Did you know I have anxiety?

Did you know I have anxiety?

I didn’t.

When I moved to Los Angeles a year ago, I was faced with the task of driving a car. Driving a car? At age 21? Should be no problem, right? Well, due to a wonderful, fortunate combination of life experiences such as sleep-away camp and boarding school, I was never in one state long enough to learn to drive at the usual age 16. After two permits, two different driving schools, one fender bender in my Mom’s car, and four separate trips to the DMV, I finally got my Connecticut license at the rather belated age of 20. With no car and no reason to drive one, I went back to school in the walkable, public transportation friendly city of Boston and blissfully ignored my problem for another year.

My shiny new license juxtaposed against the crinkly paper permit I’d been carrying in my wallet since 2009. Plus an Instagram filter, because you know, this was a big deal.

So, there I was, with a brand new Subaru (high safety ratings!) and a 10 minute drive down Sunset Boulevard standing between me and my new internship. I spent my first weeks in California curled in a fetal position on my twin XL dorm room bed, having nightmares about T-boning my car while giant palm trees looked down on me disapprovingly from above. I woke up between 5am and 6am every morning to vomit bile from my painfully empty stomach. I survived on a diet of dry cheerios and Easy Mac microwaved without the cheese powder.

And yet, I was convinced there must be some other explanation. Maybe it was jetlag. Maybe it was my period. Maybe I had a disease. I sat in the lobby of an Urgent Care center in Hollywood, clutching my warm bottle of yellow Gatorade, waiting for my name to be called. I explained my symptoms (I can’t eat anything) to my doctor and she took one look at me and said “Oh honey, I’m going to give you some Xanax.”

Me? Xanax? An anti-depressant? And who are you calling “honey?”

Oh, shit.

Yes, I had a big obstacle to overcome. Yes, I was incredibly anxious about it. Yes, driving a car by yourself for the first time in freaking Los Angles, city of both angels and notoriously terrible traffic, is not an easy task. But I had never lost my ability to eat / function for such a long stretch of time before. This was a new low. If a Xanax, a good night’s sleep, and a lot of tea and toast was what I needed to get back on the horse — or Subaru — then so be it. No one was going to fix this except me.

It took me a month before I could eat normally again. Luckily, I have amazing friends who drove me around while I worked on summoning my courage from within the deep dark depths of my very scared self. I took a two hour driving lesson. I drove with my friend in the passenger seat. I drove behind my friend to my internship. And eventually, one sunny day, I drove all by myself. I even turned on the radio and rolled the windows down, like any freshly licensed 16 year old would do.

Was it hard? Yes. Did I make a lot of wrong turns, both emotionally and literally? Yes. Did I lose the bottom half of my left-side mirror by whacking it into somebody’s red car while backing out of a parking space? Maybe. Do I still have driving anxiety? Yes. I don’t know how to parallel park, and I have yet to drive on any of LA’s many freeways. But I drove two round trips to the airport this week and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something.

Baby’s first fender bender. You can barely see the scratch — I barely left on a scratch on the nice businessman’s car that Monday morning, and he let me drive off without so much as a phone number exchange. If you look closely, the expression on my face is 1/3 grimace, 1/3 bewilderment, and 1/3 wonderment at my sheer luck.

But! Conquering driving is not the takeaway here. I learned that I really do have actual real anxiety. It’s always been there. It lives in my stomach, a rather unfortunate and inconvenient place. During my more stressful semesters of college, I lived off a healthy, balanced diet of bagels, pasta, and the occasional bacon egg and cheese. I squashed my stressors down until they were small enough for me to ignore, but they lay dormant, growing bigger and stronger in the absence of my attention. That’s no way to live, physically or emotionally.

Lots of things give me anxiety, daily. Left turns without a left-turning lane or green arrow. Ordering at a restaurant. Crowds. Talking on the phone. The possibility of running into my boss in the women’s bathroom at work (I’ve been at my job for almost a year and have somehow managed to avoid this, pray for me). Making friendly conversation with Uber drivers. Being in the way. Loud music. Flying. None of those things are going to go away if I ignore them, as much as I may wish it worked that way.

So, in 2016, I have many resolutions. One is learning to manage my anxiety. Another is learning to drive on the freeway.

Lucky for me, the bagels in LA aren’t that good anyway.