|An appropriate visual for living with someone with anxiety (SWA).|
For us, this was a Very. Big. Deal.
Lindsey hasn't been on a plane since a terrible experience flying to and returning from the Dominican Republic three years ago. At the time her overall anxiety level was really high and she had a panic attack on the plane that lasted an hour. If you've never experienced a panic attack, for an entire hour Lindsey believed she was going to die — truly believed, in her heart of hearts, that this was the end. It was terrifying and traumatic. Once we arrived, we took a car service to our resort, and, sadly, saw a car-scooter collision that was more than likely fatal for the scooter driver. It reinforced the idea that she was going to die on this trip. She and I left after just two days because she was unable to function, she was dreading the flight back so very much. The flight back was just as horrible as the flight there, and she said that her flying days are over.
Fast forward three years.
Lindsey is in a very different place with her anxiety. She is juggling online high school classes with college courses, held down a job, has grown in confidence and in knowing herself. So when she said she was willing to try to get on a plane to see a musical, I was happy that she had identified a "reward" for this exposure that she would be willing to do.
It is a very different experience traveling with Someone With Anxiety (SWA). This successful trip did not happen without a lot of planning and accommodations.
For one, after arriving in NYC and getting to my sister-in-law's condo, Lindsey was completely exhausted. We didn't go anywhere else the rest of the day and got take-out from the nearest bodega for dinner.
Truth 1: If traveling with SWA, be prepared to be in a city with incredible culinary experiences but be unable to take part in any of them.Before going to bed we talked about all the places we wanted to see during our very short trip. Lindsey had a whole laundry list of things she wanted to do, but I know we wouldn't be able to hit them all. I knew more than she about how long it would take to travel from one part of the city to another, and also had a realistic expectation of how much energy she would have for seeing all of these things.
Her sleep that evening was interrupted by a terrible stomachache, a known latent side effect of high anxiety for her. Which meant that there would be no morning tourist stuff for us, sleep is critical to her mental health and she doesn't function well without it.
Truth 2: Vacationing with SWA means planning light schedules with plenty of time between outings to rest. Heavy itineraries are anxiety-inducing.Once again back to the bodega for breakfast which we ate in the condo, then we took a Lyft down to Lincoln Center to re-create a photo of her chasing pigeons from when she was in New York at age 2. We cabbed it over to the Met but the line to get in was incredibly long and snaked all the way to the end of the block. Lindsey said she wasn't up for the long wait in line and didn't want to do anything else, so we cabbed it back to the condo.
Truth 3: Vacationing with SWA means paying for transportation to go places only to turn around because the crowds are too much. Flexibility and patience are needed.We chilled back at the condo. I took a nap before we had to get ready for the show. We decided to eat at a restaurant near the condo, then take a Lyft down to the theater district. The restaurant we chose had a problem with their wood oven, which meant the menu was cut in half. We managed to find things to eat anyways, but this little glitch in our plans meant Lindsey was nervous that something else was going to go wrong. And, eating out makes Lindsey anxious, so she was ready to get the bill and go as soon as our meal was finished.
Truth 4: Dining out with SWA means meals are sometimes rushed and you never ever eat dessert out.Our Lyft driver to the theater district was so nice! A lovely lady named Clara, whose calm demeanor and careful driving helped Lindsey. We got stuck in traffic on the way there, but because we left super early it didn't matter.
Truth 5: Traveling with SWA means anticipating delays and always leaving plenty of time.We arrived at Winter Garden Theater a full hour and 10 minutes before the show, plenty of time to walk around Times Square before curtains went up, which we had talked about doing. And yet, once we got there Lindsey didn't want to leave, she was concerned something was going to happen to us and we wouldn't get back in time. So we stood in the lobby for 40 minutes until they opened the doors, and sat in our seats for 30 minutes before the show began. We had time to get a poster before sitting down, use the bathroom and get a drink.
The opening act was incredible, and then there was a delay for technical difficulties. I've never seen a delay for issues in a play of this caliber before. Of course I was catastrophizing in my head as the minutes ticked by, hoping they would be able to figure it out and not cancel the show. I'm sure Lindsey was doing the same. After about 10 minutes they figured it out and the show went on.
We finally explored Times Square after the show, when Lindsey was less anxious about missing it. It was filled with lights and people and it was a great 15-minute experience, at which point Lindsey had enough of the crowds and we went back to the condo.
Truth 6: Some tourist experiences will be shortened or avoided because crowds are exhausting to SWA.The next day we decided to try the Met again. There was no line and we were able to walk right in and begin exploring. We ate lunch there, then felt refreshed enough to keep going. I let Lindsey lead, seeing whatever she wanted, moving along when she was done and staying to absorb where she wanted to spend more time. I could've spent a lot more time in the galleries of the Impressionists. There were entire rooms of Monet, Renoir and Matisse, and we glanced at them as we walked through.
Truth 7: Sightseeing with SWA means putting your own interests second to theirs, especially since waiting and boredom increases anxiety.After four hours in the Met, I convinced her to walk through Central Park a bit since we were right there. After about 15 minutes we grabbed a cab and headed back to the condo.
It was New Year's Eve. We ordered take out from a nearby Italian place and had the most amazing homemade pasta. We watched a movie and were in bed by 10 p.m. while a million people gathered in Times Square just a few short miles away to watch the ball drop. (See Truth #6).
We never went south of Times Square. We did few "typical" tourist things. We never saw the lower Manhattan skyline, 30 Rock, Empire State, Statue of Liberty or the World Trade Center. We spent more time than most tourists would snuggled up on a couch with a blanket, watching shows.
I was relating our successful trip to a relative of mine, who is looking forward to our family being able to take more trips in the future. We are, too. But one successful trip does not mean her anxiety is "gone" or that this is over — it is one success in a journey toward a better life living with anxiety.