My anxiety is always changing. I have confused psychiatrists many times because it can be hard to label. I started with the overwhelming fear of vomiting (emetophobia). I still have that, but at least I can go out in public and eat in some restaurants. I used to starve myself because of it. In my head, what goes down must come up. This was a particularly useless fear because I very rarely vomit. I can’t even remember the last time I did *knock on wood*. I spend years being terrified of it. Altering my daily routine and avoiding situations that “normal” people do without a second thought. All because I might throw up. The what ifs are the most debilitating part of anxiety.
I started with that, but found other things to be afraid of along the way. I need to be able to see exits in stores. I used to be able to go into stores and malls with no issue. I just did it. Now I am terrified if an exit is not in sight because what if I throw up and can’t make it to the door and throw up on the floor in front of everyone, who would clean it? I have always had a bit of a fear of eating in public and in restaurants, but it escalated to the point that I was unable to even eat a piece of fruit or have a drink in a coffee shop because surely what I was about to eat would instantly come back up in front of all of these people eating their dinners and drinking their fancy lattes.
I am very logical about my anxiety and I am very aware that it doesn’t make sense. Here’s the thing, anxiety doesn’t give a fuck what you think. It doesn’t care if you’re the most rational person in the world. I know that the likelihood of me vomiting instantly after eating in a restaurant is almost nil, but what if. I know that I have never vomited in a store, but in my head, that’s because I have always left and stayed in eyesight of the exit. If I break those rules, who knows what could happen.
I move from one fear and one avoidance to the next. As soon as I manage to reason with myself enough to take the first step in facing one of my fears, a new one pops up. It could be one that was never there before. Something I never even noticed, something I have never thought of. All of a sudden, it’s an issue.
I used to have nightmares almost on a weekly basis. They were always the same. I was downtown or somewhere too far to walk home. Transit was either not running or there were too many train lines going in too many directions and I couldn’t find the one to take me home. I would end up lost on the train, not knowing which one to take, or the bus would have stopped running because it was late. The main storyline was not being able to get home. Transit failed me and couldn’t be trusted.
I haven’t really taken transit for years. I took the bus a couple of times up the hill because it’s one bus. I would walk home, so no issue there. I could have walked to where I was going but there is a huge hill in the way. Still, the nightmares happened weekly. I would wake up sweating and have to reassure myself that I was in bed, safe. I was already home. No need to be scared. I would try to reason with myself. We only have three train lines, they are easy to follow and it’s difficult to get lost on them. As long as I can get to a train station, I should be able to get home. Not that I would ever put myself in that scenario, being away from home without a cab or some other personal vehicle, because what if.
Since I got the car, the nightmares have changed. I no longer have dreams about not being able to find my way home on transit. Now my dreams consist of stolen cars and being lost in parking garages. I still wake up sweaty, thinking the car has been stolen. I have dreams of being in a multilevel parking garage with what seems like millions of cars. For some reason I can’t find mine. I go to every floor, search every car, mine isn’t there. I go floor to floor, pressing the panic button on my fob hoping the alarm goes off and I can follow it to the car. I always wake up before I find it. Just like I always woke up before I found my way home on transit.
Luckily, I find the car nightmares a little less scary. I know that I would eventually find the car in a parking garage. That being said, I haven’t managed to come up with a rational counter argument for the scenario where my car is stolen while I’m out somewhere, but I’m sure I will think of something eventually.
Living in a world of what ifs is exhausting. I have a very vivid imagination, unfortunately it prefers to drag me into the world of worst case scenarios when I would much rather be frolicking in a field with a bunch of puppies or something. I have always said that if there was a job where your main purpose was to think of everything that could possibly go wrong, even if it is the most unlikely thing in the world, I would be the best at it. Sure, that bridge probably won’t collapse if rush hour traffic stops on it, but what if…