I owe a lot to Anxiety: a degree, income, several books, resistance to credit cards. Anxiety has taken me places I may not otherwise have gone. Driven by work Anxiety, I have raced all night to meet deadlines. Financial Anxiety has carried me to jobs and business ventures that brought new friends, skills, and opportunities. Parental Anxiety has steered me to wise advisors.

But Anxiety is a zealous driver and riding with her is a little like being duct taped to the backseat of a ’78 Pinto. It’s hard to breathe and I keep wondering if the gas tank is about to explode. From the front seat, she points out, with a black-gloved hand, the scenes of my previous failures: the house I gave back to the bank, the job I lost in college. “You don’t want to go there again,” she says reprovingly.

Because we both know I Don’t Want to Go There, she capitalizes on this by favoring safe, predictable routes. “We don’t like accidents, do we?” she says, adjusting her peaked hat. Once I shockingly suggested traveling to France—I hadn’t been in decades. “We’ll rent a car,” I told her. “But I promise to let you drive.”

She paused from polishing her boots. “France.” She frowned. “You don’t even remember the subjunctive, nor which Louis was beheaded. Everyone will think you’re a half-wit. Besides,” she said, tugging at her jodhpurs, “we’re out of gas. And the accelerator has been sticking.”

The fact that we weren’t going anywhere didn’t mean she left me alone, though. She seems to want company regardless of my plans, and frequently pops in “just to chat” while I’m making dinner. I end up inviting her to stay, and I hate to say it, but Anxiety eats a lot, and my family doesn’t like her very much.   

Despite her penchant for avoiding risk, we’ve ended up crashing several times. Once she pulled suddenly into an alley to dodge a reviewer who didn’t like my book. We hit a wall and it was months before I could write again.  

Another time we collided with a Ford Escape when I was trying to finish a bunch of errands I’d promised to people. Anxiety was going a hundred miles an hour, so even if she says she’s committed to keeping me safe—she’s lying. In fact, the whole time we were screaming down the highway, she was listing all the people who’d be hurt or disappointed if I didn’t keep every single promise.

There’s no way to sleep when Anxiety is driving, either,  even on long trips–especially on long trips, because she talks all night to keep herself awake.

I’ve been giving some thought to letting her go, but she’s been so loyal that I feel badly for considering it. “I’m indispensable,” she often pronounces. “Who’d drive you if it wasn’t for me?”

She’s asking a very good question.

This is the first of a series on overcoming anxiety. Stay posted for the next installment.

If You’re Driven by Anxiety, Hire a New Chauffeur