Yesterday my goal was to go to a coffee shop and write for a few hours before therapy. I had made the goal the previous week and as the day approached my anxiety increased. I slept poorly the night before, and I woke up anxious and irritable. Planning logistics makes me nervous, as do changes in routine. I am most comfortable when my life falls into recognizable patterns.
Stopping into the coffee shop represented a deviation from the norm. Usually, on Tuesdays, I run, read, work in my office for a bit (writing, returning emails, working on the project of the moment). Therapy is wonderful but stressful, so I try to keep my mornings light.
Going to the coffee shop, therefore, was a significant (to me) change of pace. It required leaving early, and also early enough to have the time needed to make the the trip worthwhile: ten minutes of writing would not offset the stress of planning its inclusion into my itinerary.
I also grappled with the feeling that my stress was overblown. From a rational perspective, there was no reason to fret. The coffee shop I had in mind is one I like, in the neighborhood where I used to live, an easy drive on major streets I use often. Parking is on the street, but is usually easy to find. It is a short drive from there to my therapist’s office, also along steets I have driven many times. The coffee shop itself is comfortable, well-lit, not too hot, too cold, too loud or too quiet; the coffee they serve is excellent; the baristas are pleasant. My boyfriend usually has to drag me away, once I’ve settled myself in there. The space, route, and location are all familiar. My goal of writing there for a few hours, or even one hour, should not have been difficult to attain. But it was.
It was so difficult that almost the moment my boyfriend woke up I fought with him over a glitch in my iPhone that is not his fault at all but that he was unable to fix in the few frantic moments I gave him between opening his eyes and readying himself for work. I left the house to go running in a horrid mood and without a hat, the latter a fact I failed to realize until I was half a mile away and cold. As I shivered along, I muttered to myself about my dumb phone, my unhelpful boyfriend, the high annoyance of everything. I was embarrassed at having behaved badly and mad at myself for everything in general (I am a big fan of arranging situations so that I am always at fault.)
The cold wind only enhanced my angst: how could I be so dumb as to forget my hat; my hair is in my fave and this is going to be the worst run ever; why won’t my phone work properly; why is is this cold in April; why didn’t he wake up early enough to talk to me about my coffee shop anxieties –wait, what? I wanted to talk to Mike about my coffee shop anxieties? Was that my problem? Good grief.
Once I realized that I wasn’t really stressed about my phone or my missing hat but about my impending trip to a coffee shop, I relaxed. Knowing the root of my problems always makes them easier to tackle. And, since I’ve been vigilant about being kind to myself when I can, I decided that any amount of time in the coffee shop would be beneficial because it would give me the change of scenery I craved as well as time with my thoughts, with the added bonus of proving to myself that a change in routine isn’t the end of the world. I came home thirty minutes later refreshed and energized, ready to implement my plan.
In the end, I did not go to the coffee shop. After showering, packing a lunch, and preparing for the day it just didn’t seem practical (the fight about my phone had set me back longer than I realized). I would have spent more time driving than writing.
Instead, I made the most of the time I had left, writing the beginnings of this post between forkfuls of a sweet potato, lentil, and kale salad. I didn’t complete my initial goal, but I am still proud. I was able to recognize my anxiety, and then to honor it, not forcing myself into an unduly uncomfortable situation. I went as far as I could on that day, and that was enough.
I left the house feeling happy and accomplished. I did the hard work of planning the goal, and took the often harder step of amending my intention.
Perhaps next week I will take the long way to therapy, driving past the coffee shop, scoping out the route. And then the next week maybe I’ll leave early enough to go in, gradually building my tolerance to the change. Or perhaps my step yesterday was the perfect stepping stone, and I will be able to write next week at the coffee shop. I don’t know now, and I am okay with that.
There are so many parts of life that feel nonnegotiable, like work or school commitments. And so I am a firm believer in working with the parts of my life I can control. This is easier in theory than in practice but when I remember that there is no shame in altering a goal or a situation to increase my chances of success, my life is so much more relaxed and, somehow, more productive. Small wins are important for motivation and, after my miniature success yesterday, I feel confident about my ability to leave my house and change my routine. At some point.