Monday, November 9, 2009
My cross country trip of 2009 is officially over. More than I had hoped for over this weekend, I actually rode from Phoenix to the coast at Santa Monica (on Day 27), completing a coast to coast to coast motorcycle trip months after I had begun it in June. It almost did not happen. There was a point back on Thursday night when I nearly called off this weekend's trip thinking I would not even be able to make it sitting in a truck for 12 hours to get to Arizona. I'm glad I went through with the trip. Part of working through Panic Disorder is to challenge avoidance behavior, to keep the associated fear of panic from becoming too strongly associated with a trigger (such as driving far from home) and ultimately to overcome the avoidance behavior and the anxiety itself. The therapeutic goal is not to focus on a belief that one will never again experience high anxiety or have a panic attack, but that if anxiety arrives and if a panic attack occurs, it's okay because one knows how to work through the anxiety. This is what I had to work on, being certain that if anxiety struck while I was on a long drive from home, I would be okay. And I was. Sure, anxiety levels did rise several times on the drive to Phoenix, but I dealt with these episodes reminding myself that panic attacks and anxiety are uncomfortable but they can't kill a person and they can only last so long before they go away. I never did get a full panic attack, but I grew confident that I would be able to handle one if it occurred. And eventually, I became at ease on the drive and just enjoyed the time hanging out with my friend. That gave me a lot of confidence. And, our conversations were interesting, too. The topics ranged from my anxiety and the strategies I am using to to deal with it to how American society affects people of color and women as opposed to white males. Eventually, we even found a Waffle House (YEAH!!!) and had a light dinner and sweet tea (YUMM!).
By the time I woke up Saturday at my Nina and Nino's house, I was feeling very good. I was enjoying the trip and the visit with family.
I knew I was there to both pick up my bike and to challenge my fear of anxiety. Also, I knew I had a golden opportunity to prove to myself that I could truly handle anxiety if I would just ride through the Arizona desert and pass the location where I had pulled over in the summer and from where I was taken by a kind stranger to a clinic, and from there by ambulance to the hospital, where I was treated for dehydration. This was my chance. So, I took it. After saying goodbye to my family, I rode the bike west. My hands were soaking wet with perspiration and my anxiety level did rise and stay high for an hour, but I talked myself through it and I made it. About ten miles or so past the place I had once pulled over feeling ill, I was able to take in how beautiful the surroundings were and to congratulate myself for this personal accomplishment. I was not just riding to beat my own anxiety at that point, I was riding in a beautiful place heading west and it felt good. Breaking through to that state of mind, I wanted to keep on riding to enjoy the world and I did, all the way to the coast. It wasn't necessary to ride all the way to the coast to feel satisfied, I told myself, but I am glad that I did it. It added a sense of completion to my cross country ride.
The next day, Day 28, I decided I had nothing else I must prove to myself and it would be better and more fun to ride with Nathan in the truck and finish this road trip hanging out together. I had already gone coast to coast to coast on a motorcycle, challenged my avoidance behavior, and found again the pleasure that goes with a good ride free of anxiety. Also, I have ridden highway 1, 5, and 101 from my house to Santa Monica several times before on motorcycles, including on the Valkyrie, so it was well covered territory. I double checked with myself, to be certain I was not making an excuse to avoid riding anymore for fear of anxiety as that would undermine the efforts I was making to overcome Panic Disorder. I was convinced I was not. I knew, and know now, that I can ride to Canada or Mexico or back across the country today if desired. Well, except that I wouldn't because I'm not missing the ever expanding belly of my pregnant wife this close to the big day. But theoretically, I know I can do it. In fact, I feel like my old self again. Sure, anxiety may continue to rise once in a while, but I know what to do when it does. And, I know I am not limited as to where I can go in a car or on a motorcycle or as to what I can do because of anxiety or a fear of a panic attack. So, after completing 7,561 miles coast to coast to coast, Nathan and I loaded the Valkyrie on to the trailer and headed to Campbell, enjoying the drive together. Tami asked if I wouldn't mind waiting to deliver the Atlantic Ocean water to the Pacific Ocean until she could be there, so we're going to do that Wednesday.
This trip was great for many reasons. But the big deal is that I have this confidence back, a confidence that has been missing for four months since early July. That's a long time to carry around a fear that is conquerable but seems too big to take on. It almost seems silly, this irrational fear, when I am feeling normal. But it is horribly uncomfortable, frightening, and disconcerting when the anxiety level is very high and during a panic attack. It has not been easy psychologically. Four months is a long time to feel different from the way I like to feel.
Right now, I feel good. Arizona has provided to me many gifts and challenges over the years, after which, I believe, I have always changed for the better. The opportunities have made life more interesting and have helped me to build up and to tear down parts of my identity as I mature. Thank you Arizona, for all of the opportunities, including this one.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
It's Sunday morning now as I write about yesterday, day 27 of my cross country trip. Day 26 was way back on July 9th. That's quite a break between road trip days. One interesting advantage to the long break is that riding west is a lot easier now as the November setting sun is not straight in front of my eyes, but further left. I can appreciate the color changes without squinting to see the road in the last hour of day light. Of course, the sun is going down a lot sooner now then it did in the summer.
