Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!

Rather than focus on a specific destination I thought I would switch the topic by looking at something a little more personal and perhaps more relatable for those who don’t travel as frequently as I do.

I initially planned to post this on “World Mental Health Day” and the recent “Time To Talk Day” was another opportunity to do so but whilst I recognise the good work campaigns like these do, you almost fall in to a trap which defeats the intention of said campaigns.
The message these campaigns want to get across is that it’s important to talk about mental health/illness – I completely agree. However in practice you find people raise the issue on World Mental Health Day for example and then it doesn’t get mentioned again until next year’s World Mental Health Day, where it’s then mentioned again how important it is to talk about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do applaud these campaigns for starting the conversation but it’s easy to fall in to that trap. If mental health is something we want to see understood better within society then it needs to become more of an every-day conversation opposed to a once-a-year raise awareness day. So I scrapped my initial intention and figured posting this on a personal ‘anniversary’ for me was more appropriate.

I consider myself to have been fortunate with my mental health on the whole. I’m generally a positive person which helps the overall state of my mental health. Depression has always alluded me and whilst everyone has their bad days or difficult times it has never been more than that for me. It’s very different from those struggling and fighting depression on a daily basis.
My “achilles heel” however has always been anxiety.

I’ve never talked too much about my anxiety and there’s two reasons for that; first and foremost I’m a fairly independent person. My anxiety isn’t some big secret and some people are aware of it but it’s not something I drop into conversation too often. I’ve never been particularly good at talking about myself or sharing all of the aspects of my life.

I fully advocate talking about mental illness. I think it’s important to talk to someone if you’re struggling but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to talk about it to everyone. The latter has been more my approach I suppose. I know there are people I can talk to as and when I need to but I’ve personally preferred dealing with mine on a smaller scale rather than making a big thing of it.

So similarly if you’re struggling then please just find someone to talk to, it doesn’t have to be a public SOS for everyone to see. Just one person can make a difference and I promise you there is someone that cares and is willing to listen if you need someone to talk to. If you’re doubtful that person exists please message me any time. I’m not much of a talker but listening I’m pretty good at!

The second reason I’ve never talked about my anxiety too much in the past is because for a long time I didn’t really understand it. I think by the time I realised it was anxiety that I’d suffered from the worst of it had gone. I still suffer from, what I consider to be, mild anxiety. Part of that overlaps in being an introvert, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully rid of anxiety because traits of my personality just make it impossible to avoid. Fortunately on a day-by-day basis I’ve found a way of managing the occasions where my anxiety is eating away at my brain.

However that wasn’t always the case. At the peak of my anxiety I was really struggling with it, both mentally and physically – possibly more the latter. The mental side of the illness was easier to hide, the physical aspect I couldn’t escape from.
I’d love to be able to pinpoint an exact point in time where it switched because it certainly wasn’t with me through my childhood.

JasonBabyPhotos
Life as a kid was easy-going!

I first remember it being an issue shortly after starting my first job when I’d start spending time with friends outside of work. I loved the people and it was great to be able to spend time together away from work but on one occasion I started to feel a little unwell, next thing I knew I was throwing up.

Did I eat something funny? Maybe I just needed a little fresh air? My friends were a little concerned but reassuring and helped make me feel comfortable.. Shortly after the feeling had passed and I got back to enjoying the company and the occasion. I couldn’t really explain why I’d been sick but you know, sometimes people just get sick. It was certainly uncomfortable for me but I’d just put it down as a one time thing.

Until the next time – now a pattern has emerged. “Sick again! Wonderful! I felt fine 20 minutes ago, where has this come from?”
With the benefit of hindsight I can see it was anxiety but at the time I had no idea why this was happening. I didn’t really know anything about anxiety and that this was causing me to be sick, perhaps if I’d been more aware of it I could have managed it better but all I knew was ‘Sickboy’ had returned (the “superhero” name needs a little work) and wanted to spoil my day.

The pattern quickly became a habit and that’s when the mental illness really kicked in. I’d gone from thinking of it as a one time thing to pleading that it didn’t happen again – the fact it was already playing on my mind didn’t help. The mental side of the anxiety had me reminiscing of being sick on previous catch-ups and all I could think about was what I could do to stop it. All I could think about was not being sick again and I think having it play on my mind so much meant there was only ever going to be one outcome = “BLEURGH!”.

