Anxiety wasn’t something I talked over the years. I didn’t even acknowledge that I had it for a very long time and to be truthful, it wasn’t something I even thought about giving a name. I just thought I was strange.
During my divorce I sent my kids to counselling, to help them through the changes. My daughter who was 15 at the time, was diagnosed with extreme Social Anxiety. I will be honest with you I thought it was just another label.
The psychologist sat me down and told me the things my daughter felt and how she experienced everyday life. She asked me if I was able to understand.
I was confused. Of course, I understood. Everything the counsellor had described was me. I had felt that way all my life and even in my 40’s was still experiencing it. Wasn’t that how it was for most people?
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Understanding your Anxiety
What made me so sad was that all the mistakes, misery and abject self-loathing that I had felt when I was younger and had tried to protect my daughter from had very comfortably nestled inside of her and was tearing her apart.
It broke my heart to think that my beautiful girl was feeling that same depth of misery I had.
I am pleased to say she is now a strong and determined 22-year old who battles those demons every day and nine times out of 10 wins. I am so proud of her and know that her adversities will be her biggest ally in finding her purpose in life.
It was only then, that defining moment in the psychologist’s office, that I thought back to another moment when I was in my early 20’s, sitting in a doctors office explaining how I felt unwell and profoundly exhausted and experiencing terrible headaches.
I remember the doctor handing me a prescription for antidepressants. I was confused. Why was I being prescribed antidepressant medication? I wasn’t depressed, just unwell.
That prescription scared me. I never got it filled.
But I did go to counselling over the years. Sometimes counselling helped, sometimes not so much.
I read a lot, became more self-aware and started to listen to myself and my body more. Whenever I felt the slump coming or the black hole creeping in, I pushed hard against it. I spent a lot of time in my head, driving myself nuts with things, unable to see anything clearly.
And sometimes I let it take me for a little while because fighting was exhausting. But I am thankful that I am one of the lucky ones and could fight against it. I would eventually become very impatient with myself and knew enough was enough, and I had to do something positive. How we battle anxiety is different for everyone. For me talking things through with someone who doesn’t judge helps.
Self Awareness made all the difference
But for me becoming self-aware aided immensely. I started to understand the decisions I had made in my life, and why, with complete honesty. It helped to put things into perspective, to learn from them and understand my behaviour.
It had been suggested to me often by people close to me, and who I confided in, not to disclose this sort of information publicly. They were worried it would turn people away from my business and not have confidence in me.
But I know that so many people experience the same sort of thing to varying degrees. And the thought has always been there that if they knew I understood then maybe together, we could all have a stronger more fulfilled life, not one that is being held back by fear and anxiety.
I know my story is far from unique. Or even extreme. I know that this is a genuine monster that plagues so many of us, in different ways and varying degrees, and I know that to explain it to someone that does not experience it is difficult, for them and us.
So how did travel help?
Arriving at the Villa Marsili, Cortona
My Saviour, Travel
I have talked before about not being my own person, not being brave enough to even take my kids out on my own even to dinner or a day out.
And how travel and everything that entailed from the planning to the actual travel, changed me, pulled me through and helped me to realise my strengths and passion and willingness to deal with my anxiety.
My anxiety hasn’t left. It never will. Sometimes things are hard, other times easier. But I do know how to deal with it better. I have become my own friend, to find my strengths and praise myself for them. To stop being down on myself and the areas that still need work, and to not dwell on things I cannot change, but to always, always create a plan to move forward and improve.
To accept me.
Travel has always been my Passion
Towards the end of High School, everyone wanted me to know what I wanted to do.
I knew with all my heart what I wanted to do. But when I looked up the process for that career path, it looked too daunting. I was terrified. And I certainly didn’t believe that I was capable of even accomplishing the first step. So, in true fashion for me, at that age, I gave up.
I wanted to be a Flight Attendant, and there was nothing else I wanted to do. I just wanted to travel. But I was too scared to pursue it, and my dream came crashing down.
