Facing The Fear In The Ordinary

Well, that was stressful! I don’t know why it made me sweat in unfortunate places. I’m genuinely surprised that I didn’t turn into a puddle. It was close. If I had to wait in line any longer? Well, we don’t pay janitors enough, and they’re all heroes.

Do you get unreasonably worked up when it’s time to renew your driver’s license? The letter comes in the mail, your heart sinks, and you fall to the floor in despair. Damn you government overlords and your stupid laws. Why do I need to prove that I’m qualified to drive? Is my word not my bond?

I watched a driver reverse down the highway because they missed their exit. Another drove with four inches of snow covering their windshield. Don’t worry, they rolled down their window so they could stick their head out. Yeah, that’s the most logical course of action.

Okay, fine, maybe the laws aren’t entirely idiotic and, one could argue, they actually need to be enforced once in a while. Or, you know, just pick on the people who are doing blatantly stupid things. Who reverses down a busy highway?

Listen, I know that getting my license renewed is not a big deal. In the grand scheme of adulting? It’s a bothersome chore that has to be done every five years. But why does it expire on your birthday?

Happy birthday! Oh, you want a slice of cake and a birthday present? Ha, no, that’s so passé. Instead, you have to come down to a crowded government building during a global pandemic and stand in line for forty-five minutes. Then you have to pay a ridiculous amount of money, have an awful photograph taken, and then we’ll send you — wait for it— a shiny new plastic card. You are very welcome. 


It’s actually not that bad, and my birthday’s a few weeks away so, I’m okay. I’m fine. It’s all good.

Uh, there’s one minor snafu. I frequently indulge in self-destructive behaviours, and I’m a world-class procrastinator. Damn it! No, not this time, Satan! For once, I didn’t subject myself to that level of torture. Not on my special day. Even though I hate birthdays, and I don’t see the value of celebrating another trip around the time-space continuum? 

Yes, it’s still my day. I’m not going to subject myself to a frantic last-minute dash to get it done because, oh crap, I put it off too long, and I forgot. No, I was prepared, and I’m actually kinda proud of myself. I didn’t self-destruct, put it off until it was too late, or subject myself to unnecessary anxiety.

I just subjected myself to the regular kind of anxiety that comes with going into a crowded building during…Well, I don’t want to use the words again. Every time I do, and I get this sharp, stabbing pain in my chest. It’s not a heart attack. I’ve been checked, and my cardiac muscle is in surprisingly good shape. No, those words are just a little too heavy, and my heart can’t take it. So, I’m going to use them sparingly and pretend that everything is okay.

Except, I have a compromised immune system. Now is not the ideal time to go and get my license renewed. I am half-vaccinated, and I’m incredibly grateful. However, it’s not a hundred percent guaranteed protection, and I’m only halfway done. I still have one more jab to go. How much coverage do I have right now?

Oh, the stress of it all! If this was an old-timey movie, I would press my hand to my forehead and swoon. Woe is me. My life is so hard. What tragedy has befallen me? Why me? Why!

I’ll stop complaining because, honestly, it’s not that bad. It was an inconvenience, a bother, a nuisance. But, my stress levels peaked, and so did my anxiety. It felt a little odd, venturing out into the world after spending so long in hiding. Was I committing a felony? It sure felt like it.

But it’s not, and I’m being silly. I’m following the law by ensuring I’m on the road per the legalities of the land. It has to be done. There’s no way around it. Why can’t we do this online? Technology is our friend. Embrace it. Use it. Love it. Understand it. Oo, too far.

Alas, the government is full of Luddites. So, I donned my mask, doused my hands in sanitizer, and contemplated pouring the bottle over my head. No! That’s too much, and this stuff is expensive. Maybe a couple more dollops on any exposed skin? Just keep it away from the eyes. Ouch.

Then I joined the physically distant line, and thankfully, everyone was wearing their masks and respecting personal space. The line wrapped around the building, and we slowly shuffled closer to the door. The thing is, I’m an awful waiter, and I can’t stand or sit around doing nothing. I get fidgety and twitchy. Thankfully, a friend sent me some brilliant poetry so, I had a beautiful distraction.

The line moved quickly, and before I knew it, I was waiting for my name to be called. If you have a license, then you know how this goes. I won’t bore you with the details. It’s not that bad when you break it down into smaller bits, but still, it’s such a stressful thing to do, and I don’t know why.

Even if the thing that I won’t name wasn’t a raging hippo, I’d still be a puddle of anxiety. This situation adds extra hoops, a dash more dread, and it prolonged the agony. Microscopic menace aside, it doesn’t explain the base level of angsts that would’ve been there anyway.

