The Anxious One….

So in a day or so I’ll be on a long haul flight to Hong Kong…again. I’ll then be there for a while to then find myself on another plane heading for Thailand. After some time researching and looking into voluntary programmes, meditation escapes and yoga retreats…I found an opportunity to work with my beloved spirit animal back in Asia. Elephants. Since coming back from Vietnam I’ve found myself with this love inside me and this wandering heart needing to travel, to learn different cultures, to meet different people and to live in all of that and take it in and soak it all up and learn from it all. And so with that bug inside of me, I was desperate to book another trip. But here comes the catch. Anxiety.

Living with anxiety I would say has been the toughest thing I have to live with. Some days it’s just in the background, other days it pulls me down making me want to make a nest in my bed and not face the day or anyone for that matter. That constant churning in your stomach, the feeling of constantly treading water, getting ready to drown again. As hard and exhausting it is, you shouldn’t let it stop you from doing things you want to, like in this case travelling.

It’s so easy to stop yourself and think ‘nope, there is no way I’m getting on that bus, train or plane’. It’s so easy to just not experience and just dream about the places you want to go and let your anxiety build up that wall in front of you instead of you knocking down that wall and freeing yourself. I’m not going to lie to you, it takes a lot of strength, because that wall isn’t made of straw. That wall is solid brick, and it’s high. Very fucking high.

Finding that strength is bloody hard too. Because, well, you’re anxious. And you’re anxious you’re not strong enough, you’re scared on what’s on the other side. You’re scared you’ll crumble, or lose your footing in that water and begin to drown again like you have in the past. Even if that happens, that’s okay. Remember that. It’s okay to fall. It’s okay to lose your footing.

When travelling, I’ve learnt many things on how to overcome my anxiety. Taking small steps is the biggest one. Don’t do everything at once. If you do this, you’ll become overwhelmed, you’ll go too deep and you’ll feel like that waters coming in to drown you. Give yourself time. Time to gather yourself, to calm and find your peace, before heading onto your next step. I hate not having time to get from one place to the other. I like knowing once I get to one place, I have the time to prepare myself for the next phase otherwise I become agitated and stressed which can make me lose myself in those waters.

Be organised. If I’m not organised, this makes me feel anxious. So eliminate that factor. Have your documents with you ready to travel. Tickets, passports whatever you need to get from A to B. Have a watch or clock handy at all times. Plan your route, plan your timings. This really helps me stay calm and relaxed. Check in with people. People back home who are probably tracking your every step… Notify them where you are. You’ve just gone through check in, you’re about to board the plane, or you’ve just landed in your first stop. Then think about that. Then tell yourself you’ve just done that. And not only that, but you’re okay. You’ve achieved so much already and you’re still okay. Maybe you’re a little shaky, a little nervous or disorientated but you are okay. Always. Don’t feel stupid congratulating yourself either. Hell I was pretty much having full blown conversations with myself in toilet cubicles keeping my cool, or walking to different gates in airports, casually talking to myself to remain calm and congratulating myself on what I’ve just overcome. People thought I was insane, but that’s okay. Because it made me okay.

After being physically and mentally able to travel to Asia on my own in February was a big deal. Yes, I broke down on occasions, I had to be escorted onto the plane from Manchester to Hong Kong because it was visible to the flight attendants that I was loosing it. But I still got on that plane. Something I never really thought about. Even though I was in the midst of a mild panic attack, I took that ladies hand and crossed over from the Terminal tunnel onto the plane. I crossed over my anxiety and basically told it to fuck off. And I’ll do the same with this trip to Thailand. I know I’ll get anxious thinking about different things, and being there on my own, travelling all that way again on my own, being safe, meeting new people. But that’s natural. I just have to control that crippling anxiety. If I had let my anxiety stop me from experiencing all I did in Vietnam I would never have forgiven myself. Not like I’d really know what I was missing…but still. The life I felt there gave me such strength that I forgot for just a moment what it was like to feel that cloud over me.

