My car careened off the darkened country road and rolled three times before coming to rest on its side. I could feel the seat belt cutting into my body and the broken glass in my hair. I was vaguely aware that my friend L had been in the passenger seat but I couldn’t turn my head to see if she was okay. Panic rose in my chest and tears burned my eyes.
I sat bolt upright in bed, soaked in a cold sweat, heart pounding out of my chest. I was safe in my room at my parents’ house and the glowing numbers of my digital alarm clock told me it was the wee hours of the morning. L and I weren’t due to leave for our mini road trip for more than twelve hours. Despite the early hour, I contemplated sending her a text telling her that I couldn’t go through with it. Maybe I’d just say I was sick. I mentally composed another text to my sister, who was anticipating my attendance at one of her many theater performances at IUP. She’d understand if I was sick, right? But I couldn’t let her down. Which was worse – the guilt I’d feel if I skipped out or the fear I felt about making the drive?
The university was a mere sixty miles away and I had been dreading the trip ever since we planned it weeks ago. Even though I’d made the journey several times before, I’d either been a passenger or following closely behind my parents. This would be the first time I’d be driving alone, and having L as a passenger didn’t really count because she’d never visited IUP.
Was the dream a sign? A warning that we shouldn’t go? Was something terrible going to happen? Or was this just my anxiety manifesting itself as I slept?
It turns out that the latter was true. We made the journey unscathed, save for one missed exit at the very start of the route, and arrived at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with plenty of time to walk the grounds and grab dinner before making our way to the theater where my sister’s performance would take place.
I was relieved, but even as L and I window-shopped at the tiny mall and basked in the spring sunshine of the Oak Grove, I couldn’t help but think about the drive home once the play ended. It would be dark on those country roads. Dark just like it had been in the dream. Maybe it was the journey home I should be worried about.
But again, we got home unharmed. I white-knuckled the steering wheel the entire time, taking the curves of the country roads at overly cautious speeds. When we got closer to the city, an epic downpour made it nearly impossible to navigate the parkway, and if it weren’t for L’s soothing voice and patient guidance, I may have simply pulled over and cried until the storm passed.
What should have been a stress-free day trip to see my sister had turned into an exhausting battle against my anxiety. And the next day, when I woke to realize that absolutely nothing had gone wrong, I couldn’t help but wonder about the nightmare where I wrecked my car.
I grew up being told to “trust my gut” and “look for signs” in life. But doing these things can be problematic when you have anxiety. Because your gut is telling you that everything is bad, scary, or wrong. Everything from dating and going to the dentist to traveling short or long distances gives you a “bad feeling” in your gut. So what I thought was my intuition warning me of possible dangers was actually my anxiety getting the best of me. And it made me miss out on a lot of things or put a damper on events I somehow did manage to pursue, like the trip to see my sister.
In the months leading up to our vacation to London, I had no fewer than three horrific nightmares about our journey. Plane crashes, terrorist attacks, even a bizarre but very vivid drive through what can only be described as fire and brimstone plagued my sleep almost weekly. And it didn’t help that our travel planes had to be reconfigured several times due to airline and bus line changes. Over and over again I battled with myself wondering if these were signs that we shouldn’t go. I couldn’t help but wonder if my subconscious was trying to warn me of disaster.
Even as our plane sped down the runway at JFK, every fiber of my being was screaming at me to get off the plane. The Xanax I took prior to take off was the only thing that physically kept me in my seat. And when we hit turbulence on the way home, alarm bells went off in my head shouting “I KNEW IT! WE’RE GOING DOWN! WE SHOULD NEVER HAVE TAKEN THIS TRIP!” But of course we were fine.
London was a big step in overcoming my anxiety. But it’s also got me thinking about how most of my life I’ve had this possibly toxic thought process about “signs” and “gut feelings.”
Though I still consider myself relatively spiritual, I’ve found that I’m becoming more agnostic and questioning whether or not intuition and spiritual “signs” are real. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. Maybe sometimes the universe does send you signs, both good and bad. And I do believe that most people have some type of intuition when it comes to catching vibes from a certain person or situation.
The thing that sucks about having anxiety is that it makes these internal debates even more complicated. And I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate them.
For those of you who have anxiety, do you struggle with decisions and intuition?