If you’re reading this, know that your anxiety may be a passenger in your car, but will never be the one driving it -- you will.
In one of my first sessions with my therapist, she told me a story. She started off somewhere along the lines of this: “Imagine your life as analogous to you driving down a highway. You have a car full of passengers, but you are at the wheel. In your car are three other passengers: Creativity, Compassion, and Fear. Now let’s focus on Fear. Fear will always be in your car; this is a fact of life, and we acknowledge this. You can let Fear speak out loud in the car, and maybe even sometimes you’ll respond to Fear, but remember this -- Fear will never be driving the car. You will.”
At the time, I didn’t know why she was telling me this. Did she see something that I didn’t see in our sessions? Was she suggesting that fear is playing a bigger role in my life than I thought? I pondered this for awhile, trying to rationalize the events of my third year of college. I was happy, but also had crippling anxiety that affected my academic and social life. I constantly felt like I wasn’t doing well enough in school and was terrified at the thought that I couldn’t compete with my classmates at UVa. My anxiety took a toll on my physical state -- I wasn’t eating well and started sleeping excessively. I felt like I was drowning, but was too scared to tell anyone about it out of fear of how they might respond. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to my friends and family, I wasn’t in a good place at the time and needed help.
When I finally did admit my inner struggles, my biggest form of support came from my mom, an incredibly kind and caring woman who has always been my biggest cheerleader. Not long after, I started talking to my friends about mental health in general, sharing that I have always struggled with it, and that for a large portion of my life, I was too afraid to admit that truth. My fear of their reactions was met with immense love and support -- I realized that anxiety was no longer keeping me a silent prisoner, but was a catalyst that brought me closer to my loved ones and to seeking the help that I needed. I started therapy the following summer and found it to be helpful in reshaping my outlook on the future.
As for my life now, while I know that my journey is not complete, I am confident that it will be one day. Anxiety is the body’s reaction to fear, and I will one day learn to be in control of my responses. With this in mind, my therapist’s story takes on a new significance. If you’re reading this, know that your anxiety may be a passenger in your car, but will never be the one driving it -- you will.
Lauren T., University of Virginia ‘19