I finally managed to secure an administrative government position. Over the course of 20 odd years in different departments and varied positions, it all felt the same. I hated every minute.
If I thought of changing jobs, I wondered why I should bother. It would be the same wherever I went. It took me a very long time to finally see what my passion was and had always been. Travel.
It’s incredible to think how travel has come full circle for me. I loved to travel from a young age when my parents took me to their country of birth, Holland. I was five the first time, but it was later when I was ten that I started to dream about it.
Once my dream was gone at 17 I tried not to think about it too much again. I tried to accept that travel was for others and not for me.
That was until we took a trip in 2005 to the USA for a month and BANG!
My passion for travel had been reignited!
2005 Disneyland with the kids
Travel and Anxiety
For some people with anxiety, travelling, or even the thought of it can be crippling.
But here are some of the tools I have used that allowed me to reduce my fear. Because let’s admit it, fear will never be fully gone, but we can certainly put it in its place.
Remember that each time you travel things will get easier. It’s like everything. Eventually, it becomes “normal” and second nature. Developing your own travel style and knowing what you are comfortable with is essential.
I have many things that help me with my anxiety. To the outside world, I may over prepare, but to my internal world, I am making myself familiar so that I don’t feel anxious.
I always allow plenty of time. Time allows me to familiarise myself with as much as I can. To take my time to mull over things, read information and sort things out. For me being pressured to make decisions on the spot never works. So I always factor in time to prepare.
And if it all goes out the window, which things tend to do now and then when you travel, prior preparation makes me feel in a much better position to deal with it.
A few ways I prepare when travelling to a new destination are:
- Thoroughly go through my planning process
- Learn everything I need to make me feel familiar with a place before I even arrive
Preparation is the Key to Success
Google Maps has become my new best friend.
When I went to New York with my then 14-year-old daughter, who by the way was freaking out because she said, “You can’t go on your own you need Dad!!” (which sums up my life at the time really), I had planned so well that I walked out of JFK airport and knew where the taxi stand was, how much the taxi would cost me including a tip, which I had put away in an envelope, knew precisely what the hotel looked like and everything around it, supermarket, theatre, shops, sights, so that when the cab dropped us across, and up the road, I simply got out, looked at the buildings, turned around and saw the hotel down the road.
I knew which way to go to Central Park when I walked out of the hotel in the morning, I knew the places to eat, I knew the supermarket to stock up at, and I knew the direction to get to the closest subway station (and yes, I conquered that one too). And, I knew the direction of Times Square where we saw a show.
Of course, after a day or so I didn’t need all the planning. I was comfortable. I got to know the hotel staff and could ask questions.
The relief at being able to manage those initial experiences made the world of difference between being crippled with fear and not wanting to leave my hotel room to be keen to get out and explore my new surroundings.
You cannot preempt everything in this world, but you can prepare yourself as much as possible and plan your travel. And each time you do something, it becomes easier and more comfortable.
And sometimes, just by admitting you have anxiety helps. An acknowledgement to yourself goes a long way, as does understanding that it’s ok, that you are perfectly ok the way you are.
By over planning, I can feel comfortable in my new environment and decide what it is I want to do there. I can choose to use the plan I have created (which I mostly do because it’s good) or as I feel braver, I can decide to do other things as they come up.
Either way, a trip will never be wasted by me by being crippled with the fear of walking out my front door in a foreign country.
Painting in Italy Group
The Destination is not Everything
Travel will always be a rewarding and rich experience, if not because of the people I meet or the things I see and do, but for the deeply rewarding personal things I achieve, that only I will ever see.
For me, it has never just been about travelling to and exploring a wonderful destination but also a journey into myself.
Travel has enriched my life in a way nothing else has, and I am thankful every day I have had those experiences. And continue to have them.
In fact, travel is such a “normal” part of my life now I take groups overseas.
Sometimes what you think is adversity turns into an amazing opportunity. Because by helping myself I can now help others.