TRAVEL DIDN’T CURE MY ANXIETY

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.

Well sadly, it just didn’t work that way. I’ve now learnt that anxiety is just a small part of who I am. No matter how far I run or distance myself from the everyday stresses of living within our society, it’s just not going to cure me.
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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.

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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.

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14 Comments

  1. Reply

    Shona

    12/01/2016

    I really, really loved reading this post. I went travelling for 5 months upon finishing school and only 6 months after being discharged from eating disorder treatment. I was so incredibly excited for the trip, with the idea in mind that being away from home would take away all thoughts. Like you, I was wrong. The truth is these thoughts follow you regardless of location, it’s just a case of learning to accept they’re there, and to control and rationalise them.

    Shona x
    http://shonarose.blogspot.co.uk/

  2. Reply

    Oriana Mata

    11/01/2016

    Hi, Claire! I think it’s very bold to open yourself this way and share your story about anxiety. It’s a mistake when someone think it’s a silly problem for first world people. It’s not. It’s real and everyone can have it. The reason I’m writing this comment is because I went through a similar situation in 2014. I thought going away was gonna cure my anxiety, fullfil my dreams and make me happier. In my case, it only made me miserable. It was not a perfect situation and I felt like everything was backwards. I had to stop, think very seriously about my life, what I needed, what I wanted to achieve, and then continue. I came back to my country and settled here. It’s not forever, but for now is what I need. Suddenly, the doors opened for me and I felt more free than ever, being able to do what I love, to create and be comfortable in my house. So, sometimes you gotta go back. Sometimes you gotta keep going. But the only truth about it is that you need to follow your heart. Learn to listen to it and be honest with yourself. We’re so young! The world is ahead of us. There’s no hurry. Keep doing what you love, don’t be afraid, and continue your run.

  3. Reply

    Ailera

    11/01/2016

    Claire, I’m pretty sure this was one of my favorite blog posts by anyone, ever. So many thoughts feel so familiar and I feel like I’ve learned things already just by reading this, even if it comes from your own personal experience. I don’t think I would ever be capable and brave to just leave my life and travel for a year (even though that sounds completely amazing and mostly I just wouldn’t even have anyone join me in any longer trip). Can’t wait to see what you’ll be up to and achieve in the future!

  4. Reply

    Jess Hay

    11/01/2016

    I love you so much. You are one of the realist humans I know. Thank you so much for your honestly.

  5. Reply

    Mary

    11/01/2016

    Beautiful and wise thoughts! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Reply

    Andriana

    10/01/2016

    Is Martin the love you didn’t want to leave back in Adelaide or did you meet later?
    Kisses xxx

    • Reply

      Claire Alice Young

      10/01/2016

      yes he is! we’ve been together for over six years now 🙂 xx

  7. Reply

    Miryam

    10/01/2016

    I loved this post. Everytime someone who suffers anxiety speaks up, I feel a little less alone.
    I haven’t had anxiety my whole life, it just knocked at my door some years ago and here I am, as you said, feeling angry and frustrated at myself when it gets worse for no reason. And also feeling like I’m a weirdo for having those feelings in situations when everyone else seems to be at ease and ejoying theirselves. I told about it to some friends just a few days ago and it was really hard, so I can imagine how it has been for you to post it online, you are a brave one! 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

  8. Reply

    Kelly

    10/01/2016

    Just wanted to say that you are not alone! That thought has always helped me, so I thought I would let you know that others are crazy anxious, too!

    • Reply

      Claire Alice Young

      10/01/2016

      Thank you Kelly, you’re so lovely!! <3

  9. Reply

    Taylor

    10/01/2016

    LOVE this. Such an amazing, positive, and inspiring post. I know it takes guts to post something not so fabulous about the travel lifestyle but I’m glad you did. I too like to share my downs as well as my ups, and for people struggling who read this can now know that they’re not the only one who feels the same way.

    • Reply

      Claire Alice Young

      10/01/2016

      Thank you Taylor, it’s a big step to write things that are so personal to us, but from the emails and messages I’ve received so far, I no longer feel so worried about being this honest. It’s really important to share our feelings on the internet to help people who might be feeling isolated and alone. Your blog looks really lovely! And its so great you’re sharing real moments too 🙂 xx

  10. Reply

    Carolyn

    10/01/2016

    I think one of the most confronting facts about anxiety is that, as easy as it is to blame third parties, the biggest hurdle to get over is always yourself and your thinking patterns.

    It took me a really long time to realise this. Of course, some stress is always going to be outside of your control, but it’s how you deal with and process those stresses that can make or break your anxiety.

    One day, we shall both live a year anxiety free and that year shall be a great one!

    • Reply

      Claire Alice Young

      10/01/2016

      So true Carolyn, and just to get to that stage where you know it’s your own mind that is causing you the pain, is a big step towards feeling better.

      I always knew it was the way I reacted to things that was causing my anxiety, purely my own thought process, but I think I hoped if I just left behind all of the triggers for those anxious thoughts, I just wouldn’t have them anymore. Turns out you can just develop different triggers! Obviously.
      I am so happy to have learnt so much about myself and my anxiousness while abroad for a year. I definitely think I learnt more life tools and coping mechanisms than I ever have at home (from personal discovery). Sending love to you! Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts xx

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