I have become Anxiety Girl. Since starting to have panic attacks while driving, I am scared of when and where the next panic attack will happen. But I am learning to say, "Panic attack? I expect a panic attack. In fact, a panic attack will hit me. But I have a plan for how to deal with it and know that I will be all right."
We become afraid of fear. We psych ourselves out: "What if I have a panic attack? What if I lose control of the car?" So I am trying to go into a situation saying, "Yes, I will have a panic attack, but I will also get through it." If I am driving on the freeway at night, I have a plan: I always can put my flashers on, slow down, and drive to the next exit. Or, if the panic attack is severe, I can put my flashers on and pull over. The point is having a plan.
So far, I have not had to use this plan. It is as if having the plan makes things a little easier.
My therapist likes to say that the important thing is not the emotion but the reaction to the emotion: How did you deal with feeling a certain way? I had a panic attack on the way to work the other day. I took a few deep breaths and continued onto work. I worked a full day and even went to our holiday party afterwards, serving as the photographer. It was a long day, but the distraction helped.
I hope that as I build up these experiences of competency and rising to the occasion, that my fears will gradually lessen. The point is not the feeling but how you deal with it. Am I depressed or sad? Well, it is perfectly okay to be depressed, but do I pull the covers over your head and refuse to go out? Or do I get up, get dressed, put my makeup on, and go out and interact with people? Acting opposite to the emotion can change the emotion: If I get dressed and go out and interact with people, often I find that the depression lessens.
Nobody is saying that doing things opposite the emotion is easy: It is quite hard to drive even when scared of driving. Sometimes, I don't succeed. But the times when I do it, I build up confidence and a sense of mastery. So I am working on this fear of driving, slowly but surely, gradually building up more places I feel comfortable driving. Certainly, I have not stopped driving, though the fear limits me.
I also made an appointment to get my eyes checked: Part of this fear of driving was the nagging worry that maybe I wasn't seeing my best. Well, that got resolved. I passed the vision test with flying colors: With my glasses, I have 20/30 vision. "Pilot's vision," as the eye doctor put it.
However, he also said I wasn't imagining it: People with nearsightedness and an astigmatism do have greater difficulty seeing at night. Lights star and halo. The eye doctor didn't advise against driving at night, just said to be aware. Plenty of people, he pointed out, have this combination and drive at night anyway.
Now, I know I have taken the appropriate action: My eyesight has been cleared by a doctor. I can go forward with the confidence I can summon! And I will go forward... Slowly, but surely, gradually accustoming myself to overcoming this anxiety. I have a plan. I don't need to be afraid of panic attacks; instead, I know I can have them and will survive them.
I will use opposite action: When I am afraid, I will face my fears. Slowly, I will build a sense of mastery.
And yes, I might be Anxiety Girl! I have special powers to wield, developing special courage that I can use to help others and myself. As I face my fears, I will grow as a person, I truly believe this. So I don't like being Anxiety Girl, but I accept it. This is what God has given me to deal with. Dealing with it will make me a stronger person and enable me to give back.