It was now a worry. Hope turned in to acceptance for future social situations. Wishing it away wasn’t working so let’s plan around it – “alright body, I’m meeting friends at 1 so if we could get the throwing up done by midday that’d be grand”.
Body: “I mean, that sounds reasonable but do you know what would be more fun..?” “Bleurgh”.

I had no control over it and the more it happened the more it played on my mind. It had affected me socially and then started creeping in to other aspects of my life.
I remember going back to college, day one resulted in making numerous stops in what should have been a short walk to the college grounds from the city centre but another “first day” meeting new people was overwhelming.

Similarly I’d go to job interviews and my brain was over-thinking like crazy. Being nervous for a job interview is pretty common, I was certainly no different in that respect but the pre-interview period was just as difficult.
People wisely recommend that you aren’t late for a job interview, I hate being late for anything so that wasn’t an issue. My issue was I was too early! I’m here and I can’t even go in yet, I’d started questioning what is early and what is too early – finding the right balance between a good impression and a sad desperation. Being early can be a good trait but it just left me more time to think about every little thing, the anxiety came over me and then suddenly I knew what was coming.
I didn’t particularly want the first interview question to be “were you the guy throwing up outside?” so I was then pacing up and down the street searching for somewhere more suitable to embarrass myself publicly (“are you alright mate?”).

I couldn’t go anywhere without fear of another wave of anxiety accompanying me. Come the summer of 2011 I was heading to Ibiza, my first trip abroad without any adult supervision. It hit me like a tonne of bricks as I made my way up to Manchester to meet friends. Again, I don’t think I really appreciated it was anxiety at the time but looking back my arch-enemy ‘anxiety’ was commanding its close friend ‘Sickboy’ to return and get my trip off to the worst of starts.
It was my first unsupervised trip and I guess deep down I knew it. Despite having friends with me there was no real safety net for this trip and I guess I was aware of it to some degree. The “lads” holiday didn’t start how I’d hoped, I spent the night before being ill before getting an early night whilst the others enjoyed themselves – the taunts of being “a lightweight” were inevitable but I knew I’d barely had more than a beer and this wasn’t alcohol-related.

I’d not even left the country and I was being sick, it didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, like many occasions before it, the feeling passed. I woke up nervous and excited at going away “properly” for the first time. However I quickly found my feet, had a wonderful week and wanted more.

Ibiza!
Take me back!

I grew up a little on that trip, Three months later I was starting a new job and from then on I started making progress in my battle with anxiety. The anxiety-related-sickness still reared its head on occasions but the instances were becoming far fewer. I was still pretty hopeless socially but at least “Sickboy” wasn’t coming out to play every time I left the house.

The worst of my anxiety seemed to be over and that takes me up to my biggest test yet. February 9th 2013: Today marks my 5 year anniversary since traveling from London to Sydney – solo! I was traveling to the other side of the planet and this time I didn’t even have the luxury of friends to fall back on.
On the second trip to Ibiza we (I’m looking at you Chris) managed to flood our hotel room which isn’t really what you want when on holiday. However we dealt with it – no need to panic! Fortunately the hotel wasn’t fitted with carpets and we could simply sweep the water away without any damage done (except for a few wet personal items).

Much of my anxiety I’d had on the first trip had disappeared because it was familiar the second time round. A familiar location with familiar company and we even stayed at the same hotel as the first trip so I knew exactly what to expect when traveling the second time.

Traveling solo was completely different and it tested my anxiety and confidence. I had the idea to go to Sydney for months but I was reluctant to tell people too soon because I didn’t want to start telling people and then look foolish once I backtracked. I couldn’t possibly travel on my own, could I? I was this shy little kid who didn’t know anything about anything.
I floated the idea with a few people and soon enough I was booking the time off work, I had the money to book everything and yet still no concrete plans. Money and time off were one thing but mentally I just couldn’t bring myself to get it booked.

In a literal sense obviously it isn’t true but in some respects I think there were other people who knew I was going to Sydney before I did. I was probably the last to genuinely believe it. I had people congratulating me on how brave I was and inside I was shitting myself. Come January I still hadn’t even booked my February trip to Australia – was I even going to go? Was anxiety going to ruin this for me too? I could wait, I can go another time, wait until someone comes with me.

“That is NEVER happening!” – this was probably the thing I told myself to make it happen. Maybe I would still have made it to Sydney at some point in the future but convincing myself I wouldn’t was enough to overcome the anxiety to book it. So what if I was going alone? People do it all of the time. The only person stopping me from going to Australia was myself – if anything there’d be more reasons/excuses in the future not to go. Relationships, responsibilities, financial commitments and so many other things. Stop making bloody excuses!

