Fear the DMV, and Other Paperwork 

I’m a geek for managing and planning things. I love office supplies. Stationary makes me giddy. So you would think I would handle bureaucratic tasks with, if nothing else, calm and grace.

Unfortunately, one of my most crippling irrational fears involves having to fill out any kind of government paperwork. I put off even the most mundane of adult tasks because the thought of sitting in a crowded, noisy, ugly government office immediately sends me into a hyper vigilant state. It sounds completely ridiculous, but my mouth gets dry, my palms get sweaty, my stomach turns in knots. I put off government paperwork related tasks often for long periods of time and cause myself unnecessary grief in the process. In 2016, I registered to vote 20 minutes before the absolute, final, deadline in person.

I know I’m not alone in this. My friend who works in a government office says people put off that kind of thing for too long all the time. A couple weeks ago, another friend confided in me that she still had not updated her social security card with her new married name because the thought of going overwhelmed her. She got married early last year. My friend is a total boss who is always juggling multiple projects, so hearing her say this made me feel less weird.

Last year, my identification was stolen, along with a metrocard and a few bucks. I was due to update my identification soon, anyway, but the timing was terrible. I was in the middle of some convoluted personal things, and I could not bring myself to fix it all. I felt completely overwhelmed and lost because I had to replace everything,  which is not a fun task.

Over the past few months, I’ve finally been feeling like myself again and I worked up the nerve to get my butt into the social security office to get my new card after also finally pulling myself together enough to update my health care information. As it turned out, the office wasn’t that busy that day. I was in and out in less than half an hour, no big deal. I was lucky.

Last Friday was the big day, though. After motivating myself with a favorite coffee drink for the subway ride, I made my way over to the Atlantic Terminal DMV to finally get my new NYC state ID. Food and drinks aren’t allowed, so I had to finish my drink, while I walked around the mall.

When I got there, the line wasn’t too long, and yet there was already a guy yelling and having a tantrum about something. I came prepared. I brought two pens, just in case, a book to read, a notebook to write in, my important paperwork folder, and had out my documents ahead of time. I filled out my paperwork in line. I was ready to roll. When I got to the first counter, I learned that the requirements for identification were more involved than the last time I had gone. I must have looked panic-stricken, because the clerk took on a calming tone, “You probably have everything you need on you already and don’t realize it,” she said. We went through my cards and paperwork, it turned out that I did, in fact, have enough.

The time between going to the first counter and getting my picture taken was about 30 minutes, so I thought for sure I would be out of there soon, but the wait for my ID to be processed was almost two hours. I read some of my book, but it was hard to focus when I was listening for my number over the noise. The DMV became crowded again, and so many people were in some form of either confusion or agitation. Diversity is one of the things that makes NYC great, but there is something about people being verbally unhappy in several different languages that is especially depressing. Throw in a couple of crying babies and someone with a bad cough, along with the monotone announcement of random strings of numbers over a loudspeaker, and you have the recipe for the perfect discontented cacophony.  The wait made me more nervous. I felt like I was going to puke. Why did it take so long? I spiraled a little. What if my identity was stolen? What If they wouldn’t issue my ID because another fake me was out there running around, and they thought I was a fake me? Maybe I should have had less coffee that morning.

When I finally finished, I cannot explain to you my feeling of exhaustion and relief. It took me a few minutes to calm down after I left. It’s always good to cross something important off of your to-do list, but it’s even more rewarding when you face your anxiety head on in the process and WIN.

Still, I wonder, what is it about this kind of task that makes so many of us, even the most capable and well-adjusted of us, so uncomfortable? Is it the pressure to make sure all of the information is correct? Is it the rules that sometimes change?  Maybe it’s the sad, drab, paint job and stark lighting.



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