Driving across the country has been on my list for a very long time now. It just seems like a romantic idea, right? In the age of AirBnB you can meet all kinds of people along the way, taste new foods, see new sights, and who doesn’t like a good adventure? Well, when I made the drive from NC to CA and it turned out to be all of those things but it was also a reckoning.
It was a F*ck Death kind of trip. It was me telling the world that I still have life in me. I’m not done yet. I’ve got things to see and do and overcome. So what that really means is that this was a trip littered with moments of anxiety and panic and tears. This trip redefined bravery for me, made it real. Being brave mostly feels like fear and doubt and uncertainty. Moving forward through those things separates the brave from the others. Was I certain I wanted to go on this trip? No way. I had been talking myself out of it for a couple weeks. I still went.
This is the kind of trip I had to prepare for, mentally that is. I had been seeing a therapist in VA and worked through some fear of death issues with him during my last session. I went on several shorter road trips because most of my anxiety and flashbacks were happening in the car. Pretty understandable. And I was doing okay. The underlying anxiety was always there but I would put music or a podcast on and just go. Until the accident, I hadn’t dealt with much anxiety and certainly no panic attacks, but when I left Lynchburg I had my first. When I was about 30 minutes from my parent’s house in NC is when everything started to unravel. I just knew I was going to die, but i didn’t know if I should pull over or keep driving. My throat was closing up, my face felt huge, my arms were tingly up to my elbows, and my nurse brain thought, “Have I been bit by some deadly creature from the Amazon without knowing it?”. I was almost certain I was having an allergic reaction, but I kept breathing and slowly it went away.
This started my journey to get what I call “PRN support,” some “as needed” pharmaceuticals. No shame. That’s one thing Kendall taught me. If you need help, then go get it. Just pushing through, acting like you don’t need the help of professionals or the people you love is a false image of strength. He was always so proactive in getting the help he needed. It’s something I loved most about him.
So I went to the doctor. And I went to therapy. I accepted the gift of three free massages. And I drank a lot of wine, which is kind of like therapy. I let a friend use up all her guest passes at the Y so we could do yoga together. I let people buy my food at restaurants. Although if I’m being honest, if I had tried to fight, my friends are stubborn enough that I would have ended up with bruises AND a free meal.
The point it is, I knew I needed help. And more than that, I knew it was silly to try and act stronger than I was. So I opened the bottle of wine at 2 in the afternoon and watched Netflix. And that’s okay. Sometimes love means receiving. It’s not my favorite part, to tell you the truth. It’s vulnerable and feels risky, but it is an important part. You cannot fully give love if you haven’t received it.
So back to this road trip. You know, the bravery of moving forward stuff. You really need a good travel companion for things like this. Someone to share the joys and the difficult moments. My sister, Anna, was my person. She is the most lively, insightful, and spirit-filled 20-year-old I know. She always gives you the reaction you are hoping for when you share a story or joke. We are six years apart so we didn’t become friends until I left for college, but now she is one of my favorite humans. I prepped her for how I might react to driving and I updated her on my most recent fears. Then we left.
Altogether, the trip was full of delirious laughter from being in the car too long, Xanax, rest stop workouts, funny looks from people at rest stops, coffee, prayer, and poetry readings at a coffee shop in Arkansas, of all places. Anna helped me say out loud the yucky stuff floating around in my mind, because it has less power out in the atmosphere than stuck in my head. We ate an amazing New Mexican breakfast that was so spicy our tummies burned until lunch time. We each had moments when we had to stop and pull the car over and switch drivers due to tears. Our little Volvo was a safe place to be sad. A little moving sanctuary.
We saw the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert for the first time. We whispered because talking at full volume seemed inappropriate at a place full of such wild majesty. We journaled at a coffee shop in Flagstaff. We caught up with our aunt and cousins.
And ultimately, we made it, each of us a little more healed. And just a little braver.