I usually write about the places I have been to, why I loved them, the people I met there and how much I want to go back. Most of the writing that’s done about travelling focuses on the after or during travel. The travel blues, the nostalgia, sharing wonderful memories, writing down what just happened to make sure years from now you’ll be able to remember, trying to transpose into words a beautiful scenery, the flavors of a diner or the feelings of an unexpected encounter. But a great deal of traveling, at least for me, happens before the actual trip itself. And that isn’t always pretty.
As many of you probably know, I have had to deal with social anxiety and a generalized anxiety disorder for almost five years now. It’s gotten better thanks to therapy and a lot of work on myself, but I cannot deny the fact that it has greatly changed the way I do most of the daily, and not so daily things of life. Traveling being one of them.
When I booked plane tickets for my first real trip, in 2011 I had no fear. It was just before anxiety hit me real bad. I was attending concerts every two nights, sleeping outside, taking planes after planes after trains and taxis. My friend and I visited Berlin, Cologne, Budapest, Leipzig, Stockholm together and I ended up alone in Moscow. I was 19 at that time, had never travelled before and had no knowledge of either russian language, Moscow or anything travel related.
Tell me to do that now and I would probably stare back at you like you’re saying utter nonsense. But back then I did it. I was probably a bit stressed or worried. I actually had my first panic attack in Moscow, but that was the “duringtravel”. The “beforetravel” was just fine.
This trip was one of the most memorable experiences of my life for many different reasons, one of them being that it really started my wanderlust. At that time, I wasn’t obsessed with travelling. I was excited to see those places, meet people and eat delicious foods. I was already super excited for Budapest, and my friend and I did a lot of exploring, sightseeing and socializing. However this had nothing to do with how I see traveling now, how I spend time reading travel blogs, buying guides, discovering new places that end up on my ‘”ireallyneedtogo”list, saving most of my money to afford my next trips and so on. Yet, as paradoxal as it may be (and with anxiety it often is), I have never feared travelling as much as I do now. I have never been as reluctant to pack, book rooms, change money, vaguely plan an itinerary as I am now.
I am leaving for Malaysia and Myanmar in 25 days. You’d think I would be jumping with excitement, preparing everything that needs to be done, spending my time looking at pictures and watching videos of my future destinations … I don’t.
Now don’t get me wrong. I KNOW I’ll be overjoyed as soon as I arrive, and probably very very upset to leave those places. I know I’ll be in awe at the landscapes, will probably have those “life is amazing” moments, will meet friendly and interesting people and a lot more. Truth is, when I’m travelling anxiety isn’t as strong as it is in my daily life and I feel a lot more free. But packing, booking rooms and flights, taking the metro, getting to the airport, checking in, waiting for the plane and all of the “beforetravel” process is really difficult and nervewrecking. To the point where I wish I could just cancel.
I am not the only one, and many people who do not suffer from anxiety probably feel a similar way. That’s not something I read about very often though. And it sometimes feel a bit shameful to admit it. “Oh sure I love traveling, but … “. Realising you cannot really share the excitement with other travellers, or that you cannot be as spontaneous as some, or that things that are so easy for many are exhausting and draining for you, isn’t always simple.
Dealing with any sort of mental illness or condition is a battle. A battle against an irrational, invisible enemy that tries to prevent you from doing what actually makes you happy. What you actually love. I would lie if I said that my anxiety never got in the way of traveling. I would also lie if I said traveling was the only positive thing I love that was impacted by it.
That’s a part of traveling I need to acknowledge and accept for now. It would be lying and deceiving you to portray a cheerful and easygoing person on her way to the airport, or a few weeks away from her next departure. I have come to understand that this is for now, a part of traveling I need to deal with, until I set a foot outside of the airport, in whichever city it is that I’ll find myself in.
I am not sure what I really expect from this post, and why I wrote it. Perhaps to make me feel better, to feel like I’m talking about this with someone. Perhaps to be true to myself and make sure this blog really is me. Perhaps also, for any other fellow reader/traveler who might feel the same, you’re not alone.