Summer is, hands-down, the worst time of year for anxious people.
Let me modify: Summer is the worst time of year when your husband owns a remote cabin in the wilderness, miles from the nearest emergency personnel. As someone with an anxiety disorder and a deeply held aversion to being outside, far-flung venues do not sit well with me. Not one bit.
Going to my husband’s family cabin in the Berkshires reduces me to a flaming cultural stereotype. Whenever I set foot in the place, I feel like this:
I become a spoiled, nervous baby. I do not know how to cook over fire. I do not enjoy wobbly watercraft. I do best with chemically treated water and a wireless connection. I like easy access to life’s gilded necessities: restaurants, shopping and hospitals.
While other people, including my children, are happily kayaking and canoeing, I’m planted on a chair clutching a tattered Mary Higgins Clark novel, water and bug spray at the ready. Canoeing! It’s like launching yourself toward asphyxiation on a mud-stained, moving Q-tip.
This is how a weekend there typically unfolds: First, I map distances to the nearest hospital, lest I get stung by something, choke on a hot dog or sense that my heart is beating strangely. Then my throat tightens as I confirm that the nearest top-rated hospital is in Pittsfield (Pittsfield!), 40 minutes away. (You can assess how your local hospital is ranked for safety right here. You’re welcome. Consider it a paranoid gift from me to you.)
Then I look up 911 access, and my throat tightens even more: In the Massachusetts “hill towns,” as they’re cutely called, ambulances only work Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Quaint, yet deadly! Otherwise, they’re staffed by volunteers in neighboring towns who communicate via C.B. radios or a system of banging Chock Full O’ Nuts coffee cans together or something. Oh, God, I really am going to die.
At this juncture, I lower myself onto a porch chair and begin to practice alternate nostril breathing. Occasionally I retreat to the bedroom, because all this anxiety is exhausting. I inevitably leave with a mysterious constellation of bug bites and an empty bottle of Pepto-Bismol.
It’s unpopular to admit all this. There is so much cultural pressure to have fun while outside, to travel, to upend your safe routine in favor of the majestic, sprawling outdoors. It’s summer! Tis the season to Instagram oneself on al fresco adventures, ruggedly grinning, pushing boundaries, living life. For anxious, vigilant people, this adds insult to injury. Not only am I terrified, I’m also a societal outlier! If I had to Instagram my wilderness truth, I would be plugged directly into an air conditioner, rereading “Heartburn” by Nora Ephron while gulping Ativan. But who wants to admit that?
Well, I do. Right here, right now.
I long for cool, crisp sheets, seamless WiFi and a charger within arm’s reach. I love hearing noise outside. It reassures me that I am alive—and that if I’m about to become un-alive, it reassures me that oodles of people are just moments away, equipped to help. Crickets are not going to save me. Coyotes are not going to save me. A canoe might likely kill me.
Oh, and reader, sometimes my husband even camps. Camp! The word makes me break out in hives. Why would someone voluntarily sleep on dirt and trap themselves in a sleeping bag as an L.L. Bean buffet for bears? Toilets and wireless internet access are benefits of the modern age. So are mattresses. What sane person would willingly forgo a mattress?
There is a reason this magnet exists.
Really, though, I’m also consumed with guilt. I wish I were different. I do. It would be so much easier to prance through life as a hardy, resilient soul who found this stuff exciting, because it would be far more socially acceptable and much easier on my marriage. I feel truly regretful that my husband’s Berkshires idyll fills me with dread. I wish I could drum up enthusiasm for plunging myself into pond water that will surely turn my toenails yellow. I even try my best. This weekend, I walked slowly toward the water. No sooner did I step onto the lawn than I was stung by a bee. Lesson learned. I belong indoors. I’m a big disappointment.
I pursue this self-loathing line of thinking and then feel indignant. No! I am who I am. Remember the scene in “Annie Hall” when Woody Allen is nearly attacked by a lobster?
That’s who I am. That is relatable to me. Living life in a constant state of near-panic? This, friend, is my comfort zone. I’m nearly 40. I can’t deny it. I may as well embrace it. My husband isn’t going around apologizing for loving tents. Why should I apologize for loving a king-sized bed?
Which also leads to another problem: How do I make the experience better for the guy? Do I just send him off alone with the kids while I spend the weekend somewhere civilized, like the mall? Do I wrap myself in a Xanax jacket before leaving and smile benignly from the porch as they set off on their adventures?
This weekend, we invited friends, which helped a lot. It’s hard to descend into full-on meltdown mode in front of chums, even good ones, and their presence kept me distracted and chatty, despite the fact that I was stung by a bee and threw up in the driveway in the middle of the night for reasons unknown. Under normal circumstances, I would have woken up my husband and insisted on beelining to the Mass Pike at 2 a.m. With other people around, I felt somewhat safer and more relaxed. I popped an Ativan and watched “The Golden Girls” on Amazon Prime Video until I drifted back to blissful sleep.
Look, I wish it were different. I deeply admire people who can set off into the wilderness and feel somehow protected by the universe’s golden goodwill. Who don’t worry about gagging on a hamburger or going into shock after being stung by a wasp. Who think that somehow life will simply work out. What must life be like, buffered by that sanity-producing faith? I have absolutely no idea.
But I also know where I thrive: In air-conditioning. Among books. Close to a TV set. In busy beach towns, and by the ocean, enveloped by the protective hum of other people, surrounded by restaurants where trained professionals make my food and could save me if I collapse. Might as well admit it, much as it makes me feel shy and silly to do so: I am a hermit who shrivels like a sick snake at the sound of hissing grass.
Friends just got back from Yellowstone. Their pictures were gorgeous. My husband would love to go someday. In theory, I would, too, if I were wheeled through on an air-conditioned tour bus that let me off at various important stops and then whisked me back to a hotel at night, adjacent to a major medical center. Really, someone could make a lot of money on Tours for the Terminally Anxious, staffed by a physician with an Ativan buffet every evening. They have pot tours and food tours. Why not panic tours?
But in the meantime, I’m back in my safe suburban surroundings, laptop on lap and coffee by my side, comfy bed just steps away. My bites are fading and my heart rate has returned to normal. I am an indoor mouse, and that is my truth. If you quietly feel the same way, have shame no more: You are not alone.