My brother says I have mild anticipatory anxiety.

It’s ok, he’s a psychologist so he’s allowed to say that.  Mostly because it’s true.

I found many random websites with definitions of anticipatory anxiety, but the most straightforward one was this one : anxiety that one experiences before starting a challenging activity.  Most often, anticipatory anxiety is a lot higher than what you actually end up experiencing.

I’m sure my brother has a better definition, but this one sums it up for me perfectly.

I was definitely in high anxiety mode before our Thanksgiving trip last Thursday.  I usually starting panicking about two days before the trip as I start to plan to pack (note I didn’t say actually start packing, because I can’t seem to get to that point until the night before we leave).  I start making lists of how many shirts for each person, mapping out our route and departure time, and I start shopping for all the food we’ll need for the trip.

Now remember, it’s only a 250 mile trip to my mother’s house.  And we’re only going to be gone two days.

But in my head I start working through what I need to do to make the trip successful – there and back.  Extra clothes.  Snacks.  DVDs, books, games.  Heck, I even wrote a post about everything we have to bring with us.

I’m not sure why I get this way.  Well, actually I do.  Over the past two years I’ve become quite a control freak.  I know it’s all tied to my son’s sensory issues and his spectrum diagnosis.  In our house, I can attempt to control how he behaves and I have all my “tools” at my disposal.  Timers, schedules, sensory breaks, quiet time for Lewis’ nap – I can do all that in the house.  In the car with all five of us, it gets harder to manage.

Plus, I have past experiences to pull from.  On one car ride, Howie asked for a hug for one hour straight.  On another, his car seat was uncomfortable so he yelled for a good portion of the trip, just as the baby had fallen asleep for his nap.  Then Gerry will chime in that Howie’s being too noisy, and a five hour car ride ends up feeling like ten.  Or more.

Add in that we were traveling for Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday but not the easiest one for the rest of my family.  I’m the only turkey/gravy/sweet potato eater of the bunch.  Past Thanksgivings, I’ve spent the whole time either convincing my kids to try the turkey or chasing them out from under the table after 5 minutes of sitting.  My vegan husband would eat the rolls and carrots. For the last eight years, my favorite meal of the year was inhaled in 3 minutes so I could retreat to another room with my kids.

So yes, I was panicking about this trip.  All parts of it.  In my head I got so worked up about the trip that I thought we shouldn’t go.  Or couldn’t go.  My anticipatory anxiety was leading me to think we should just cancel the whole thing and stay at home.  In other words, go back to the definition above.

But I couldn’t listen to it.  This time, I was determined to make things different.  So we made some minor adjustments to our travel plan.

Instead of our usual departure day on Wednesday, we decided to drive up on Thanksgiving morning.  The weather was perfect and the roads were empty.  There was no eight mile backup on the Massachusetts Turnpike like the day before.  And because we left on Thanksgiving when nothing would be open for lunch, I packed us each a picnic for the car ride instead of our usual hour long stop along the way.  We had a total of three bathroom breaks and one 15 minute stop to eat our lunch in a parking lot.  What was usually a five and a half hour car trip ended up being four and a half.  Perfect.

I did have a few moments of panic on the way there.  Howie’s headphones didn’t fit just right and he got frustrated immediately.  Thanks for some maneuvering, I got them to sit properly on his head so he could listen to “Soak Up The Sun”  by Sheryl Crow 30 times in a row.  I was afraid that Lewis wouldn’t nap on the ride because he woke up  later than usual that morning, but he slept for an hour.  And because of some advance planning with a new DVD and a organic lollipop, Howie stayed quiet long enough for Lewis to sleep.  Gerry had a pile of Star Wars books to read for the ride, so we didn’t hear from him at all.  We arrived at my mother’s house around 2pm, just in time to unpack and get ready for dinner.

As we sat down for “feastThanksgiving” (as Howie called it), that anxiety set in again.  But there were fewer guests at dinner this year (13 instead of the usual 30) so that helped with the noise level in the room.  We had turkey from Panera Bread for the kids to eat, since it’s the only turkey Howie likes.  My mom’s friends are vegetarians, so they made several vegan dishes that Tim could eat.   And suddenly…we were all sitting down quietly and eating.

Let me say that again.  ALL FIVE OF US WERE QUIETLY EATING.  For more than 5 minutes.  And I enjoyed not one, but two helpings of stuffing, turkey and sweet potatoes.  And it was all hot.

Howie said it was the “best feastThanksgiving ever!”.  Tim said it was the most he had ever eaten…ever.

Our ride home on Saturday was the same as our ride up – no traffic, no long lunch stops, no meltdowns.  Just a regular road trip.  Dare I say, a “typical” family road trip?

Clearly, my anticipatory anxiety worked to my advantage this time.  By panicking ahead of time about all the things that could go wrong, I worked out a plan to make sure things would go right.  I’m not sure that my brother would agree that this is the best treatment plan for my anxiety issues, but when you’re not paying for the therapy you go with what you got.

Maybe next year, my anxiety level won’t be so high.  But if it is, I’ll be calling my brother for more free advice.

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasing after some finer day.
Anticipation, Anticipation
Is making me late
Is keeping me waiting” – Anticipation by Carly Simon

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