It’s strange to think just how sick I was four months ago. I won’t go back into it but you can read about it here.
It’s strange because just four months ago I was sick enough to spend almost all of my life in bed, I had to quit my job, I had to go onto illness benefit (which is another day’s story), I had to quit partying (honestly that had happened already), and I had to face my worst fear and look it dead in the eye. I had to come clean about it all. I couldn’t hide behind a mask anymore and pretend to enjoy the things I used to do. No, there was no way I could continue playing that game. Even if there was the will to do it (there wasn’t) the energy to do it was gone. Long gone. So I had to accept that the people who chose to stick with me, were the people who loved me for who I actually am, not what I do. This was so terrifying to me you’ve no idea. This “me” is someone I have tried very, very hard to hide since I was very young. I was always the weird kid, but I managed to escape a lot of bullying because I learned how to survive. I learned two ways to escape the cruelty of other kids.
1. Act like the other mean kids, do what they do, speak like they speak, like what they like.
Both exceptionally effective.
But going through what I did meant I had to abandon my former coping skills. I had to start accepting that I am still the weird little kid, but a lot of people love her.
That’s what withdrawal will do to you. Break you down to the most basic version of yourself, make you sicker than you’ve ever been, make you believe you’re going to die, allow you to accept your impending death, but then not kill you. But make you keep going instead. And you do. You keep going and one day you’ll look back and realise it’s been four months and you are no where close to where you were before. Mentally and geographically speaking.
I now reside in Santiago, the capital of Chile in South America. There’s a sentence I never thought I would say.
I don’t know if I ever mentioned my travel plans to South America here before. I would image that I didn’t. In true “old Yvonne” style I managed to avoid this entire experience even entering my psyche for two years. That’s how long it took to save and plan for and how long it took me to play the greatest game of suppress the fear you’ve ever seen.
It’s actually impressive. People would ask me questions about my plans to backpack and I was capable of answering them comprehensively and with vigour while actually I was thinking about something completely different, something safe. Anxiety has allowed me some super powers.
1. The power to over think EVERYTHING
2. The power to believe EVERYONE hates me.
… and the best of all
3. AVOID AVOID AVOID
I can’t avoid it anymore. I’m here.
It’s day 20. Man, it’s been rough. I plan to be here until Christmas. So really, it’s only just beginning.
I spoke to a very wise young woman who I met through snapchat about travelling with anxiety. The reality of it and what people maybe don’t quite understand. She’s passed on some of her wisdom to me and I’m going to paraphrase it here a little. I won’t mention her for privacy etc. But I don’t want to take credit for someone else’s intelligent thought.
There is SO MUCH PRESSURE on people who decide to travel, to enjoy travel. Everyone I spoke to before I went, when I had really started to doubt my capability at doing this would tell me I would be grand. I understand the encouragement, I appreciate it actually, but it’s phrases like the following that really were the most damaging.
“It will change you”
“You’ll forget all about anxiety”
“You won’t want to come home”
“This is the best time of your life”
“I wish I had the opportunities you had”
Now, let me make it clear that none of these things were said with any kind of malice or meanness and I completely understand that. I completely understand that it was with nothing but good intention that phrases such as these were said.
It is not these phrases that are at fault, but the expectation of young people to travel NOW because you won’t do it when you’re older. Or to have the BEST time.
Honestly, try having the BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE while you’re holding back a panic attack because you need to push through a crowded street.
You try MAKE AMAZING MEMORIES when you’re sobbing uncontrollably in humidity like you’ve never experienced because being in a place where nobody understands you can be incredibly isolating.
You try GET TO KNOW NEW PEOPLE when you can barely get out of bed.
This is not easy to handle. This is not the best experience of my life. In fact the first two weeks were probably the worst days I’ve had in a long time.
We spent our first two weeks in Colombia. I don’t even want to talk about it because it will destroy my good mood. But Colombia broke me. I learned valuable lessons, I saw beautiful places, I met beautiful people. But did I enjoy it? No.
So Chile is a fresh start. A hopeful change. You see I have to think about Mark (boyfriend) too. It’s not just my experience, if it was, I would have bailed on it already. It’s his too, he is so important to me and so worthy of having the time of his life over here.
So I deal with the guilt of being the person who takes away the joy in his experience. It is a horrible, nasty guilt. It is the dark voice in my mind that tells me he deserves better than me. You see I am a 2-for-1 offer. You want me? You’ll have to take on the anxiety too. She’s not so cute.
I’ll sign off for now. There’s a lot more to be said for my adventure so far. For now, just remember, anxious travellers of the world. It’s okay to go home. It’s okay to realise that structure and routine are absolutely vital for your mind to keep going. It’s okay to accept that being mentally unwell abroad is very, very frightening. It’s okay to keep going, and it’s okay to stop. Go home if you need to.