Alright! It’s booked! Wait, shit! It’s booked. There’s no going back now.

Pre-Sydney
Looking so excited to be traveling alone, right?

Luckily I left it so late to book the trip I didn’t really give myself long to worry myself about the trip. The trip to the airport I was feeling the nerves and a little sickly but importantly I wasn’t sick! My dad dropped me off at the airport, took a pre-trip photo to share with the world (Facebook) and from then I was on my own!
London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney, two weeks in Sydney, Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to London – easy!

By the time my dad left my nerves had turned more in to excitement. I was going to fucking Australia! The journey wasn’t without its nervous moments. I boarded my flight in Singapore heading to Sydney and sat in the wrong seat for starters, which is a shame as I had friendly neighbours until realising and then having to move. I started getting comfy in my correct seat only for the plane to black out before take-off – is that supposed to happen? I looked around but nobody else was panicking, I guess we’re okay.. the plane blacks out again! Okay, that’s now twice!

I’m not normally a nervous flyer but suddenly I felt uneasy. Check the phalange or whatever else you need to do but surely we’re not going to fly? I don’t want this bloody plane blacking out mid-air! I’m not religious but come take-off I was looking to the heavens for divine intervention to make sure everything went smoothly, it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been for a flight and then the whirring noise started. “What the fuck is that? That can’t be good!”

Phalange

What was it? The bloody wings manoeuvring. I suppose I’d never sat that close to them before or never noticed the noise it makes in switching from take-off to flying mode because I had no idea and was a wreck for the first 20 minutes of the flight.
I soon calmed down and it wasn’t until landing that I started panicking again. Having made it a few hours panic-free that whirring noise had returned – “oh come on.. we’re almost there! Please land safely..!” . Unsurprisingly the wings were doing the reverse of take-off and getting ready for landing. It was knowledge I wish I’d had during the flight rather than trying to familiarise myself with the faces of my crash-buddies around me.

I landed in Sydney! I’d survived! I was relieved. I passed through customs without any problems and was soon arriving at Sydney’s Central train station. Blue skies and the sound of that beautiful accent – I was actually here! I was in fucking Sydney! Time to enjoy it!

Sydney
I’m in fucking Sydney!

I had an amazing time in Sydney which you can read about ( Sydney! ) and for me February 9th represents a memorable day for me which, as cliché as it sounds when it comes to traveling, was life-changing.
I’d conquered solo travel about as far away from home as I could get and it really put “Sickboy” to bed.

I’m not suggesting traveling cured my anxiety because it is something I still struggle with and if it was that easy to rid yourself of mental illness then nobody would struggle with it but for me personality it proved to be a big help.
I was eating out in restaurants by myself, having to interact with strangers, putting myself in unfamiliar scenarios and it built my confidence in a way that only traveling could do. I’d always thought of myself as some shy little kid whereas I think this trip taught me there’s a difference between being quiet and lacking confidence.

SydneyFriend
Asking strangers to take photos of me and my new friend!

I’m never going to be the life of the party but I’m okay with that, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the confidence to go out, enjoy the world and live my life.
Ibiza had given me a taste but this trip really kick-started my love affair with travel and rid me of some of the doubts holding me back. If I could travel to Sydney by myself I could do anything. A month later I was booking a solo weekend trip to Köln and the traveling has been non-stop since.

Anxiety still invites itself along for the ride of life on occasions and remains an unwelcome plus-one but I’m ecstatic to have wished farewell to “Sickboy” who hasn’t (but for self-inflicted-hangovers) been seen since prior to that airport-journey 5 years ago!

I’m luckier than most in that my anxiety is pretty mild, manageable and without medication too. However I do wish I’d had the luxury of hindsight and perhaps if more people were talking about mental illness ten years ago I’d have understood my anxiety better before it really span out of control.

Whether you’re open about your mental illness or struggle with it quietly know that there are people you can turn to. Find loved ones you can talk to, feel free to message me any time or if you’d prefer something a little more anonymous get in touch with the many organisations who have people specialised to help those struggling with their mental health.

I’ve linked to a few organisations below who can advise better than I can and hopefully help make some positive steps in either overcoming it or managing it better.

Mental Health Foundation
Mind
Time to Change
Together
Young Minds

Happy February 9th!

All the best!

Jason

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