OK, confession time. Not really that big of a deal but I suffer from a bit of mild anxiety from time to time. I’ve never had to be medicated, though I’ve tried a little hypnosis therapy (which was very successful), but I do get the odd panic attack and learning to control my extreme worries has been a long and bumpy road.
I first diagnosed the problem at the age of 24 – it was only then that I realised these feelings weren’t normal and were good to talk about with someone rather than just internalising them. It came at an incredibly inconvenient time as I was about to go travelling in South Africa, and so I tucked the new information about myself into my pocket, and decided that rather than turning away from my big chance to go abroad, I would metaphorically jump off the 10 meter cliff head first into the water instead. Either I’d drown, or I’d swim around at the bottom thinking it was the best achievement of my life. Luckily, the latter happened.
Everyone handles anxiety differently, for some medication and certain routines are the only option, but for me getting away from everything I knew made me grow into a person who didn’t need to hold the railing so often. Simply walking into a room full of people I didn’t know at university gave me heart palpitations and sweaty palms; now, I’m an English teacher walking into a room full of 50 year old male engineers and making them play modal verb games.
I have done it within certain limits though. Staying in a hostel without friends has always been off the cards; I need a space where I’m in total control of things, even if it’s just a small hotel room, and where I know I can go back to when I feel like I want my own space. I also feel that way about my living situation; there could never be a situation where I couldn’t have some space to myself whenever I felt it necessary.
It’s an odd thing, this anxiety stuff – it leads to certain personality traits developing, like over-worrying or paranoia. I’m also a massive control freak, and can’t go on any ride or thing where I might feel like I’m not able to say stop when I want. This tides over into other parts of my life, like how I’m always the main organiser with my friends and on all holidays.
So this week, I took a big leap travel-wise, even for me. I’ve seen 32 countries now – I’ve visited Europe, America, southern Africa, a lot of Asia and a lot of my own country too. But I’ve never done any of this entirely alone. With a new job starting on the 15th March, I wanted to do a little travelling beforehand, so I contacted all my European friends and talked to my boyfriend about possibilities of what to do. Unfortunately, none of them could do anything – whether it be because of work commitments, inability to travel, no money or study issues.
So I looked at what I might be able to do by myself. First option – a fitness retreat. Not possible, I’m way too fussy about my food. Second option – volunteering holiday. Not possible, everything I want to do is mostly in the summer or too expensive on my part. Third option – just go somewhere by myself! Eek.
I eventually decided to go with the third option even though it felt really scary. So I packed my bags and headed to Budapest for 11 days. I got my own apartment – part of the reason I chose this destination was that I could afford my own space – and flew in last Monday night. It was possibly the worst flight in Europe I’ve taken and by no fault of the carrier Germanwings – they flew through storms the whole way and the take off and landing were more like a rollercoaster ride than being in a civilised passenger jet.
When I got to the airport, I waited for the owner of the apartment to pick me up – he had kindly offered his services as an alternative to a taxi. When I got in, those typical words came straight out of his mouth. “It’s just you? Like you’re alone? Oh… why?” Eh.
For seasoned travellers like I’m sure some of you readers are this would mean nothing but I’m an over-thinker and worrier by nature and the last thing I want is people noticing I’m alone. But I’m here for 11 days and I need to get used to it. In fact I’d like to get to the point in this time where I enjoy it. So I got to the apartment, unpacked, and forced myself to go exploring for at least a supermarket to buy some food.
The last two days have involved a lot of walking and joining organised tours. But today I was feeling a little bit more adventurous, so I went and found a hairdresser who spoke English to give me a bit of a hair makeover, and then a massage place nearby to continue my pampering.
It’s not much I know, but it’s little steps towards feeling completely comfortable on my own. When I left, my boyfriend said this trip would be really good for me. When I first arrived in the apartment I thought this is going to be a long week and a half – now I’m starting to feel pretty liberated.
It’s also made me realise just how much travelling helps you grow as a person, and how much growing I’ve already done by stepping out of my comfort zone all those years ago. To anyone who is feeling scared of the thought of being ‘alone’, it actually has some pretty great benefits – I don’t remember the last time I’ve been able to spend so much time on just me and in the process I feel completely fresh and got to know a lovely Hungarian hairdresser! – who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to get a dinner for 1 on the tourist strip :)