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…