Here’s to Being Scared and Doing It Anyway

And so today, I’m packing a little bag. And I’m getting in the car. And I’m going to enjoy my adventure.

My weekend trip begins in just a few hours–escaping from the city to the Russian River area, complete with, well, I’m not certain what it’ll be complete with just yet! There are canoes at the river, majestic Redwoods, olive oil vineyards (pretty sure they have another name, oil fields?), hot tubs, star gazing, and so much more to discover.

A weekend road trip, jumping in a car, getting on the highway, that may sound completely normal to you. For me, however, my biggest, most terrifying, phobia centers around highways, freeways, byways, all the ways. What this looks like in my day-to-day life is that I tend to spend most of my time in the city.

The thing is, while San Francisco is an amazing city, staying here all the time, sometimes just staying in my neighborhood or in my apartment, that makes life small. And I’ve worked so hard to make my life big, to adventure, to enjoy as much of this world that I can possibly see. I went through a period of time where, first, my back issues, and then, my anxieties, made my life small for an incredibly long time, but that’s just no way to live. I refuse to continue to be limited by this fear.

I have friends who occasionally drive me places, friends who are mostly patient with my involuntary gasps, death grips on those little handles in cars, occasional tiny waves toward the dashboard because my hands obviously hold the power to slow the car at my whim, occasional huge two-hand pushes toward the dashboard because I’m certain there’s a brake there somewhere if I flail around just the right amount, and my big doe-eyes constantly scanning for brake lights, Chihuahuas cowering on the median (that happened over in Walnut Creek; I swear) elephant seals blocking lanes (that happened up in Sonoma County; I swear) and other real and imagined terrors of the road. Bless those friends.

But here’s the thing, with my new friend visiting this weekend, I immediately jumped on the idea of a road trip. In fact, it was my idea. I began dreaming, researching, and planning with nary a thought about my fear. Nary.

When I focus on things outside of what’s going on in my little head, when I push myself to fully engage with people I care about, and when I remind myself that the way my anxiety presents itself often feels pretty selfish because it’s all about me, I do better. And this trip, it’s about focusing on the majesty of Northern California, of nature; it’s about engaging with someone else, someone I want to explore with; it’s about doing things that are novel and adventurous and that make life bigger and more beautiful.

And that’s the way to do it, right? Jump into your fear; feel the fear and do it anyway.

The thing is. The thing is, those are great feel-good ideas, but they’re way harder to put into practice when you have anxiety and a phobia. Where did this phobia come from?

It all began around the time I moved to California. These California drivers be crazy.

I learned to drive on gravel roads. Growing up, there was a great deal of excitement when the four-lane highway opened up outside of town. Suddenly, we had two options for exploring the world beyond Winchester, the old two-lane road and the brand new four-lane, complete with a wide, green ditch in between the lanes going in opposite directions. I still don’t know the real names of those roads; no need to tell me, I like two-lane and four-lane.

But around San Francisco, there are highways with eight and ten lanes of traffic. It’s a lot. And the little exit-ramps and on-ramps, some of them are truly little, like they don’t seem to have merging lanes. It’s a lot of a little.

The thing is, it’s not totally the fault of the highways, from working with a therapist, I know this got a lot worse around the time my Mom died. Lack of control. Feeling uneasy in the world. So, there’s that. And I’ve worked through so much of it. But the phobia remains.

And then the car accident in 2010, that didn’t help.

But here’s the thing, I’m an adventurer. I want to see the world. Always have. I left home as soon as I got out of high school. I spent that summer in Marin, and then I lived at college year-round until I made my way to California, to San Francisco. And there’s so much more to see and to explore. And to do that, I need to be able to jump in a car and go, which reminds me:

Knock, Knock.
Who’s there?
Cargo, who?
Car go, “beep beep!”

That’s my favorite Knock Knock joke; it makes me laugh out loud every time I say it, probably more so than the four-year-old who invented it.

But that’s another thing, I’m curious, easily amused, and absolutely delighted by the world. And I want to continue to cultivate those parts of myself because they help make my life big. Those parts of my personality help me be a better, kinder person. They help me enjoy each day, each moment as best I can. So I’m working on this fear, this phobia.

And today, though it’s not terribly far, I’m heading on a two-hour road trip to explore more of Northern California.

My palms are a little sweaty as I write about this trip.

My tummy is a little upset as I think about this trip.

But more than that, way more than that, I’m excited about this trip.

And I feel more grounded about this trip than I have about any car trip in years and years.

And I remind myself that all the people on the road, they want to get where they’re going safely, too.

And I remind myself that having been through a miserable car crash yet coming out of it alive, I know that bad things can and do happen, but they’re rarely something that’s irreparable.

And having lost my Mom once to Alzheimer’s and once by death, I know I can’t control everything that happens around me, but I can still move forward with the base of love and confidence that she helped instill in me.

And so today, I’m packing a little bag. And I’m getting in the car. And I’m going to enjoy my adventure. Though, I’m certain I’ll still be relieved when we pull into our little cabin in Guerneville and tonight, when we relax in the hot tub under the stars. But those moments in the car, I’ll get through them. I have to. I just do. Fears be damned. And I told my new friend a little bit about my fear, and he said we can pull over any time I’d like. And we can even look for little gravel roads if that’ll make me more comfortable. But today, I think I’ll just do my best to relax, to enjoy the moments, to go where the highway takes us. Maybe tomorrow we can find those little roads up north. I’m so grateful for all the good humans in my life, old friends and new ones.

And for today, I’ll face that fear.

Here’s to making a big life.

Here’s to adventure.

Here’s to being scared and doing it anyway.

And perhaps, perhaps by just doing it anyway, whatever it is that scares us, those fears will continue to be tamped down, little by little, until they’re distant memories.

‘Cause that’s the thing, the real thing, after a while those bigger-than-life-scary fears just don’t serve us anymore, and if we don’t face them, we end up feeding them until our lives are miniature versions of what they can be.


By Angela Sue Gross

Angela Sue Gross is a San Francisco-based freelance writer who is writing a book on love. She writes confessional essays and is particularly interested in the intersections of tech, gender, and race as well as what makes us good humans; beware, she also writes about her dates. When not writing, Angela spends time with her dog-with-an-anxiety-disorder, Moe, and works to hardwire happiness and cultivate joy in herself and those around her.