Do you feel the same way? Do you get overwhelmed by simple inconveniences? Do you spend way too long complaining or justifying your feelings like I just did? I’m really hoping that one of you nodded and exclaimed, ME! That would be so comforting. Not that I want you to be overwhelmed or tripped up by an overanxious mind. 

It’s just…I’m over-explaining again. Damn, I need to stop doing that. You’re a reasonable person who doesn’t take everything as a personal assault on your existence. You’re cool. I’m…not usually, but for argument’s sake, let’s say that I’m cool (ish).

I know that getting all worked up over renewing my driver’s license is silly. There are a lot of really troubling things going on all around us. Things that warrant a stress response and carry an emotional punch. While my life isn’t exciting, it not so bland that I need to create drama for myself. I don’t need to find new ways to make things interesting.

But I received the notice to renew about a month ago, and it’s been sitting by my front door. Every time I walked past it, I felt a pang of dread in my stomach. There were moments of intense foreboding where I was convinced that this was the start of something dreadful. I just knew something was going to go wrong, and I would lose everything.

You don’t have to say it, I know. I’m being overly dramatic and catastrophizing, and I need to chill the fuck out. I know. I’ve been telling myself the same thing for years. Does it help? No, of course not. Berating and blistering my berserk mind just solidifies these viscous thoughts. 

Reminding myself that I’m being silly, stupid, or overly dramatic gives credence to an innate belief that there’s always something horribly wrong. More than that, it’s a belief that nothing will ever be good enough or turn out the way I need it to. I will always live in a state of chaos and spend my whole life running from one stressful, traumatic event to another and another and… Take a deep breath in and out.

Do you know what happened when my name was finally called, and I walked up to the counter? I got the one guy who was trying to get through his day with minimal effort. He didn’t bother asking all of the tedious questions. Instead, he did the bare minimum, and I was out of there in under five minutes.

It was easy, and nothing went wrong. Despite worrying about this chore for the last four weeks, and my absolute certainty that something tragic would happen, it was okay. Nothing horrendous happened. I’m fine. I didn’t lose everything because, duh, why would I?

As I walked back to my car, tucking my temporary license into my pocket, I had a moment of relief and self-flagellation. My internal monologue went something like this: See, that wasn’t so bad. Lucky we got the one guy who gave zero fucks. Don’t you feel stupid? Yeah, pretty damn idiotic. Getting worked up like that over this? Can’t you be normal for once? God, you’re pathetic.

Oh, and this is my favourite part of the monologue: Bit of a hypocrite, aren’t cha? Telling people on that silly blog to be kind to themselves, and here you are beating the crap outta your own dumb ass. Are you really going to sit down and write about mental health now, after this? Oh, the audacity!

Here’s the thing, I don’t claim to be an expert or have all the answers. I’m here, telling my story and sharing my struggles. Have I figured some things out? Sure. Am I still a work in progress? Clearly, that’s a firm hell ya. I don’t write these words to be a know-it-all. I do it to give you the one thing I’ve always wanted. I just want to know that I’m not alone, and there are others out there who struggle to cope with the ordinary.

Going to get a driver’s license renewed. Making a phone call. Placing an order at a drive-through. Small things that most people don’t think twice about. For some of us, these things feel like monumental challenges because our lives haven’t been simple. All we know how to do is manage crises. We’re so used to the drama that we’ve forgotten or never learned how to deal with the mundane.

When everything has gone horrifically wrong in our lives, it’s hard to believe that anything will ever go right. So, we prepare for the hit, and our winces are automatic. It’s a learned response that’s hard to unlearn. Impossible? Oh, no, I don’t think that’s true. Or, I hope it’s not.

What I do know with absolute certainty? Being hard on myself doesn’t help, and neither does beating myself up for a moment of weakness. If I change the narrative? I think people who don’t struggle with mental illness can’t appreciate how hard it is to do the ordinary things. They don’t know how much courage it takes to get up and fight the fear every day.

If we’re in the same headspace, let me ask you this. Do you know how brave you are? When every cell in your body is telling you to run away, but you stand your ground. When you ignore that voice in your head and get the ordinary done. The strength that takes, the courage! Do you know how amazing you are?

I see people face their fears with trembling determination and a sweaty forehead, and I’m in awe. When I do it? No, not so much but, maybe that should change. We could all use a gentle reminder so, let’s make this awkward.

Stand in front of a mirror and repeat after me: Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and the small steps you’re taking will get you where you need to go. You are stronger than you believe. Braver than you realize. You’re facing down the fear, and that makes you brilliant.


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