Anyone who is plagued with anxiety of any form may be familiar with the difficulties of dealing with added stressors and the thoughts, feelings and emotions that intrude and hinder rational thinking.
I live in Florida in the path of Hurricane Irma. Her impending arrival was like a weight that sat on my shoulders, growing heavier each day. As if someone were piling on the weight until I buckled. Stressed beyond my ability to cope while trying to be prepared, I easily lost my thoughts and plans and had to stop, do nothing, and try to remember what it was I was about to do.
I wanted to escape, run, drive, or fly as fast as I could from my home to avoid the arrival of Irma. She veered east so the pressure was off a little. Against all the voices in my head we decide to stay put and hope her course didn’t alter. It did alter and again, while there was still time, we revisited whether to stay or go. Go Go Go, leave this place is all I can hear in my mind. Let’s get out now! I secretly scoured for flights. There are few flights out of the area. Those that remained are priced in the thousands. I checked random cities, any destination would do. I found nothing, or prices of $1500 to $3000 one way to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Detroit; at this point I can’t even remember all the places I checked. They were all out of my price range anyway. Driving is an issue for me and was one of the factors in our continued decision to stay. I was uncertain of my abilities, even in this emergency to drive far from home. There was also the hotel room shortage from here to what seemed like the entire country east of the Mississippi.
So again we decided to stay. We made lists and I prepared while my partner was at work. I overthought everything. What to get, what to do if this happens or that happens. My mind raced 24/7. I couldn’t sleep and could barely eat. I needed extra doses of medication to maintain some semblance of order.
Irma is now on a direct path to our location. I knew we should have left is all I keep hearing in my head. Maybe I could have driven. Maybe I should have tried. Shoulda, woulda, coulda….. all the doubts and scenarios playing in my head like a loop of tape on a reel.
One more opportunity to leave and go stay with family on the other coast presented itself at the last minute. Do we go? Again, a million questions swirled in my mind at once. Is there gas along the route? How long will we be stuck there? Could I even make it? What if the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere? Our window of opportunity was slim, we’d have to leave within a hour to avoid the first rain bands along the way. My mind raced, my heart pounded loudly in my chest. I want to leave but I was afraid to leave. I was petrified in place. I couldn’t be driving, something that’s already difficult, in the rain under these conditions. We decided yet again to stay and the preparations continued. There were shortages now; no water left, gas was hard to find. I toped off anytime I would see a station that had gas. Will we have enough supplies? What can we do to secure our apartment?
It all seemed hopeless. Every moment was filled with regret for not trying to get out of Irma’s path. My thoughts were constantly of impending doom and death. I could already hear the roar of the wind and feel the thunder pounding in my chest. We’d retreat into the bathroom, the most interior room in the house, during the worst of the storm. I imagined windows breaking, debris flying in, and the roof peeling away. I could see and feel our struggle for life in our tiny bathroom. At times I was consumed by the fear.
Irma slows, prolonging the agony of waiting for her arrival. Every moment is panic. Every action is questioned and motivated by fear. Finally it seems as though we’ve done all we can. I still searched for more. We needed more batteries and I wanted nails. Why? In case I had to nail anything, something, to a broken window. I just wanted nails! We searched for nails the day before the storm arrived. I found one box. Intellectually I knew they were useless but emotionally I was relieved and satisfied. I had my nails. We were as ready as we were going to be. We made what little fortifications we could to the apartment and waited. The anticipatory anxiety was agonizing. I was so exhausted I don’t know how I remained standing.
What I’ve written about above is some of what happens to me, and I imagine others, when overwhelmed with added stressors that are above the normal baseline of daily functioning. It doesn’t have to be an impending disaster either, it can be the added stress of having to take my car for repair or somedays it’s just about anything out of the ordinary.
Fear is the enemy and as much as I have progressed in therapy it’s these times that remind me how much work I still have to do. I have the tools, I use them enough daily, but in these times they are forgotten as I slip into the familiar shoes of fear. To re-enter the fear loop I work so hard to break out of is disheartening, but sometimes it’s just how it is. Sometimes all you have learned, all your strategies and all you know to be true is hijacked by the fear and anxiety.
Irma arrived and it was scary, but honestly, her arrival was a relief in a way. The anticipatory anxiety was over, now all I had to do was weather the storm. We huddled through the worse winds in the bathroom, a few frightful hours. Fortunately for us it had shifted position a little and weakened by the time it reached us. The eye passed just to the east of us, yet somehow I think we escaped the worst of Irma’s wrath. It is bad in our area but at our house, in our immediate neighborhood, we were spared heavy damage.
In the end, for me the worse part of Irma was dealing with panic and anxiety. I am grateful that was the worst of my suffering and I hope to learn something from the experience for my future dealings with my demons of fear and anxiety.
My heart goes out to all those who suffered loss of life, safety, and property across Irma’s path as well as Harvey and the wildfires in the west. I send positive thoughts and energy to you all.
Love, light & peace…..always