My Anxiety Journey
For those of you who don’t know me that well or are just now reading this blog, I have had anxiety since I was five years old. As an adult, I traced it back to a trip my parents took a month after 9/11. They were traveling by plane and I thought this meant there was a high likelihood that they would die and never return from their trip. Because I had heard what happened on September 11th from my family, from the news, from friends, from school. It was the first time something truly horrible happened in my life that I was old enough to remember and impossible for my parents to shield me from.
After 9/11, I started to have separation anxiety whenever I was away from my parents. Whenever they went on a date and left us with a babysitter or I went to a sleepover, I was usually fine until bedtime and that’s when the anxiety would hit. I had no idea what it was at the time, so it generally manifested itself physically and I would feel sick to my stomach. It wasn’t as bad if my brothers were there, so at one point I moved into their bedroom for awhile and the three of us shared a room.
Over time, I learned how to overcome this and, at the very least, “make it through the night”. That’s what my mom said when I called her crying, begging her to pick me up from a trip with a friend in Canada (yes, Canada). She’d say, “You just have to make it through the night.”
It became easier to stay at home while my parents were gone, because at least I had the same routine, so when they went on trips, one of the grandparents would usually stay with us. If we stayed at one of the grandparents’ houses, my brother and I shared a bed (and eventually all 3 of us shared a bed, once Christopher was born). If all else failed and I couldn’t sleep, I’d climb into bed with the grandparents. In middle school, I slept over at my friend Stephanie’s house enough times that I started to feel pretty comfortable (plus, half the time we stayed up till 4am so it didn’t matter if I couldn’t sleep). My mom chaperoned most field trips and swim meets and even if she wasn’t in the room with me, I knew she was close.
This continued to be a challenge even when I graduated high school. Part of me really wanted to go away to college, and part of me wanted to go to the local community college so I could live at home. My decision ended up being mostly a financial one. Going to Portland State allowed me to live at home and save astronomical amounts of money, but it was a plus being able to stay at home because I didn’t have to deal with the anxiety of “leaving the nest” just yet. And I didn’t want to leave the nest. I love being around my family and I’m so glad I got to have those extra four years at home.
When I graduated college, I was so done with Portland. After commuting from Gresham to Portland for the past 4 years for school and work, the last thing I wanted to do was get a job there. I couldn’t afford to live in the city, so even if I moved out and got my own place, it would still be a ridiculous commute. So I decided to move to Utah!
I had one momentary freak-out at a hotel in Boise, texted with a couple of friends who helped me snap out of it (avoided telling my mom anything was wrong out of fear that I’d cry, “please let me come back home!”), and finished the drive to Utah the next day. Since moving to Utah, I have had my fair share of days where I wish that my mom was just a five-minute drive away instead of a 12-hour drive, and I’ve had my ups and downs with anxiety, but this move really helped me conquer the separation anxiety I’d been struggling with since childhood.
Transitions & Traveling
Looking back on this as an adult, I’ve realized that I didn’t necessarily have separation anxiety. I have anxiety that is exacerbated by transitions and traveling. I am a very structured, routine person. I love my routine. I love going to bed at the same time every day. I always brush my teeth before I go to bed. I work out every day. I often eat the same breakfast every single day for months before switching things up.
One of the ways I coped with this anxiety as a kid was adhering to my routine. If I could keep most of the routine the same, I had less anxiety. It was when the whole routine disappeared that I really had a problem. At sleepovers, it was virtually impossible to have any semblance of a routine, but the nice thing was that there were always a few people hell bent on staying up all night. So if I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d just stay up with them! Once I told myself it was okay to stay up all night if I couldn’t fall asleep, I had less anxiety and usually ended up falling asleep.
As an adult, I find that I still have these same anxious feelings when I travel. Vacations are difficult for me because it takes me a few days to transition into a new routine, and then when I’m finally used to it the trip is over and it’s time to readjust to the normal routine. In an effort to make those transitions easier, I have loosened up certain parts of my routine when I travel. I used to take my own pillow(s) and blanket(s) anywhere I traveled. Now, if where I’m traveling has pillows and blankets, I’ll leave mine behind. I used to overpack, trying to think of every possible thing I could need. Now, I pack a reasonable amount of clothes and I try and remember anything money can’t buy, and I don’t stress if I end up needing something and have to buy it while traveling.
