Anxiety: A New Mental Game Challenge

July 27, 2017

As a professional poker player, one of the biggest areas to gain an edge these days is in the mental game. This means that when you lose a big pot or get sucked out on by a hand that shouldn’t have even dreamed of seeing the river, you don’t let it bother you. You just shake it off and move on to the next hand like nothing ever happened. More importantly, it means that when you’re getting absolutely demolished – for hours, or an entire session, or even weeks and months at a time – you just keep plugging along playing your A-game. Easier said than done. Most people simply can’t do it. That’s why it’s a real edge for me and it makes me think of myself as having incredible mental game strength.

But a new mental game challenge has arisen and it has nothing to do with poker: I have become dangerously and irrationally scared of traffic. Yes, you read that right: TRAFFIC.

Here’s how it happened.

I’m a Type 1 Diabetic so I wear a device that tells me what my blood sugar level is every five minutes and whether it’s stable or trending upwards or downwards. When we moved from University Place to Lakewood, I was gathering some things from the apartment in UP to take to our new house and as I was leaving I noticed that my blood sugar was kind of low, so I stopped at Taco Time and got a crispy burrito and figured that would be sufficient enough to raise my blood sugar to absurd levels.

I was wrong.

And I wasn’t prepared at all. I remember I had something like peanuts or one of those Clif peanut butter bars in the car, but nothing to drink and it felt like I was going to choke on whatever it was I was trying to eat since I couldn’t wash it down. And I needed to eat fast. My blood sugar was plummeting. I’m talking danger zone and going down. This was all scary enough on its own, but I had just reached the terminus of Highway 16 and I was stuck on the I5 South ramp. My blood sugar was in a dangerous place, I had nothing to fix it, and I was stuck in traffic – there was nothing I could do. My survival instincts were telling me to get out of the car and start running, but there was nowhere to run to. Okay, so traffic was moving a little. Maybe I’m not here to write this if it was really gridlocked. But considering the severity of my situation it felt like we might as well have been at a standstill. Aside from having crazy thoughts like evacuating the car, I was also starting to see darkness or what I have come to recognize as “tunnel vision.”

I made it to a gas station. Barely. I mean I really was on the verge of losing consciousness on top of having a full blown panic attack. And that’s where the irrational thoughts of fleeing my car and the tunnel vision came from. A panic attack. It gives me a little anxiety just talking about it. Ugh.

I had a soda at the gas station and got my blood sugar back to a happy level and I tried to drive home, but I couldn’t do it. I was too rattled. I had to have my wife come get and I left the car behind.

Obviously you live and you learn, so since this incident I have tried to be well prepared for these things. However, last week I was running some simple errands and I didn’t bring anything with me to combat a low blood sugar incident and, of course, that’s what happened, albeit way less extreme than my previous story. But it was enough to remind me that traffic plus low blood sugar plus lack of supplies is a very scary place for me.

And then I went to a Mariners game last Friday. I left my house with my blood sugar pretty high, but trending down and with a decent amount of insulin coursing through my body, so I made the wise move to stop at a gas station before I got on the freeway and picked up a Gatorade and a package of those orange cup cakes that Hostess makes. I ate the cup cakes and stashed the Gatorade and got on I5 heading north towards Seattle. As I was passing the Tacoma Mall, traffic started to build up and things began moving very slowly.

I looked at my device and saw my blood sugar was trending straight down and the panic started to creep in. It made no sense. I ate the damn cup cakes and I had a Gatorade in the car. Not only was my blood sugar going to stabilize, it was going to skyrocket if I wanted it to. Nevertheless, as long as I saw that down arrow on my monitor I had an almost overwhelming urge to take every exit I saw. A police officer drove past me in the right lane and part of me wanted to pull over to the side of the highway and flag him down. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING. I wasn’t even thinking about the situation I was in – which was completely nonthreatening – I was thinking about what would happen if I didn’t eat those cup cakes or have anything in the car to save me. And the more I thought about this hypothetical situation, the more I panicked and I started to get that dreaded tunnel vision.

I was meeting a friend on the Light Rail and I really didn’t know if I was going to make it. I almost text him to tell him I was going to be really late or maybe not even go. Every time I passed an exit, I had to talk myself out of taking it. This was all in my head at this point. I knew my blood sugar was going to be fine, so there was absolutely no rational reason for me to be worried about anything. And yet, I was.

I made it to the game though. I managed to keep myself sane enough to keep moving forward, resisting the urge to exit the highway and eventually my blood sugar stabilized and the traffic cleared. And then I just moved on with my life like nothing happened. Not everyone seems to be able to do that. At least there’s no lingering affects for me.

Or are there?

Yesterday, with my blood sugar fine and plenty of escape valves in case of emergency, I was about to get on I5 to head five miles north and I saw brake lights and cars starting to jam up… and I almost didn’t get on. And then I almost did the same thing again today. It happened to be congestion because of a busy merging spot and then cleared up right away, but if this would have been full on traffic for five miles, I’m not sure I would have gutted it out. I had to call my wife the other day to distract me when I went to Costco because there was a little congestion before my exit. I’m getting hints of anxiety at red lights that take just a little bit too long to turn green! This is no joke.

At this point my fear is completely irrational. What I’m really scared of is having low blood sugar and not being able to do anything about it. When my blood sugar is fine and I have something like Gatorade in the car, just in case, there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. And yet, my fear of traffic has reached legitimate phobia territory. This is actually a real thing. It’s called vehophobia. Right now, I’m a vehophobic.

But it’s not real. This is all mental (although I’ve experienced some pretty physical sensations). I have no good reason to be scared of being in traffic. So that’s the challenge. How do I overcome this thing and leave it completely in the past? I know I have nothing to be scared of, so why am I scared? I guess these are the questions I have to ask myself when I’m in the moment. I really have no interest in dealing with this for any extended length of time. Right now I can’t even fathom the idea of driving myself to Fortune in Renton to play 20/40 because it gives me anxiety to think of how I might react if the 512 or 167 is jammed up and that’s simply something I cannot accept. So let’s see how strong my mental game really is. Strong enough to talk myself out of a serious phobia?

This is somewhat embarrassing, but I’m not really one to be super private about things – it’s the writer’s nature. It’s no secret I’m a recovering alcoholic and I’m happy to talk about it to anyone that wants to listen. I’ve written horrible rap lyrics and recorded them in songs that people have actually listened to. And now I’m dealing with anxiety. It is what it is. And if anyone that reads this has any advice or has experienced something similar, feel free to comment.


  1. It might take a little bit to time and practice to disassociate the driving from the anxiety. This is different than having a strong poker mental game. I would suggest several short, easy drives that you don’t have no time pressure. You need to practice being successful (ie no anxiety) when driving. Build up to driving in traffic.

  2. […] those of you that have read this post about my recent anxiety issues, it will come as no surprise that I decided to pass on driving […]

  3. […] Link added: Anxeity: A New Mental Game Challenge […]

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