Travelling with Anxiety

Here’s the thing. I think I travel relatively a lot. I’ve been to 8 countries just this year, even if I still haven’t written about all of them on this blog. Of course it isn’t that hard, when I live in two countries and a couple of others are just a short bus drive away. But this is not the point. Even going to a new city or to a new place in your city is travelling. The point is this:

I am absolutely, completely, gut-wrenchingly terrified of travelling. 

It began before I even knew what anxiety was. I was going camping in Germany for 2 weeks I think, I was no more than 14 years old. It was my first time flying, first time leaving the country. The morning before the flight I was curled up in the bathroom. My whole body tensed up, I was shaking, I was sick to my stomach. I knew this was fear, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I begged my mother to get me something from the pharmacy to calm me down, but of course she refused, because I was still a child and she didn’t want to medicate me.

The feeling is like being under water. Everything around you is muffled, unclear. There is only you and your mind and your mind is attacking you with everything it knows you fear. Something will happen. I don’t know what, but something bad will happen and you will be all alone in a country you don’t know, with people you don’t know. You are going to get really sick, you will have to go to the hospital. All alone in a German hospital. Do you even have insurance. What if you can’t pay. Who will come visit you in the hospital? Who will hold your hand and tell you everything will be all right. You never believe it when you say it yourself. They have different bacteria over there, your body can’t handle that. What if you eat something bad in the middle of camping and you just die there, in front of everybody, in a pile of your own half digested food. That would be super embarrassing. And this goes on and on. You can’t focus on anything, you don’t see the bathroom you are in. You let the cold water run from the tap, just so you feel it on your hands and your face. You start to shake even more from the cold, but this is good shaking, because it is caused by the outside world and not from within you. You want to cry but you can’t. All you can do is try not to throw up, or try not to throw up again. Speaking requires such effort, because it stirs up your stomach. Breathing is fast and shallow. There are brief moments of clarity, as if your head has come above water for a second and you see the outside world, but you are just pulled back in the next second. And this goes on for hours.

I went on that trip. Mostly because my parents already paid for it and they would never have let a little nervousness waste their money like that. But they also knew that I’ve been nervous before and that in the end I’ve had a great time doing the thing I was afraid of doing.

For the first 2 days I didn’t eat anything there. My stomach was so tense, I felt like I was going to be sick each time I smelled food. My instructors were getting pretty nervous. But on the third day I woke up in my sleeping bag and I was starving like never before. I ate the best sandwich I have ever tasted. And from then on it was all good. We went trekking, canoeing, sleeping under the stars on an uninhabited island, climbing, playing all sorts of games and also one day was just travelling on a train through Germany. I loved it.

Now it’s 15 years later and I still get like that before a trip. It’s not always this intense, sometimes I manage to stop it before it develops, but I always feel it lurking and waiting to paralyse me. Often it happens on the day before or the first day of the trip and then it goes away. Sometimes it comes and goes during the whole trip. But now at least I know what it is and what I should do, even though it doesn’t always work.

Then I come home from the trip and I think man, this was exhausting. I just want to stay home for a while. 

A month later I start looking at new places I can go to.

A day before the next trip I curse myself for putting myself through this again.

So I still struggle with this. I haven’t found something that works every time. Just some things that work some of the times. Alcohol helps. After a glass of wine I am able to see the world around me with new eyes. But that’s tricky, especially when one of my biggest problems is that I can’t eat at all when I’m nervous. Breathing exercises sometimes help…but not as effectively as the wine. Walking helps. Sitting in a restaurant or a bar makes it worse, but it’s where the wine’s at. Laying in the bed in the hotel and waiting for it to pass helps. And when it passes, when I am finally above water, a nice warmth and calm spreads all around my body. I realise I was freezing before. I realise so many muscles were tensed up without me really knowing. Also I finally see how distorted my view was when I was under. I see so many things around me that I couldn’t before. Everything is suddenly interesting and exciting. Five minutes after the anxiety passing I don’t understand why I felt this way, even though when I was in it it seemed like the most logical and only way to be.

I wanted to write this post for a long time, because I can’t possibly write about travelling and ignore something that is a big part of it. It wouldn’t be honest, and even though this blog was meant for me to focus on the positives, it’s worthless if it’s only full of bullshit. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my travels or that I am always a mess when I am outside the city of my comfort zone. When I am outside of my head, travelling is wonderful. When I am at home, I want to travel. I need to travel. But most of all I need to do things despite my anxiety, because if I let it dictate my life, sooner or later I would never leave my bed. And that’s not a good deal for me.

One thought on “Travelling with Anxiety

  1. I agree, letting anxiety win tricks your brain into thinking that the anxiety is justified, and makes it occur more and more. I learned that in therapy. Facing fears is a great way to reduce anxiety in the long term!

    Liked by 1 person

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