I have been travelling twice. The first time was in 2015 for three months before my anxiety had reared its ugly head and the second time was in 2018 for just over ten months.
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I first realised I was suffering with anxiety in 2016, but looking back I have always been a shy and nervous person, somewhat jumpy and a painful planner down to minuscule details. Terrified that something would go wrong if I didn’t follow a plan. I’m rarely spontaneous, I’m not a chilled ‘cool’ girl who can just go with the flow.
In school before exams or speaking in front of the class I would get so nervous I would often be sick or dissolve into a puddle of tears. So whilst my anxiety wasn’t as aggressive as it is now, I do feel I’ve always suffered with it to some extent, I just never realised. The difference was that back then it didn’t rule my life but rather came in small waves which I was able to ride back to the safe shore quite smoothly after each passing episode.
As time went on these waves became bigger and bigger and it was harder to stay on the board and get back to shore. I seemed to be spending more time in the water than on the land, becoming totally exhausted.
I was plagued by thoughts of death and illness and catastrophising everything. Going on a walk I’d think someone was going to fall and hit their head. Going in a car I’d be convinced we’d be in a terrible car accident. When my friends got engaged, I feared they were so happy that something would happen to their partner and it would all come crashing down. Going on nights out I’d fear fights that got taken too far and resulted in one punch too much. I’d be terrified in the taxi home, convinced I was going to be attacked. Sounds crazy doesn’t? Rationally, I know this, but anxiety is irrational fear and my life was being controlled by it.
The first time I went travelling I coped fine. I went with my boyfriend and we had some amazing experiences. I remember feeling so excited, I’d always wanted to go to Australia and as the plane was landing I just felt so full of joy that I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream I’d had as long as I could remember.
The second time I went travelling was a different scenario all together. A couple of weeks before we left I was sobbing and wanted to cancel the entire trip. I cried my eyes out as I packed my bags. I sobbed my heart out saying goodbye to my family as I was so convinced I was going to die on my trip and that I would never see them again. I wondered how they would all cope with out me and prayed they would all be okay. I found it so incredibly difficult to get on that plane. We were heading to Australia again but stopping off for a few nights in Dubai. The temptation to just fly back home was almost overwhelming but I didn’t.
Instead I cried before I got on every plane and my mind was just filled with such awful dark thoughts. I was a wreck.
I powered on for 8 months in Australia and I was near miserable. (Don’t get me wrong there were some amazing days and once in a lifetime experiences. I also made two great friends for life who I recently visited). I felt like I was on the other side of the world away from everyone I loved, just working for the sake of working and just existing. This isn’t the travelling experience you see on Instagram. This is not the image I portrayed on my personal Instagram. Everyone I met who was travelling in Australia seemed to be living the life and loving their adventure and I felt completely alone.
My Mum and boyfriend knew I was struggling but I played it down and my friends were totally in the dark. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this. I was supposed to be care free and having the time of my life.
We came to a decision in the end to come back home and we did some travelling to other countries on the way. I definitely enjoyed this more as I knew I was coming home to my ‘safe place’. The flight home was awful as I was convinced that I was going to die because I was finally going home.
Things have improved since I’ve been home as I feel safer and I know my family are safe and I’m close to them if they need me. I hated the feeling of being out of control and so far away.
In hindsight I don’t think I should have travelled when I did, the timing was so wrong. My anxiety was at an all time high and my emotions were out of control. To be honest I also think I was suffering with depression at the time but didn’t realise until looking back because I was consumed by a dark thick fog which made it hard to see clearly. I don’t regret going, but I do wish I had spoken out more at the time.
For those of you who want to travel but fear your mental health may hold you back, speak to someone about it. Voice your concerns the way I never did. Try and push yourself to do the things in life you’ve always wanted. I so fiercely wanted to travel when I was much younger, I saved through my A Levels and all through Uni so I could go. I had so many amazing experiences and had so many once in a life time opportunities that I do not regret going, despite some days it being really fucking hard, but you know what? Some days are still really fucking hard even though I am now back home.
Below are my top tips for travelling with anxiety:
Practice Grounding Exercises
5 things you see. 4 things you feel. 3 things you hear. 2 things you smell. 1 thing you taste. These can be done anywhere and can help refocus your mind and calm you down.
Carry a First Aid kit at all times and have some basic first aid training
This can help put your mind at rest and make you feel more at ease.
Have a plan
If you know what you’re doing in advance it can help you to mentally prepare for particular situations and give you some sense of routine which I find particularly helpful. Whilst travelling I used a small travel journal which had all my flight numbers, times and routes written down in so I knew I always had them to hand if my phone was lost. However, it’s also important to remember that if something doesn’t go to plan, its not the end of the world. Something I sometimes struggle to remember myself.
Book group tours rather than venturing off alone
You’ll feel safer being with others rather than being by yourself and not really knowing what to do with yourself. If you don’t want to interact with others you don’t have to even if you are part of a group. You are still left to do as you please, this isn’t a school trip.
Book accommodation in advance
This way you’ll know where you’re heading to next and it will help you to feel organised and working towards a schedule. Rather than aimlessly hopping from one place to the next (I know this works for some people, but for me planning is a big help in dealing with my anxiety).
Fear of flying
Seek out other transport methods in advance. Lots of countries have really great train systems or tourist coaches you can catch.
Try and avoid situations that particularly overwhelm you or make you feel stressed
For example, if you’re staying in a hostel and everyone is really excited to go to some cave, but the thought of going into a cave is your worst nightmare, don’t go for the sake of going and spend the entire day on edge. Just be open and tell people it isn’t for you. There is no point getting yourself all worked up for the sake of wanting to fulfil other peoples dreams.
Have some spare money saved to one side for emergencies only. This way, if something terrible happens, such as losing your bag or being pick pocketed, you’ll have a back up and it will help with your panic in these awful situations.
You can beat this thing, don’t let it consume you. Don’t let that fire in you go out, because you are so much more than your illness. Don’t let it hold you back, fight it every single day. If you woke up today and battled with your own brain, I am so proud of you. There is so much more to this life than whatever you may be feeling right now.
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