I still do a lot of crazy things while traveling to keep things as close to “normal” as possible. When we stay in hotels, I’ll cover up all of the little lights from the tv, microwave, and anything else so that the room is in a state of true darkness. I also bring a fan everywhere I go (for the white noise) except when we’re camping and have no electricity. I had a “blue blankee” when I was a little kid and now have this giant blanket that my mom refers to as my “adult blue blankee”, since it does bear a striking resemblance to that blanket. If we’re going on a longer trip and we’re not flying, I’ll take that with me as it provides added weight (I like heavy blankets when I sleep).
I try and stay flexible with my bedtime while traveling, but there are times where I hit the wall and either push through it or sneak away to take a nap or go to bed early. Occasionally, I really do lose it and have a meltdown when Kevin wants to watch Sports Center at 12:00am at the hotel and all I want to do is sleep. I wish I were one of those lucky people who can fall asleep with the tv on, but I still have yet to master that skill.
A Work in Progress
Our last trip, during Thanksgiving, was better than some. As a whole, the family got along really well and no one really had a meltdown or a big fight, which is a pretty big deal if you know us. We’re loud, emotional, and passionate, and we got through a game of Monopoly without killing one another! We were at the beach house for a whole week, so by Friday I was used to my daily routine and then we had to leave on Saturday. Two days after we arrived, I told Kevin I wanted to go home. Then, the day before we left, I told him I didn’t want to leave.
Our sleep schedules were erratic, staying up late watching movies and sleeping in until at least 9 every day, but I noticed that the best I felt was the day I woke up at 6am to go Black Friday shopping. On our next trip, I am committing to waking up at a normal hour every day, even if I stay up late. I think even napping in the afternoon feels better than lazily waking up at 10am. I also noticed that I had a few irritable/grouchy moments over the course of the week, so I’m committing to working out for at least 30 minutes a day on our next trip. I love taking a break from working out while I’m on vacation, but the reality is that it makes me so much happier (and drastically affects my mood when I don’t make time for it).
One of my goals for 2019 is to conquer my anxiety. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I have 0 anxiety, but I’d like to be the one controlling it instead of the other way around. I’m working toward this goal by acknowledging my anxiety rather than ignoring it, and doing the things that make me happy and lower my stress levels instead of ignoring those things because I “want to be like everyone else”. It’s similar to the epiphany I’ve had recently about eating habits. Sometimes I wish I could be like everyone else and eat whatever I want without gaining weight, but the reality is that “everyone else” really isn’t like that and, more profoundly, I don’t even enjoy eating out or eating junk food all the time.
When I was younger, I used to feel ashamed of my anxiety and I felt like people would make fun of me if they knew I had a security blanket. Luckily, I had a pretty great group of friends who never made me feel bad about leaving a birthday party and not staying for the sleepover, or for having my mom chaperone all our field trips (plus, she really was the best chaperone ever!), or for leaving my own sleepover to sleep upstairs in my own bed.
As an adult, I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self she had nothing to be ashamed of. I will shamelessly bring my giant adult-sized blue blankee wherever the hell I want! It is the perfect top layer for any bed and you can throw it off if it gets too hot (as Kevin will attest, he throws it off nearly every night), not to mention it also happens to be the perfect couch-snuggling blanket! And if you don’t use a fan for white noise while you sleep you are missing out, my friend. Fans are not just for cooling off in the summer!
So, if you have anxiety and you have some bizarre coping mechanisms, there’s no reason to be self-conscious! And if you don’t have anxiety, hopefully you understand us anxious folk a bit better after reading this! And if you’re reading this waiting for my post on the Kemper Family Thanksgiving Extravaganza of 2018, don’t worry — it’s coming! And if you’re my husband and you’re reading this, thanks for putting up with my vacation anxiety and helping me work through it (you’re the best!).
And finally, if you have some life hacks for dealing with anxiety (bonus if they are related to transitions & traveling) that you’d like to share, I would love to hear them!