“It felt like I was outside of my body, almost like I was floating above myself and inside of my mind, but wasn’t really there. This feeling was so different that I started to go into a bit of a panic wondering if something was wrong with me. I tried to ignore what was happening, but it was impossible because I couldn’t process what I was feeling.”
For most of her life, Annette White, now 51, struggled with anxiety. She feared being in large groups, driving a car, flying in airplanes and even going to a salon and sitting in the hair stylist’s chair.
She wanted to travel the world and have close connections with friends, but her anxiety made those goals almost impossible. Annette said these limitations were “frustrating, lonely and embarrassing, but mostly hopeless.”
Her focus would narrow on any nerve-racking trigger and she would get tunnel vision. At times, weird tingling sensations would web across her body, causing her to feel like she was vibrating from inside.
Allconsuming bouts of nervousness would sometimes escalate to panic attacks. Frequently, Annette visited emergency rooms as her symptoms made her think that she was dying.
Every time the doctors sent her home she felt relief, as she knew professionals had found nothing medically wrong. Yet another part of her “didn’t believe that it could just be anxiety — that anxiety could cause all those real feelings and physical issues.”
At times, Annette’s anxiety would ease. But it never vanished. Always it trailed her, grasping the reins and steering away from the freedom she so desperately craved.
At the age of 38 (2008), Annette could no longer stand the constraints her anxiety caused.
Annette Visiting the iconic phone booth at Luckett Vineyards in Nova Scotia
“I was just exhausted — so tired of living that way,” Annette said.
3 of Annette’s friends arrived at Annette’s house to pick her up for a hike and when Anneete opened the door to let them in, a weird feeling spread through her.
“It felt as if I wasn’t in front of them and they weren’t in front of me,” she said. “It felt like I was talking to them, but I was preoccupied with just listening to the words that were coming out of my mouth.”
As Annette walked through the house, gathering her hiking supplies, the strange sensation magnified.
“It felt like I was outside of my body, almost like I was floating above myself and inside of my mind, but wasn’t really there,” she said. “This feeling was so different that I started to go into a bit of a panic wondering if something was wrong with me. I tried to ignore what was happening, but it was impossible because I couldn’t process what I was feeling.”
Annette knew she wasn’t in the right state of mind for interacting with others. She told her friends that she couldn’t go on the hike, falling back on her usual excuse of not feeling well.
left to right: Reaching Machu Picchu after hiking the Inca Trail in Peru; Snowshoeing through the forests of Northern Norway; Wearing a traditional headpiece in Jodhpur, India
Her friends left and Annette began pacing the house, walking up and down the stairs. Then, she went to the emergency room. Soon after she arrived, she got sent home.
The next morning, she stood up in front of her mirror and stared at her reflection. Tears began falling down her cheeks and soon she was sobbing.
“I thought that it was lonely being me, someone who could barely maintain friendships,” she said. “I was embarrassed because I thought everyone thought I was weird. I was frustrated because I thought there was nothing I could do.”
Too exhausted to sit or stand, Annette sank to the floor. She scolded herself for being afraid to live the life she wished for, for falling prey to negative thoughts and sending away friends.
“Something had to change,” Annette said. “I didn't know what, but I knew that I had to do something.”
She made 2 promises to herself:
“I have to stop letting fear make my decisions for me.”
“I have to start living my bucket list by taking one step every day towards my goals.”
That same day, Annette began researching anxiety and ways to control it. She compiled lists of books to read, scoured through websites and devoured articles. She then began implementing the strategies she learned.
For two months, she carried a notepad around and every time she had a negative thought, she wrote it down and then followed it with a positive thought. Additionally, Annette turned off all negative television, implemented exercise into her daily routine, and started a gratitude journal in which she would write 5 things she was grateful for 2-3 times per day.
Top to bottom, left to right: Annette and her husband (Peter) at the top of a mountain in Goleta, California; With the Maasai children in Tanzania, Africa; On safari in Africa; Zip lining into a cenote (a deep sinkhole in limestone with a pool) in the Yucatán of Mexico; Indoor skydiving at iFly in California; Landing in the rain forests of Guyana; Eating sushi in Sendai, Japan
“I didn't realize how my brain was trained to think negatively and fearfully,” she said.
Eventually, she noticed that her default thoughts became less defeatist.
Armed with a newfound sense of self-esteem, she began tackling items from her bucket list, which originally had 25 items and later grew to more than 1000. The first goal she accomplished was learning how to ice skate backwards. 4 months later (in 2010), she traveled to Italy with her husband.
Every time she crossed an item of her list, she would get a burst of satisfaction that inspired her to keep living her life to the fullest. In February of 2009, she started her blog Bucket List Journey.
Annette’s improvement wasn’t always steady, yet she never lost sight of her goals and kept on working on being patient with herself.
“I always try and tell people to just keep one foot in front of the other,” she said. Don't worry about going a mile, just take one step.”
Annette said that the two promises she made have transformed her life. Her relationship with her husband became much closer and she developed a network of like-minded friends who support each other in their endeavors. She now finds passion and joy in every day.
“My life is a complete 180 from where it was before,” she said. “With every bucket list checkmark my comfort zone bubble has grown and so has my self-esteem. My confidence now allows me to dream bigger.”
Annette and her husband hiking Peru’s Inca trail to Machu Picchu