I love riding the winding roads one finds in the mountains and I look forward to enjoy them again. But the day's ride reminded me of the value in riding a long straight road in the desert. Have you ever listened to trance or techno music? It's that repetitive dance music with the constant beat and the songs tend to last twice as long as anything else on the radio. Well, if you have a chance and willingness to appreciate a song like that, you'll notice something. The repetitive beat, a beat that would keep time in another song, is so repetitive and continuous that it no longer keeps time. Instead, those occasional variations in the sound that come in once in a while serve as the time keepers while the repetitive beat alows you to fall into yourself and look around, see what you see. There are interesting things in there. That is driving in the desert. The miles go by and time is not kept by the majority of what is out there, only by the occasional variation. And in between, there is a lot of one's self to explore. I fell into myself for a long while riding in the desert between the day's start in Phoenix, Arizona and the day's end in Santa Monica, California where I am writing this now. I remembered how good it is to ride, I felt myself normal again on the road, I felt my body relax and my mind settle in to an alertness that is simultaneously contemplative. And occasioanly in the desert, a helicopter or a new rocky hill on the horizon would remind me that time was still passing and that I had travelled miles in my mind and on the road.
That meditation mind set changed when LA showed up. The alertness necessarily become more important than the contemplative mind as the traffic increased. Nathan and I came into civilization with the sun already set and worked our way to Santa Monica where we got a hotel near all the excitement. We went on a walk through The Promenade and talked while we took it all in. The Promenade is a beautiful street with trees lit up, shops, restaurants with sidewalk seating, street performers litteraly in the street because it's closed to cars, and so many people out walking and enjoying it all. We also met up with Nathan's friends, Sam and Caroline, at a restaurant-bar on top of a hotel. I had a good time talking with them until very late.
I would say it was a very good and full day. It started with family and ended with friends. In the middle, I challenged my fears and remembered what it is to flow and enjoy the world passing by in my mind and on a motorcycle.
I'm looking forward to day 28 today. I'm looking forward to the traveling and to seeing my wife with her giant pregnant belly. The traveling part won't get started until Nathan wakes up. He stayed up talking a lot longer then I did last night.
In the mean time, I'll enjoy this very comfortable bed in a room that looks out to the ocean.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
I've made it all the way through the Arizona desert and into........ the California desert; on my motorcycle. Sweet! it's been a great day. Woke up in a house I love to be in. Visted with family and ate an excellent breakfast that Nino made. Then decided I would go for it and ride at least past the place I got sick when last I was here. And I just kept going all the way past the Colorado River. It feels good. A beautiful day in the desert.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Last night I took the RC51 out for a ride to Santa Cruz since Tami was at "pregnant-lady-yoga." It was good. I lack both the technology and the writing skill to transport you to Santa Cruz at night but I would like to recommend it to you. There I find the ocean crashing against the beach to be a sound so loud and yet I can happily fall asleep to it. The smell of salt water infused air is some how healing and the wafting smell of bonfire mixed in, ever present along the Santa Cruz beaches at night, adds warmth even when the fire is out of arm's reach. The stars were out last night, but that's just one type of beauty you may find there. Equally grand are nights blanketed in a soft down of cloud cover. The air, the smells, the sounds have a way of working their way through openings in clothes and stresses in the mind. Like tiny fingers, they work their way through until they surround a person from within, beyond the walls of any barriers real or imagined, and sooth like a loved one running fingers through one's hair after a long day. It makes me happy, I suppose, is the easiest way to say it. I wish I could compile that experience and attach it to this blog so that others could feel this from anywhere. Instead, I'll just recommend to you a visit.
And this weekend, I'm going back. Yes, but I'm going the long way, via Arizona.
Nathan and I are heading off Friday morning to Arizona in his truck. We're going to pick up my Honda Valkyrie that my Nino and Nina have been holding for me since our cross country motorcycle ride this summer. I had an AWESOME time riding around the United States for a month during summer. The trip was so memorable and full of new experiences, that I have yet to finish processing them. The motorcycle, however, had to stay in Arizona when I decided to fly back to California. That was after being treated for dehydration and knowing that I was not recovering quickly enough to ride home in time to make it to Evan and Sarah's wedding. One thing I have not discussed here, and that I hope to address in this blog in the future, is that I developed Panic Disorder and have been experiencing panic attacks and high anxiety episodes since then. This is what has prevented me from getting back to my bike and riding home. But there is a time limit if I hope to get my bike back, ridden or on a trailer, before The Kid is born and that time is now.
I've been working on strategies to cope with and move beyond panic attacks and high anxiety reactions through a workbook recommended by my doctor and I have seen a lot of progress. I've not had a full blown panic attack in weeks. The anxiety is still great enough that even driving to Arizona, or anywhere too far from home, will be a challenge. There are several triggers for me, but the adrenalin tends to flow most often when I am on the road. The first 20 miles of riding to Santa Cruz last night required a lot of internal monologue to work through the anxiety before it went away for the night. And now, it's time for me to challenge myself with a drive much farther. Thankfully Nathan is as excited for another road trip as I am. We are veteran road trip companions. In fact, we've driven to Phoenix more than once together since getting our licenses. I must admit, I'm a little sad to be trailering the motorcycle home instead of riding it, but I am convincing myself that it's okay to take small steps with this recovery therapy/process. While I won't be ridding home, I will have the opportunity to challenge the anxiety that has been limiting me for months and practice some of the strategies I have learned to use. I'll also get in a brief visit with my Nina and Nino, hang out on a road trip with a very good friend, retrieve my motorcycle, finish the cross country trip by land, and enjoy an interesting weekend.
What about getting back to Santa Cruz this weekend? Nathan and I made a stop in Santa Cruz the first day of our cross country ride this summer and picked up Pacific Ocean water that we carried all the way to the east coast. That water was added to the Atlantic in Miami, Florida where I picked up Atlantic Ocean water and brought that back as far as Arizona. That water is still with the bike but will be in the Pacific Ocean by this Sunday in Santa Cruz, California. Whatever happens, the weekend will be another interesting adventure.