Monday, November 9, 2009

Day 28 - Campbell, California

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.

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