Travel came up right away in my very first session with Raquel. In between stories chronicling her years long struggle with anxiety, she shared that she had always wanted to live on the West Coast, and dreamed of moving to Oregon someday. She connected part of her anxiety to a fear that this dream would never come true for her.
Of course, this wasn't the only source of Raquel's anxiety. She worried a lot about what other people thought of her. She expected herself to be perfect and would experience intense guilt and anxiety when she made even small mistakes. She found it difficult to be present with herself, because when her mind was quiet it would find things about her to pick at and criticize. Throughout our work together, it became clear that at the heart of all of these anxieties was Raquel's fear of herself.
Most of us have some fear of the unknown, and for Raquel this "unknown" object of fear was her own identity. Her anxiety peaked in college, so at an age where many other young adults are discovering who they are, Raquel was engaged in an exhausting battle against the person her anxiety wanted her to be. This didn't leave her with much time for self discovery.
Through exploring Raquel's fear, we realized that her dream of moving to Oregon represented so much more than just a geographical move. To her, it represented a chance to start over and discover her identity through travel. Her anxiety about not making it to Oregon was so intense because she believed this move was her only chance; she considered moving to be her only shot at interacting with herself and her identity in a positive and rewarding way.
Raquel didn't have enough money saved up to make a move to Oregon plausible. She was in the middle of her first year at a job she enjoyed, and acknowledged that it didn't feel like the right time to make a cross country move. But she knew she wanted to resolve the anxiety and fear of her unknown identity, so we began to explore what her other options were.
Raquel decided to take up hobbies that would allow her to remain living where she was, but would help her increase her level of self awareness in a way that felt safe and positive. These included hikes in a nearby park, journaling, and exploring her experiences in the form of a life story narrative that she continually altered and re-wrote. Raquel found that engaging in self exploration to learn more about her identity allowed her to let go of much of her anxiety. She still hopes to move, and is actively saving money and making plans, but until she able to make the journey, Raquel is able to enjoy the present.
Have you ever experienced this type of anxiety-ridden wanderlust? What coping skills have you found that help you to enjoy internal journeys and explorations? Please share your experiences in the comments below!