By Franne Sippel, EdD
I have worked in the mental health field for almost three decades. I began my career working at a mental health center as an outpatient therapist for children and adolescents who had received treatment in a residential facility.
After 14 years, and earning my doctorate, I moved into private practice, serving people of all ages. Many of my clients over the years have experienced debilitating anxiety, viewing life through a lens of fear. Often, I share with them my own experience, which has taught me that clinging to a comfort zone of familiarity and safety can limit one’s choices, relationships and experiences.
As I look back over the years, I think about how my daughter has taught me to dive into all that life has to offer: New food, new people, new adventures, new countries, new plays, new museums, new concerts...the list goes on. I have learned to say “yes” to things I would never have dreamed of trying.
She has taught me how the value of shared experiences with loved ones is more precious than anything — and she has even taught me to quiet the voice of anxiety that accompanies stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.
We were at the end of a family vacation on the beautiful island of Maui. My daughter, Camille, hoped to pack in one more Hawaiian adventure: She wanted to take a sunrise bike tour in Haleakala National Park. At 6,500 feet high, bikers would view a glorious sunrise before riding 26 miles downhill from the slopes of Haleakala.
In order to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity, we would have to wake up at 2 a.m. and drive for an hour to the bike shop where we would be suited in rain gear and helmets. My husband, son and my son’s girlfriend had no interest in getting up that early — and honestly, after reading further about the excursion, I began to have second thoughts. At 53 years old, I did not have Camille’s youthful energy.
Against my better judgment, I woke at 1:30 a.m. and pulled on my socks. Memories began flooding my mind of so many previous adventures with Camille: Horseback riding, zip lining, repelling, swimming in a cave with stalactites, hiking, dancing, skiing and traveling. These memories are tied to meeting the most wonderful humans from all over the world who graciously shared their stories, kindness and assistance if needed. These memories are more precious to me than anything else I possess on Earth.
By not allowing a nagging voice of anxiety to dictate my experiences, I have learned that my fear is fleeting and has diminished over time. What the hell, I thought to myself, I’m in.
We walked to the rental car, and I wrapped my jacket tighter around my shoulders. It was cold, damp and dark. Shivering, I turned on the heat in the rental jeep as rain began to fall. I thought to myself, Oh good, the tour will be cancelled and I can crawl back into a warm bed. We arrived at the bike shop where we were given our biking gear and a brief overview of what to do and not to do on the bike.
We found a seat together on the van, which was packed with other eager, early-rising adventurers. It was probably a blessing that the darkness, fog and continued rain prevented us from seeing much of anything. We were assured the rain would likely clear up and the sun rise would be dazzling as promised. Arriving at the very top, we all made our way into the National Park building. Camille and I slowly nudged our way forward to the large windows to view the magnificent sunrise. However, the rain and fog obscured our view. “This is a blast, and I love the view,” I joked.
Freezing and damp, we trudged back in the rain toward the van. Again, we were reassured this is only temporary, and we will still be able to do the bike ride. I can’t wait, I thought to myself, nothing like riding down a slick road overlooking a 6,500-foot-high edge to make you feel totally pumped.
When the van drove us down to where the ride would begin, the rain stopped and the sun came out, as if on cue. We were tasked to ride along a two-lane highway in the small space between the line separating us from cars zooming behind on our left and the abyss on our right. I spent the next few hours riding simultaneously in fear and exhilaration behind my fearless daughter. The views were indescribably beautiful and tears suddenly filled my eyes with gratitude that I am healthy enough to make this trek and share this amazing experience with my only daughter.
Camille rode her bike without a care in the world, glancing behind periodically to make sure I was still alive — while I periodically yelled for her to slow down. Several hours later, we coasted back into the bike shop and peeled off our rain suits, now dried and stiff. I thanked God that I might actually live to see my next birthday. Camille told me how she would do the ride again. With a wry smile, I told her she is a sadist. But she knows the next time she suggests a new adventure, I will be all in.
Though anxiety prefers that we remain in a cone of safety, avoid any unnecessary risks and keep everything the same as much as possible, we must resist. I will not let the fearful voice of anxiety limit opportunities for adventure and connection with those I love.
Dr. Franne Sippel, EdD, is a licensed psychologist, a nationally certified mediator, co-owner of Northern Plains Psychological Associates in Aberdeen, S.D., and co-host of the mental health podcast, Shrink Rap the Podcast. She has worked with clients of all ages for almost three decades. Franne has been married for 30 years and is mother to two adult children.
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