This constant battle you are fighting is all you. No one else. It’s the battlefield in your mind that you’re fighting, and my god its exhausting. You see people buckle into their seat on the aircraft, not even wincing. Then there’s me shaking too much to even fit the buckle of my seat belt together. But that’s not the people around me. It’s not the aircraft itself. It’s the battlefield in my head constantly telling my body I’m afraid. I’m afraid of these situations. I’m afraid that I’m trapped, and I see no way out. I’m afraid when I say something to someone, which I then mull over for hours thinking how bad or awkward that was, when in reality that person has forgotten or didn’t even notice the awkward situation. It’s this constant battlefield in my head which tells me to curl up and run because I’m not good enough. I’m not strong or brave enough to fight, because well, it’s just me, I’m only Lottie, I’m nothing. That’s the fight that you constantly deal with. And it’s fucking hard to charge from the opposing side on your own with no weapons or back up. Because it just feels like too much. And it’s just too bloody exhausting. And it’s a part of you now, that’s made itself at home for so long, you don’t even now when it really started, or if it was there all along…So that makes it pretty hard to imagine it not being there. Almost like the sickest comfort blanket you’ve ever held onto. Or that holds onto you…

I can’t tell you things will be okay, and it will be sorted soon. I can’t tell you to just calm down, and stop worrying. I can’t tell you to cheer up and smile either. But I can say that you can deal with this. If you accept it first. Accept that things aren’t okay. But you are. It’s not something to be ashamed of. If you had a chest infection, or a broken limb, you wouldn’t be ashamed of that, so don’t be ashamed of this, just because it’s not visible to all. It’s still there eating inside of you, constantly nibbling away. Don’t let it finish its meal. Speak out and tell someone. Anyone who you think will listen. Confide in a friend or relative and find comfort in that release that at least someone knows and can try and understand that battlefield. Hey they might even join your side and help you fight. There is so much help around you and inside of you that you are oblivious to. This might even help. But don’t let it waste opportunities either.

Recently I’ve learnt that this anxiety within me isn’t going away any time soon. So in the meantime I’ll embrace it. If I feel anxious, I won’t let it consume me or take over me, but I will ride it out. And if that means embarrassing myself with the uncontrollable sweats, the tears, the shakes and the hyperventilating then fine. This is me for the moment. Maybe people will describe me as the anxious one. But in a couple of years time, hopefully people will describe me as the one that travelled and helped so many people and animals, and did these amazing things despite having crippling anxiety, which she overcame.

I’m not letting my anxiety stopping me from doing all the things I’d love to do. So don’t let experiences fly past you, let yourself fly with them…

Amsterdam Assembles…

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So I headed to Amsterdam for a couple of days and fell even more in love with the beautiful canels, the wonky terraces and the old school dainty bikes. Don’t let the stigma of Amsterdam put you off this beautiful place. You may get attacked by a cloud of horrible hazey smoke every now and then, but this place is full of history, nature and very fashionable people.

I was quite hesitant as to what clothes to take since I’d be walking around a lot and I wasn’t sure which way the weather was going to go. I kept it relatively simple. You can probably guess I only took monochrome colours, but please remain calm when I say there may have been a pastel pink coat and a blue shirt thrown in the mix. I know dare devil alert…

And of course I packed waaaaay too many clothes…but let’s not get into that…

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My favourite picks from this trip have been this pastel pink coat from Forever 21. I went ahead and bought this after seeing so many pretty pastel pink outfits. Told you I would give it a whirl. This number has been my saviour. It goes with everything. Absolutely everything. It looks slick and chic and really adds a touch of elegance to all of my outfits. I was able to pair it with my Stan Smiths and my ankle boots and I still feel elegant and smart. Not to mention this bad boy is also great for comfort. But needs a good ironing every now and then…

Next up are my beautiful culottes. These babies have flown me to Hong Kong and given me the greatest of comfort. They also go so well with my trainers and still give me that touch of elegance and grace. Especially when I wear them with my pretty pink coat. Did I mention they’re comfy? Seriously if you’re not a skirt person in the heat and you don’t want to melt in your tight jeans, these are your pals. They’ll have you high kicking down the street for days.

So those are what I felt pretty darn cool in the last few days whilst walking round like a little tourist trying to look Dutch…what are your favourite picks for city breaks?

