A Conversation to the Airport
I’m tired and have a low-grade anxiety as I get into the Lyft driver’s car.
“Do you like this area?” my driver says as he pulls away from the curb and heads to the airport.
“Yeah,” I say. “But we’re moving.”
“Where to?” The young 30-ish driver asks.
“Into a converted school bus.”
“What? Are you serious?” He looks back at me as if he took a shot of espresso.
“Yeah.” I giggle. It is at that point I realize that it’s not anxiety I am feeling, but rather, excitement. I’m always confusing those two emotions.
“What are you going to be doing on the bus?” The driver asked.
“We’re traveling the U.S. and talking about mental health and addiction. You know, like anxiety, depression, substance use and…”
“Wait?” he interrupts. “Is anxiety a mental illness?”
“Sure.” I say. “Many people struggle with it. But we don’t talk about it enough so a ton of people don’t know what’s wrong with them. They don’t know its common and super treatable.”
The driver is quiet and I figure he has lost interest. I consider that like many people, he may find mental health too “heavy” a topic. It is, after all, only 6 am.
We drive on the back roads of Denver in silence.
After a few minutes the driver speaks. “What’s anxiety?”
I think about it for a moment. “Well, for me, when I’m experiencing it, it feels like a constant motor running within. When I’m anxious, my fear dictates everything. It feels like I am waiting for something really bad to happen, even if there is no real danger in sight. You know?”
“This is going to sound a bit weird…” he says, “but, that’s me! I fear everything.Last week, I took myself to the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack. The nurses gave me an EKG, and did blood tests and they couldn’t find anything—nothing. It’s changed me forever. I feel like there is something wrong with me. I was too scared to tell the doctor what I was really thinking because I didn’t want her to think I’d gone insane. But I feel like it.”
“Yes. Really. I promise.”
The first time I had a panic attack, an acute form of anxiety, I visited the local emergency room and felt like I was going crazy. For several days after my first panic attack I was afraid I would have another one. My mind made up stories (horror stories) to match that of the physical sensation I was also experiencing. I thought the world as I knew it was about to end. It is these types of thoughts that often prevent people from getting the necessary help.
“You’re not crazy and you’re not alone.” I say. I want him to know it. I want everyone who is struggling with mental health disorders to know it—and I want their families to know it too.
The truth is, there are many tools and resources to help people overcome mental health disorders. Mindfulness and meditation, talk therapy, and even inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities (covered by health insurance). We just need know that we are not alone and say “I need help.” I encouraged my driver to do this.
As my driver pulls up to the airport curb, the beginning of the Colorado sun emerges. He takes a deep breath then says, “You know what? I feel so much better just talking about it.”
“I do too.” Talking about it as if a physical illness—without judgement—makes a difference.