I know what you’re thinking. “Of course you shouldn’t cross the Rockies during the coldest, snowiest time of year.” But while it may seem obvious that you could be setting yourself up for disaster, worriers like me throw ourselves headlong into harrowing obstacles all the time. We ignore that voice in our heads that says “I can’t handle this” and try to muscle through.
Self-doubt keeps us from listening to our highly sharpened instincts. We spend so much of our lives preparing, honing, gathering information and yet that doesn’t stop us from throwing our better judgment out of the window.
I just moved across the country from New York to Los Angeles and, against my better judgment, I gave in to my husband’s desire to stop over in Denver to visit his aunt and uncle. I counted us lucky to have made it that far without any major winter storms impeding the journey. It was cold, not too cold, and with relatively no precipitation.
Then we headed north again and got sacked by everything winter could throw at us. We caught the tail end of a snowstorm in Kansas and hit a patch of black ice on I-70 that shaved a couple years off my lifespan.
Against my better judgment we continued on to Denver, where we had beautiful weather until the morning we left for Utah. Despite numerous family members claiming to have monitored the weather that morning (“It’s just a few flakes”), we hit a snowstorm just 40 miles away that always killed us. We traveled snowpacked roads with terrible visibility, witnessed 10-car pile-ups on I-70, and fishtailed our way up a mountain to the highest point along the interstate highway system in the U.S. and barely made it back down.
I’ve never been so scared in my life. My husband drove and I sat in the front seat bawling like a child, until he spotted a hotel at a nearby exit and got us to safety. I was shaking for the rest of the day.
What’s the moral of this story? It’s that I ignored every instinct, every voice in my head that said “Don’t do this.” Not only did I sacrifice my safety, I sacrificed my mental health. I’ve had trouble with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I may have survived the drive from Colorado to Utah, but it almost landed me back in therapy.
It’s not that therapy is the worst place in the world. It’s just that it’s been six years since I left therapy to “do the work” so to speak, to put into action the things we had discussed for years, and I’m not ready to return to the couch, or rather the comfy reclining wingback armchair. Besides, now that I’ve moved I would need a new therapist, someone in my area. It’s a wrench I never imagined could be thrown into my plans. I don’t want to go back to managing panic; I want to keep working on active listening, mindfulness, and learning to be laid-back.
At the risk of sounding like I’m blaming myself, there were some steps I could have taken to avoid all this. Namely, not crossing the Rockies in February. But also trusting my gut instinct. Listening to myself. Having faith in my judgment. Instead I thought, “Well if my husband says it will be okay, and all his family says it will be okay, then my instincts and experience are wrong.”
Undermining my perception, experience and judgment is my depression’s bread and butter. Despite everything I know about myself, I’m always forgetting to show myself respect and compassion.
I consider new events in my life with great care because of my anxiety. It’s not a matter of knowing my limitations. It’s not a limitation. I’m just sensitive, and I get stressed by things others may consider minute. With this self-awareness comes the possibility of self-compassion. I should have had compassion for that concerned inner voice that was hesitant to go into the Rockies after the epic winter of 2014. Next time I plan to respect that voice and not set myself up for a panic-induced meltdown.