Vietnam…

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So I’ve been back from Vietnam for a week or so now, and it’s safe to say I’m missing that beautiful place. Writing posts was difficult whilst I was there, not just because they blocked the server with it being quite communist there, but whenever I tried to write something I constantly found myself in a block. But how do you write about something you can’t really understand yourself? How do you really write about sights you’ve seen like poverty, which you think you know about, but it’s only until you’re really there in the thick of it, living it you feel your heart snap in two. How do you write about how you’ve found more of your spirit and soul, when you’re blind, and the feeling of it bleeding around your body only makes you aware. How do you write about energy and spirit in other people? I knew this trip would test me in lots of different ways, but I never really thought about how and when. But I guess that’s the beauty of travelling and leaving your comfort zone back in your comfy bed. Nothing you do will really prepare you for travelling to somewhere completely unknown, to a completely different culture, to a heartbreaking poverty, but so much life.

Culture shock is a thing. Really. Whenever I heard about it, me being little naive me thought okay, so you have to use chop sticks instead of knives and forks, it will be okay. Oh Lottie. Let’s just say my first day put me in my place. Being a Westerner, we’re so used to our home comforts which we don’t really think about. Like the warmth of our bed, with hugging duvets and inviting pillows. The warmth of our water from our shower head, the comfort of having an actual kitchen with worktops, and a sink and a clean cooker. The comfort of actual running water and working toilets. But not in Vietnam. After travelling for two days, I found myself in my accommodation, a house rented by a buddhist lady, sat on what I would call my bed for the next two weeks curled up in a ball, disorientated, exhausted and incredibly lost. I wanted my bed, my pillow, my safe space, my little escapes but I couldn’t have them. I had to make them myself. I woke up to a Vietnamese lady who was shouting at me, apparently telling me dinner was ready. With her being Buddhist, this meant she only ate food that was non meat, this settled me. I was joined by two other volunteers in the house and we all sat round the dinner table eating this beautiful food, awfully with my new knife and fork. Chopsticks are hard to use let me tell you!

Working there was also difficult. I was so lucky to meet and interact with some of the most precious children. Children whose eyes would light up when they saw you walk into the room. They’d give you these hugs which would melt you. The way they touch your face with wonder, the way they hold and look at your hands and trace the lines within your palm. How do you not melt at that? These children deserve nothing but love. Simple. But not simple  for the teachers that work there. They’re not working there because they love the children. They’re there because they just are. They don’t care when a child begins to cry in distress. They don’t care that a little autistic girl is crawling around looking for someone to hold her and rock her gently. Instead they think she’s a contagious poison, and they gesture us to get away from her before we catch it, so to keep everyone safe they trap and lock her in a room for a couple of hours or so because she’s just too much to handle. They don’t mind hitting the children. They don’t mind pulling down the pants of the children and smacking and hitting them on bare skin, making the children scream in pain leaving marks on their body. They don’t mind doing that. And they certainly don’t mind doing that in front of volunteers. If there’s one thing that I’ve brought home with me, it’s the images left imprinted on my brain of those horrible teachers being emotional and physical abusers. But it’s also the life of the children. Their pure and precious souls and their happiness when you give them love. The twinkle in their eye when you give them just an ounce of your time. When you hold them in your arms and they hold you back. When a little girl is able to learn how to count in English, and each day she will show you how. That’s why I went to that country.

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This beautiful lady let the three of us onto her tiny little boat to sail around a little part of the bay for an hour or so. She was the kindest, sweetest and warmest local I met there.

I also never thought about the other volunteers I would meet on my travels. I met people from Mexico, Canada, Africa, all of the States and even some from back home. I never thought how I’d deal with these people either…When you go away on your own, you find yourself having to trust strangers. You find yourself having to start the conversations and making a big effort because these are people who are going to see you at your worst, and at your best. I was so fortunate to get a long with these people so well, and I know that I’ve met friends for life here. They’ve shown me parts of myself I didn’t know I had, and they helped me find more of my spirit and my balance for nature. They showed me I can climb mountains and return safely.

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I’m not going to write about every detail of my trip, because even when people ask me, I always hold back because there’s always parts I’ll keep for only myself, and I’d be talking about the experience for days. They say travel broadens the mind. They’re right. It does open your mind, but it also opens your soul, especially when you see people with the same rights as you, but they have nothing. They’re walking down the street with just the clothes on their back, yet they still walk over to you and they talk to you. They want to interact with you. And they’re so so happy. They are thankful, and kind and warming. Vietnam isn’t just a country, it’s the biggest family I’ve ever met.

