The last time I acquiesced to boarding a plane to travel was 2007, a series of flying adventures all compressed into November of that year. I had only flown once before, and have avoided flying since 2007, resulting in quite a few long-distance drives as well as passing on several opportunities I genuinely should have taken.
At the core of all this, better framed as at the marrow, is my anxiety, which is best served by retreat, avoidance, and clinging frantically to the stasis of the known. I find new experiences nearly unbearable.
As friends have come to know, even when I do travel somewhere new, my greatest pleasure is to return over and over to the same bar or restaurant while I am away, creating a temporary stasis for my anxious self.
But there is another anxiety, another newness that is inevitable until it isn’t—aging. Each moment as a human is new; we can never know what it is like to be the next moment older, and then the next year or decade older.
Simply living, the anxious know, is a terror train (or plane) adventure.
As ridiculous as number anxiety is, I am terrified by the approaching reality of 60, just a bit over a year away. Some of that anxiety is driving me to re-evaluate my urge toward stasis so I accepted recently an offer to travel to Vermont. To a ski resort town.
Since others have asked when talking to me about the trip, I do not ski, and as noted above, tend not to fly.
I can only do so much new; therefore, I accepted the flight, but did not ski. While the rest of the group did ski a couple days, I created for myself a writing retreat instead.
Dealing with anxiety in a public way, among friends and acquaintances, is its own kind of particular hell. So making my trip somewhat public on social media stirred up the usual exhausting discussions about flying.
I am not “afraid” of flying (I know it is far safer than driving), and I cannot take meds, drink a lot, or somehow sedate myself for the flight to ease the anxiety. The anxiety around flying is about the entire experience from start to finish.
As I have tried to explain, my anxiety starts the moment I know about the entire trip and doesn’t end until the trip does. There is no making it better, there is no reprieve during the trip.
Yet, I must field the same questions over and over from people I like and even love.
It is none the less exhausting itself and part of the formula that drives me wanting simply not to do new things or the things, like flying, that I know make me miserable.
But I discovered an interesting irony to this new, this trying something unenjoyable again. My anxiety around flying is a very specific experience within a much larger set of triggers—sound and claustrophobia.
Trying to talk through flying anxiety again, I spontaneously said that I feel the same way flying that I do in department meetings (or any formal setting), the urge to simply run away, to find that stasis of anywhere else as long as there is space and silence.
Dozens of ways in my day-to-day life include feeling trapped, and thus becoming anxious, that are not much different from flying, although planes are incredibly small spaces that force me into compact social spaces with strangers and suffering loud and abrupt noises in ways that are extreme when compared to my normal life.
People focus on the “flying” and have trouble hearing me about the anxiety. (I am not mad about this, but it is exhausting.)
But the trip also included a whole new experience that seems related to my anxiety as well as my being an introvert and my dislike for coercion (me coercing others and others coercing me).
When I posted images of the ski resort on my social media with a snarky “No thank you” an odd thing happened.
I received a number of repeated demands from friends and acquaintances, chastising me for being at a ski resort and writing instead of skiing.
Of course, I have had this experience before whereby people impose onto others how those others should enjoy the world, but this was another experience with the sorts of stress that come with being anxious. I have no desire for other people to do or enjoy anything because I do, and I take no offense when people do not do or enjoy the things I do.
I truly find it puzzling that most people, it seems, are not only certain others will and should enjoy what they do, but that they must, or it is some sort of judgment passed down on who they are.
I despise the cold and snow so I have every reason to trust that I do not want to ski, even though I have never skied. As I walked around the ski resort, I was further assured of that; the inordinate amount of clothing and gear reminded me of the claustrophobia I endured to get to this damned place.
But there were hundreds of people there, gleefully; and the people I traveled with were also thrilled with the experiences despite the cold and even rain. I seems likely skiing is an enjoyable thing for some people, and I am happy for them.
But not for me.
I do know what I enjoy, and what I do not enjoy. I know myself, in fact, very well, but I do not yet know me of the next moment, the next year, the next decade.
That makes me anxious but I have no urge to flee that reality. I want it quite deeply, and it is there I recognize the seeds of anxiety.
I also care too much. And it is in the caring that we also find our suffering.
Here’s to caring, and to suffering. If that’s not your thing, I am fine with that also.