I Went On Vacation And All I Unpacked Was My Anxiety
I went to Sonoma County this past week. Sonoma County is a warm desert-y place that feels like the inside of a marigold sweater. Everything crunches when you walk. It’s dusty while still being lush--- bursting with primary colors and heat and breeze. The whole town is friendly without being off-putting, and when you walk the vineyards, everything smells yeasty and heady, like grape bread. It is bacchanal without the overt revelry, but the streets still flow with grapes.
I spent the few days I was there (for a beautiful wedding) wearing layers and biting soft cheeses and sipping oaky or dry or sweet wines. I felt almost quiet.
I especially loved seeing the mountains. I had never really seen them before, and that was what I loved about the week most of all: falling headfirst into things I had never seen before, up close.
Like I said, I felt almost quiet.
Going on vacation throws me a bit off--I like routines, I like my bed, I like the blanket comforts that both can give me. If you have anxiety like me, you probably know this feeling. We can hate the idea of new things, no matter how much we long for them. A conundrum. I want to bite at the new with fervor, I want my experiences to be wild and loose and leisurely: no checklists, no worry of timing, no watch needed, none of the thoughts I'm used to. Isn't this supposed to be about escape? But that is not me. It takes a long time for my body to adjust. I feel my way through, almost blindfolded, grasping at things that could feel familiar. I am scared of flying, sure, but it’s not just that. I am, of course, terrified of not being in control. I am scared of letting go, even if the thing I let go is fear.
The second day were were there, we went to a winery. We rode on a tractor to rows of grapes up close. We tried a white wine directly under the sun. It was lazy and a little decadent. I thought of the oven being left on at home, the laughter proving distant to more pressing brain matters. The places where they grow the grapes smell like manure, which the tour guide kept calling organic. And yet I thought of what I was saying, dissecting my own words like they were back notes to the pinots or cabs. I am always on the defensive. I drink the wine. I wonder if I am drinking it too fast, or I am laughing too loud, or if I am a lush. This is all very quietly aggressive, and it's something that comes with wearing the armor of an anxious person. The armor is hard but malleable, and people learn to approach it like they are approaching a trained but mean house cat. I can seem indifferent or cruel or timid, depending on the day. This comes out either by saying nothing at all to people, or never saying anything of importance. Reserved. Rude. Indifferent. Or maybe I just seem like a lot of fun: all fun and no depth. This comes out by starting a sentence and not finishing it, of retreating somewhere else, of starting a conversation and never letting it get too far. It comes with misinterpretation. It comes with a lot.
It comes with drinking the wine.
With anxiety, there is somebody always behind you, and the person is you, screaming all the things that you have to do or haven’t done or maybe should get to thinking about. I am always wondering if I will say the wrong kind of thing. I am always thinking about a million other things. I cannot be in the moment. I cannot be in the moment. I want to be in the moment. it comes out as a bit defensive.
On day 2.5 I decided to fight it. I always play games in my head, anyway. Sometimes it’s “hold your breath until the tour guide speaks again” or “sip this wine until you can taste the cherry they promised.” This time it was just:
RELAX. The game is to reeeeeeelaxxxxx.
Can you imagine the idea of relaxing when your brain is spinning as fast as it usually does? I am smack in the middle of Sonoma. I am in a wine cave that stays 65 degrees all year. I cannot think about what I will do next Tuesday, and if I’m being a good friend, and my upcoming credit card bill. I am in a wine cave. I am at a brewery. I am trying a delicious potato chowder. You can win this game if you just try to play it. It feels like walking slowly uphill, carrying a suitcase you get to sometimes throw things out of.
This time, I got lucky. My phone overheated and I turned it off for almost six hours. So I did. I had one less thing to distract myself with. The armor gave way. I had nothing to do but look at people, to talk a little more, to look at the wine stoppers that were in the shape of octopus, and to think about if that would be too heavy to bring home. All I could do was try, and to gather up the moments--every time I could hold one in my hand, it was a win. It’s not hard for others, I think, but it can be hard for me. I should not be so hard on myself because it is not always so hard on others.
I gathered up what I could: a cheese plate made from slate, a dance, grabbing hot sourdough bread with my fingers in a large van. They began to add up, but it was not always easy or simple, nor did it always work. I think I like talking about lot about my failures and successes because they often happen at the same time. A lot of victories come at another price. A lot of bad moments come from silver linings. I am not always the victor, but I try to be better. I cannot taste the cherry in this wine, but I try to be better at it. So vacations throw me for a loop? Dusty Sonoma was still beautiful. I will try to be there to taste it all. To relaaaaxxxx.
And in the end, while it wasn't perfect: I had still seen the mountains, up close.