And now chopsticks are second nature to me now ha!

 

Vietnam…

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So about half a year ago I had a mad moment and I booked a trip to Vietnam to volunteer with children and young adults with additional needs. And now it’s pretty much here. AH.

Yes I am absolutely shitting myself, yes I am the most nervous I have ever been in my life but yes I am so overwhelmingly excited. If you read my blog post a couple of months back about how I travelled to London on my own, you will know I am pretty pants at travelling, especially on my lonesome. I hold my hands up and admit it, travelling is a major trigger for my anxiety. But it’s okay. I’ve got this. Ish…

I will be leaving Manchester and heading to Hong Kong which will take me a brutal 18 hours in a metal tube with recycled air. How can anyone not feel nervous? After that, I will spend the day in Hong Kong and wait for my connecting flight to Hanoi, the Vietnamese Capital. After spending a night there, I will then head to my final destination of Halong Bay where I will work for two weeks with children and young adults.

One factor that has kept me feeling okayish is keeping organised. Thankfully I have had great support with the organisation I am travelling with, [IVHQ] you should definitely check them out if you’re looking to volunteer anywhere! They gave me plenty of information about the country and checklists to do to organise me for my trip such as visa’s, safety checks and vaccinations etc. When I don’t feel organised, everything I know I need to do hangs on me like wet washing slowly pushing me down. Once it’s done, the relief is great and relaxes me. So get everything you need done and let that washing dry people!

When I feel myself loosing control of keeping it together, I think about the people I will be helping, and how I may even get the chance to change their lives even for just two weeks. That very thought alone makes me almost banish all of my anxious thoughts, and makes me even more excited and motivated to go. I am so incredibly lucky to have found the opportunity to catch that metal tube hurdling enormous amounts of speeds through the air just to help individuals less fortunate than me.

It’s going to be terrifying yes. But let’s do it! See you soon Halong Bay…

Tam Biêt…

Shitting yourself…

If there’s one promise I’ve made to myself recently, it’s to do more ‘stuff’. Doing more on my days off, seeing different places and doing things that scare me a little.

If you read one of my recent posts, you would have seen that I spent a couple of days in London. Read that here if you like! I went to apply for a Visa as I will be travelling to Vietnam early in the New Year which is a different story that I’m currently shitting myself about. But if you continue to read you’ll see that shitting yourself is okay. Ish…

London to some people may not be that scary, which is cool. Great even. But it’s not something that’s the norm for me. If I venture somewhere on my own, the furthest I’d go would be to Liverpool or Leeds only to be met by my sister. So travelling from Southport to London completely on my tod was a big deal, especially when I’m quite the anxious traveller. But I’m working on it.

How did it go you say? It was tough. It was tough not knowing anyone around me, and having so many people go about their daily business, and then me sticking out like a sore thumb, trying to figure out which tube station to hop on and hop off at. I got lost, I tried to check into the wrong hotel, but I had a lovely man that told me Jesus loved me. Not all that bad hey! But in all seriousness, this trip tested me in so many different ways, which may sound really over the top or whatever but I’m happy it did.

It scared the shit out of me. I had a constant sickness feeling in my stomach because of where I was and who would try and speak to me. I was paranoid I was walking too slow and slowing people down. I was scared I would get so lost I wouldn’t find my way back. But aside from all that, I was able to find the courage to go and watch a show on my own, and cry along with the strangers next to me. I was able to eat my lunch and drink some of the best coffee’s I’ve tasted from lovely little independent cafes. I was able to do something I don’t usually do. I had me time. And that’s what matters the most.

From this tiny little trip I’ve learnt so much. That yes, it’s okay to worry your socks off and panic a little. But to continue and be strong, and embrace the moment you’re in so you can cherish it later and look back and think, I did that. Go me!

So I guess I should find the point to this post. If you’re desperate to do something that isn’t what you normally do because it scares you, you should do it even more. It’s okay to feel like you’re loosing control of a situation because as quick as that can happen, it can easily become back into your control. Grab those experiences by the horns and live. Don’t get me wrong, I still want to curl up in a ball every time I think about travelling to Vietnam by myself, but at least I can look back at this little trip and think, well I travelled to London on my own? Yes, it’s not the same distance, but it was pretty major. Why is this any different? I can do this and I will do this.