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You’re a big city guy living in a suburban world. You prefer experience over material items and one of the many things your family-friendly world doesn’t offer is experience. So you travel, which often means you fly, but you’d rather not. That’s why there’s a Xanax in your pocket.

There’s always a Xanax in your pocket. They’re also in your glove compartment, on your nightstand, and in the bag you take to work.

When you were younger, before your brain became your biggest enemy, you loved going to Texas in a beat-to-shit van with your friends — also your bandmates — partially because you became inspired and partially because driving wasn’t flying.

But you aren’t younger. You’re older. And each time you get behind the wheel of the ’99 red Toyota Corolla you inherited from your grandmother, you don’t think about late night drives with Coast to Coast AM on the dial or buying bright orange hats with the words “NRA Freedom” on them from roadside antique shops. Instead, you think about the time you crashed your car into the side of a mountain during a snowstorm in Ely, Nev.

Stranded in Ely without cell reception, food, and water, you realized driving, like flying, was a death trap, one you wanted nothing to do with.

A friend suggests therapy for your craziness and you begrudgingly agree because you can’t live in perpetual fear of the unknown. More importantly, you don’t want to. After 18 months of weekly sessions, you learn the only way to beat anxiety and claustrophobia is to confront the motherfuckers head on.

Your heart rate increases and you want to leap because you want out of the gondola, out of the madness.

So you fly to Memphis, Tenn., and drive a 15-passenger van (with a trailer) home. You do the same in Austin, Texas, San Francisco, Calif., and New York City. The pills are the only thing you’re checking on the flights, but your doctor warns you that Xanax can be addicting. Your therapist agrees and suggests you place yourself in anxiety-laden situations and deal with it sans drugs. You’re paying money for this stranger’s advice, so like those times your mom made you take your brother out to play with you and your friends, you place your Xanax in your pocket but you don’t acknowledge its presence.

You zipline on Catalina Island. You ride a Zeppelin. You paddleboard in Long Beach. You watch one of those “Superman” remakes on a flight and don’t freak out when, in the movie, a plane is going down. You get sardined into the general admission crowd at a Snoop Dogg show at the Wiltern.

These aren’t fun. These are learning experiences.

Rather than full-fledged panic attacks in tense situations, you distract yourself with text messages to friends and tying your shoes. Remarkably, this begins to work.

Still, you aren’t cured. You’ll never be cured. However, you can get through anxiety, which you’re reminded of when you park your friend’s vehicle in an underground structure at Sugar Bowl, a ski resort in Norden, Calif., and remove your bags. You think you’re walking to the check-in desk when a young man in a beanie places your luggage on a gondola and sends it away.

Then it hits you: This isn’t the check-in desk. You’re embarking on an eight-minute ride to one of the few snow-bound lodges in the country, traversing upwards of 300 feet during 14-degree weather. In your blue suitcase — in the other gondola — are your pills.

At the three-minute mark, you trick yourself into thinking you can see the final destination. You can’t. Nevermind the snow; you start to sweat. Your heart rate increases and you want to leap because you want out of the gondola, out of the madness. Now.

But you don’t jump. Rather, you use the distraction method your therapist taught you. To the left are snow-covered trees. You look right and see the same. Sweat stops dripping from your armpit down your side. Your heart rate decreases and you smile because you don’t get snow, or trees like these, in Southern California.

Less than 48 hours later, your feet are strapped into heavy boots latched into skis dangling from the lift taking you to the top of the Nob Hill run at Sugar Bowl. As your chair climbs the mountain, the instructor shows you how to get off the lift, explaining how to bend at the waist and explode upwards once the chair gets to its destination. He’s a pro, so he doesn’t think twice when he pushes your back over the bar as you hover at least 50 feet off the ground, oblivious to the danger he’s putting you in. But you’re not oblivious.

You’re also not reaching for your Xanax.

Health + Lifestyle


About The Author

Ryan Ritchie

Ryan Ritchie and his five cats live in Long Beach, California. He daydreams of Venetian Chianti, vegan donuts and traveling on someone else's dime. Interested parties should e-mail him.

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  • Nat Welfare

    This was great to read and trust me your not alone, myself included! But I find its the people who have these kind of mental hurdles to overcome who ended up having some of the most amazing and crazy experiences because you learn how to push yourself and ignore the barriers. Doin’ it anyway!

  • Karen Crews Hendon

    Love the story and humor. Learning to distract oneself is an art.

    • Marco Schindelmann

      !!! Hi !!!

  • Gary Singh

    Vata tea works much better.

  • Kum Weng Wong

    Panic attacks
    food triggers sometimes

  • Jessie Wych

    Stumbled across this. I began having severe panic attacks when I was 18. There was no Xanax at the time and meds didn’t help. I lived in terror for decades, raising three kids, getting degrees, working. Finally a good therapist said to me when I talked about moving West, “Oh, you probably won’t be able to do that. You’re too scared.” I realized what she was doing. From then on, whenever something scared me, I did it:hiking mountain trails with 300′ drop-offs, running the Colorado river, walking at the front of a peace march when we’d been told a sniper was in one of the buildings above. I still have panic attacks and they don’t run my life. thanks for this, Ryan. figures, a guy with five cats understands.

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