The Worry List: Staying Present in Face of (Un)Certain Peril. (Part1)

The Worry List: Staying Present in Face of (Un)Certain Peril. (Part1)

It’s three in the morning in Cusco, Peru, and I am unable to sleep. My heart is pounding in triple time. My hands and feet are in a cold sweat. I am hyperventilating, and my stomach is doing somersaults.

It might be hard for an outside observer to detect why: I’m in a cozy hotel room with my wife and daughter. It’s day two of a 2-week dream vacation that will include hiking, relaxing, food, and culture.

So why do I feel like my heart is going to explode out of my chest? Because, ironically, of my need to NOT be worried. You see, for weeks we have been talking, preparing, packing, and yes, worrying about what will happen once my family arrives to the high altitude region of Peru.

We have signed up for a 5-day hike in the mountains that will eventually bring us up to a maximum of 16,000 feet (don’t people just keel over and die at that altitude?). Every expedition documentary I’ve ever seen keeps replaying through my head, the ones where they talk about people freezing to death on a mountain, how it feels like drifting off to sleep—only you never wake again.

Our travel clinic doctor, a clone of the high-pitched exorcist in the original Poltergeist movie, poured kerosene on this anxiety cocktail: “Use hand sanitizer after touching anything. Never touch an animal because if they have rabies you will die. You might want to get yellow fever and malaria treatments… totally up to you.”

And my favorite: “Some people can get a stroke when over-exerting themselves at high altitudes.”

So $500 dollars, 3 different insect repellents, 2 types of antibiotics, and one altitude sickness prescription later, I was externally prepared but absolutely terrified to start the journey.

My 16-year old daughter and I were traveling alone for the first leg of the trip, and my anxiety was fueling hers. Out of desperation, we tried something I do with our clients when we’re trying to get them to step into a difficult meeting or situation: We tried to imagine every single thing we were worried could possibly go wrong. Here is our (partial) list:

  1. Sleeping poorly
  2. Waking up exhausted and then panicking out of being tired 
  3. Someone getting sick and it stopping all of our plans
  4. Freezing to death. Literally.
  5. Altitude sickness being bad
  6. Typhoid, food poisoning, other gastric calamities
  7. Feeling trapped
  8. Being robbed 
  9. Not liking any food 
  10. Throwing up 
  11. Panic from sensory overload 
  12. Panic from being unplugged from the outside world
  13. Film camera not working
  14. Lost luggage
  15. Scary security guards
  16. Terrifying customs officers
  17. Family fighting ruining trip
  18. Losing passports
  19. Getting lost

At the end of our journey, we would check to see which of these things actually happened…

(Check out Part 2 to find out!)

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