Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking on Travel Anxiety with Some Flexibility

Hello Friends:

Not that I'm an expert on the subject.  I do travel a great deal.  I do have plenty of anxieties, OCDs, phobias, and the like.  I do have my own ideas about how to make it easier.  And then I go right ahead and get all worked up anyway.  Still, I've had a lot of success creating a strategy and support structure for dealing with doctor's visits, it's time to do the same for travel.

I am, in fact, writing this blog post on an Amtrak train.  I'm headed from Boston to Washington on the Acela, the first day after hurricane Irene when the tracks near Trenton were clear enough to get all the way through to Maryland.  I thought long and hard about what would be a good opening topic for travel, and in the end, it was pretty obvious.  And it's a no-brainer to see how all of this ought to apply daily to that great journey called life.

Topic of the moment - Flexibility.

I had to change my trip three times because of the hurricane.  This is not a complaint.  I think that would be ungrateful since I didn't have any property or personal damage to anything other than my nerves.  Others didn't fare so well.  So I'm not complaining.  Just a fact, the trip changed three times, and seeing how I'm still well north of NYC, getting through to DC still remains a theoretical construct.

Changing plans is something that is very hard for me. Travel is tough enough.  Not knowing when it is going to happen makes it all quite a bit worse.  And yet travel delays, cancellations, rescheduling, and all the rest are so commonplace that you can't travel if you can't deal with them.  Or you can go ahead and travel and NOT deal, but you'll be pretty miserable.

I'll go so far as to say that travel is *defined* by unpredictability.  It's not the exception, but the rule.  If you can accurately predict some set of events from beginning to end, I'll bet you are not traveling. 

So how do the anxious ones (i.e. us) maximize our travel enjoyment?  It is hard to just start being 'flexible" about travel issues overnight.  If I could generate flexibility on a whim, I"d be less OCD and much more yoga.  But if you break down "flexibility" into a few other concepts, it seems like something different.  It seems to include an acceptance of how situations can change, a willingness to change with them, and an ability to make the most of it when you do.  So here are a few thoughts as I consider the nexus of flexibility, adaptability, compromise, and resourcefulness.

Being flexible is understanding that plans are guidelines, not a script.  The plans you made before the trip might not be the best (or even possible) when new data comes to light.  So we end up having to accept the change, and then find creative ways to deal with the situation.  Never assume a change in plans inevitably means your trip will suffer.  You could end up with a better trip in the end.  One year we were stranded by a snow storm up north.  I'm not a fan of snow, so wasn't too pleased.  Instead of brooding, however, we all ended up at a local ski resort, and I had a facial at the spa there.  It was the perfect cap off to the trip.

Being flexible is being willing to tolerate some level of discomfort.  This might be physical (sitting on hard benches) or mental (dealing with a crowd of people).  Those of us with MIs have a host of constraints and discomforts that others do not have.  Imagining that they won't crop up during travel is totally unrealistic.  So we have to find ways to deal.  The more creative and resourceful I am with my responses to discomfort, the more likely I am to find something I can tolerate, and occasionally something better than I would have had in the first place. My husband and I were walking through NYC one time, and I said we should get a taxi back to the hotel because I was getting a blister.  Next thing I know we are taking a pedicab through Times Square.  Thought we were gonna get mowed down by a real taxi, but still, it was some wild fun with a view I don't think I'll ever duplicate.

That was also an example of compromise, since I never would have gotten into that pedicab unless my spouse had really wanted the ride.  I was able to keep a handle on my anxieties, and take advantage of the little adventure.

Compromise isn't just with others, of course, it is with ourselves.  Sometimes I can't keep a handle on my fears, and end up missing out.  When a group of friends went on a guided tour of a volcano, I couldn't make myself go because I was (am) afraid of the poisonous gasses.  Hikes that include gas masks are generally not in my repertoire.  I do regret not having had the experience though.

So this takes more acceptance.  I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

I like to think of it as evolution - adapting to become the organism that is best fit to the situation and environment.  The person on the train next to me wants to talk, and I want to write.  Well, I can put my headphones on, or I can choose to chat.  This time I'm choosing to chat a little.  Scary for me, but worth the discomfort to have the experience. 

Especially since now that we are south of Philly, I know I'll actually be getting home tonight :)  Well.  Probably.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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Elizabeth said...

This is a brilliant post and one that I will have to read over and over again!

I love how you said: "travel is *defined* by unpredictability. It's not the exception, but the rule."

This is a really wise post and I am going to create a link to it on my "Helpful Articles" sidebar so I can go back and read it again and again.


Lolly said...

Wonderful post that can be applied to all aspects of life... Thanks, I needed this tonight!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! You have certainly figured out a way to make travel work for you, and there are lessons for all of us in your post. Thank you!

The Blue Morpho said...

Hello Elizabeth - Thanks for the comment! Glad you found the post useful. Thanks for linking to it.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Lolly - Yes, it does seem that all this travel stuff is just a metaphor (or a stand in) for things that are useful all the time.

The Blue Morpho said...

ocdtalk - Thanks for reading and for the comment!

Kat said...

I love this post. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding and accepting this when my therapist discusses it, but I really like the way you put it. From now on, when it comes up in therapy, I'm going to think of it kind of like psychological Darwinism.

The Blue Morpho said...

Hey Kat - "psychological Darwinism" is a great phrase!

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