Travelling with my good friend, anxiety

Anxiety has been apart of my life as long as I can remember, I’ve probably had every related disorder in the book. I’ve panicked, I’ve obsessed, I’ve compulsed, I’ve been generally anxious, I’ve been specifically anxious, I’ve been free floatingly anxious. I am filled with the fear, no doubt about it. One thing I am not, however, is an anxiety ‘sufferer’.

It’s something that I don’t see disappearing for a long time, so I’ve learned to make friends with it. It is of course, a very challenging, belligerent friend, but a friend none the less.

Recently, I took my friend travelling around the world for three months. Well, actually, I went and it tagged along, as I realised lying on a beach somewhere in Thailand. I remember the moment it showed up, I was in a hammock, looking out on beautiful turquoise waters, with nothing to do but be, and there it was, the familiar ache in my stomach, the racing thoughts through my head trying to find a good reason to justify that familiar, uncomfortable feeling. I’d left the stresses of home behind, only to be confronted with this little ball of terror in my own solar plexus.

So, what do you do when your 9,000 miles from home and the support networks you usually have? When you’re confronted that you may be afraid for 90% of the trip you’ve just spent your life savings and given up a job for? I decided to be as belligerent with my good old friend as it was with me, and simply just got on with it. I took sleeper trains, I took 30 hour bus journeys through strange border territories, I went white water rafting, elephant riding, talked to new people, argued with hotel clerks, trekked through the jungle, slept in rooms with fifteen other people, and took trans pacific and transatlantic flights, and I did it whether my anxiety was there or not. I think this is the key in learning to live with an anxiety disorder, it’s ironically learning not be afraid of feeling anxious.

I remember a time when I surrendered so much of my autonomy to the anxiety that the list of things that I couldn’t do without feeling afraid just got longer and longer, whilst my world got safer, but smaller and smaller. I notice it all the time when I speak to other people who have anxiety, it is so easy to become boxed in, and victimised by our condition. Overcoming anxiety will never be accomplished in one bold move, with one pill, one meditation course, a visit to a temple, a change of religion or even a change of scenery. With time, hard work and patience, you learn to negotiate with it and accept it, yet there may always be some part of you that feels as though you carry it everywhere you go. The thing I’ve learned is, once you’re the one deciding on the destination, it doesn’t seem like such a big burden to carry.

(Note* I did draw the line at trekking through King Cobra territory, you’ve got to be sensible.)