't like roller coasters) that's going too fast that you can't get off.

I got myself organized before taking off - seat nice and high (I marvel at people who drive with the seat reclined - driving is definitely a lean-forward activity for me), mirrors adjusted, water available, A/C at comfortable temperature, sandals off and sensible shoes on, directions to my right. Buzz Aldrin wasn't this prepared.

But despite of or because of it all - I was about five minutes into the trip when the heart pounding got really loud, my forearms felt tingly, and my grip was loosening on the steering wheel due to my sweaty palms. I felt a Tony Soprano moment coming on...the panic attack.

Panic attack sounds so dramatic though, and I'm always a minimizer versus a maximizer. Even when she screamed all day, I'd only describe the baby as fussy, never colicky. If my head feels like it's in a vise and I can't open one eye, that's a bad headache, not a migraine.

So, we'll just call it High Anxiety, but the older I get, the higher the anxiety about this. I had to talk myself down - "you're doing great, deep breaths,'s Mariah Carey, sing along, distract yourself." And I was doing great - I am actually a very good driver with an excellent driving record (to the three shell-shocked people in the backseat during my Highway Driving Class from Driver's Ed 1987 who experienced the emergency use of the passenger side brake, I assure you I have gotten much better over the last 23 years).

I thought of nothing other than the next step in my directions and calming myself down until I hit the Saw Mill Parkway and saw the cell phone tower about which I once remarked to my husband, "what an unusual tree," and have never lived it down. (If you will recall from a previous post, I am extremely near-sighted.) That made me laugh, which made me relax, and it was smooth sailing from that point on. Ride home was a breeze too - New York City is hard to miss, it's getting out of it that I find so daunting.

I don't want to become one of those older women with self-imposed driving restrictions - "I don't do Expressways - the trucks," "I don't do bridges," "I can't go through a tunnel," "I don't drive at night," but for my own mental health, I may have to.

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