Tanya Peterson shares her story:
Earlier this year, I embarked on a journey with my twelve-year-old son. We flew across the country from Oregon to Boston in order to experience elements of the Revolutionary War that he had just studied in school. I hate driving (a serious car accident years ago gave me an aversion that I try to ignore) and am not used to city traffic conditions.
I lived in South Dakota for forty years before moving to Oregon two years ago. Because South Dakota has more cows than people and because cows don’t drive, I’m not used to heavy traffic conditions like I experienced in Boston and Philadelphia. That’s why in Boston, we walked everywhere we went with the exception of the taxi ride to Fenway Park for a baseball game.
But I was forced to drive from Boston to Philadelphia.
That drive was one of the most stressful events I’ve ever experienced.
I was nervous about damaging the rental car, a car that I found difficult to drive which made the experience worse. It was dark so it was harder to determine where I was or where I needed to go than it would have been during the day. Of course, the area was completely unfamiliar so day time might not have mattered much.
Highway signs continued to indicate that we were on our way to New York City, something that shouldn’t have surprised me but did and caused panic to rise. Then my GPS began to malfunction. Perhaps it kept shutting off to cower in fear.
Thanks to help from my son, who used my phone to navigate and alerted me to approaching exits and their locations so I could change lanes in time, he and I arrived safely in Philly just after midnight. I’m sure I looked strange as I hobbled into the hotel lobby, cramped into the shape of the seat, hands still clutching the steering wheel. Well, I probably didn’t look like that, but it certainly felt that way.
Attempting to drive through Philadelphia the next day seemed to be a repeat of the previous night’s journey through traffic that mimicked an asteroid belt. My stress intensified, which I found odd given that I thought it was already at its maximum level. The next day, muscles still cramped and tense, head burning, stomach full of old tires, I decided that to arrive at the zoo, we would walk the four miles across the crowded city. It was in the sunshine at the zoo that they made their appearance: bright red, angry-looking hives surfaced on my lower legs and spread so they became a map of sorts, showing the route of my intense travel stress.
I had practiced mindfulness on the drive between Boston and Philly via New York City. Why did I still have such horrible stress that it manifested in many ways, including hives?
Mindfulness doesn’t remove stress. What it does is help us make it through. I focused on each moment, and I focused on my son in every moment and what I wanted to do for him and with him.
I was stressed both physically and emotionally, but I made it to each little destination in front of me.
So I broke out in hives? To me, that just meant that I made it through. Itchy and unsightly as they were for days, to me they were a badge of honor, a sign that I can persevere and enjoy myself in spite of stress.