Duh. It’s so obvious now… but in a naive, perfect world kind of way I thought it would. I thought, “Hey, If I just run away from everything, sell everything I own, move to the other side of the world, have no possessions or commitments, then I’ll be anxiety free right?!”.
I always thought my anxiety was caused by other people, or more specifically, stress that I would let down or disappoint other people. By not being good enough, by missing something because I had made myself sick with worry, by being late for a lunch date due to a panic attack. So If I take other people out of the equation, maybe I might have found a magical cure.
It’s weird to admit this to myself now, but one of the main reasons I wanted to do this year abroad was to live a year anxiety free. To discover that if I did remove the catalyst for my stress, would I find anxiety free bliss?
On the other end of the spectrum I wanted to push myself. Prove that I can do this, I am strong. Whats the most crazy thing I could do? Sell everything and travel to places that I know nothing about, live on the road.
I had very little anxiety about leaving Australia behind, in fact it couldn’t come quick enough. I didn’t feel a huge amount of excitement either, no sleepless nights waiting for the big flight or butterflies leading up to the day. I just felt, well normal? It was a little odd now looking back and it was probably that numbness that lead to my huge breakdown on arrival in London. I’ve only ever had one panic attack that huge before.. and it was when I was seventeen and my parents told me that were moving to Melbourne. I could either go with them but leave the boy I loved behind, or stay in Adelaide and move out of home fresh out of high school. It resulted in weeks of severe anxiety. Feeling constantly uneasy and nauseous, friends skipping school just to take me to the beach or sit in a park to calm me down, questioning my love for everyone around me, utter mental chaos. And I was so angry and ashamed of myself for feeling that way. I remember telling myself it was a coincidental hormonal imbalance, combined with the stress of year 12 exams, and those things probably contributed. But it was also just a break down. And five years later I felt it again. Curled up in a ball in a cold London apartment under the covers, hands over ears just trying to quieten the voice in my head and a familiar worried look from Martin when he couldn’t help calm me. My year of travel had just begun and I was an anxious mess. It was really bad for two weeks, and another month of slight uneasiness. The worst part is not being able to explain why. Obviously it’s caused by the huge lifestyle change, but I can never explain exactly why… what exact thought process that is causing it. But with anxiety the cruelest part is that it just doesn’t make much sense.
I remember a week before I left Australia, I was driving my car through country NSW and it was so sunny and beautiful. I was singing at the top of my lungs, windows down and the breeze in my hair. I felt invincible, I felt like I knew exactly what I wanted from my life, who I was, and it just felt incredible to be alive. Lying in the fetal position one week later in dark and damp London, I thought I had ruined everything.
But here I am almost one year later, with a year full of experiences and life lessons under my belt, and I am starting to feel that bliss again. But it feels more stable now, I know so much more about myself. I know what it’s like to live in Berlin, Scotland, Italy. I know more about what I want from life but not specifics this time, because that’s mostly my problem. I often imagine what my life is going to be like, and then when reality life doesn’t live up to the expectation, everything comes crashing down. Ever since I was sixteen I have imagined myself living in London, working as a fashion photographer, having a bunch of lovely friends to get coffee with in Soho. Yeah well that’s not reality. Reality was staying in a share house with lovely but struggling artists in a unforgiving city where you need to give every part of yourself to just try and get your foot in the door. I had spent six years imagining this life, and in those six years I had become an entirely different person who didn’t want it anymore.
Anxiety is living in the past or future, but now I want to live in the present. I want a cosy home, I want to cook warm dinners on rainy days, read more books, I want to go to more weekend markets because I love them, try harder to make true friends and form connections, to travel somewhere new every year and live a simple, happy life. To try to not worry about messing up, letting people down, missing something, it’s really not that important in the grand scheme of things. Thats what this year of travel has taught me.
I feel ready to live with my anxiety now, and not run from it. I won’t torture, blame or get angry with myself for having anxiety. I won’t get upset when others don’t understand me, or can’t believe that anxiety is real, or tell me I’m making it up or get frustrated when they don’t understand. I know that for someone who has only ever experience the safe and normal kind of anxiety (jitters before a big meeting, nerves at a job interview) it’s impossible for them to comprehend irrational, crippling anxiety. I will be patient, and I won’t take it to heart. I’m grateful that I’ll always be understanding of others, that no persons anxiety or depression or stress is silly or ‘not real’. I am so lucky that I have a partner in life who is so unconditionally understanding and supportive, who can calm me down better than I can calm myself, who doesn’t mind if we ditch dinner plans and grab a movie and a pizza, who holds my hand under the table when he can read the worry in my eyes. I have come so far in one year, two years, five years, that I am so excited for how far I’ll be in ten. Rather than dwell on the bad days or set backs, I relish in the incredible achievements I manage every day in-between. Travel didn’t ‘cure’ my anxiety, but I feel so much more confident in just one year. I’m ready to accept it and get on with my life.