Traveling with anxiety is no easy feat. One panic attack can quickly deter us from doing the things we love. Something you’ve always had so much passion and fun doing suddenly turns into your worst enemy, your biggest fear, and something you’ll go to great lengths to avoid. The worst part? You begin to question who we are. After all, this one panic attack has completely changed everything – from your hobbies to your passions, mood and emotions, life and more… Or so you think.
At the end oft he day, it all comes down to the choices you make. Yes, having a panic attack while traveling is horrible… And that’s to put it lightly. But it doesn’t have to be the end of your travel bug aspirations. You just have to choose to recognize what is going on, choose to get the help and treatment you need, and choose to keep doing what you love, no matter how difficult it may be. You have to choose to love yourself enough to not let a panic attack take away the things you love the most, such as traveling.
Courtney shares her story about how having a panic attack abroad helped her accept her diagnosis…
“Nächer bitte,” the border officer calls without looking up from the bulky computer on his desk.
Next please, I slowly translated. Five months of German classes hadn’t taught me much of the complex language but I knew a few words. I followed the queue forward and tried not to focus on my stomach that was spinning as fast as a washing machine. I’d arrived home in Vienna, after my fifth solo trip to another country. I crossed 12 borders, manoeuvred 7 languages, in the 5 months.
I waited dripping in sweat. My knuckles turned white as I clenched my passport trying not to tremble. Hundreds of passengers tried to make it through border control, the air conditioning blasted over compensating for the amount of people.
“Nächer bitte,” the border officer beckoned.
My turn. I approached, handing over my documents. He didn’t move his head as he eyed me up and down before stamping my visa and ushering me through.
I typed a text to my dad letting him know I passed border control without a single word and I was back in Vienna. I knew it would be the middle of the night when he got the message, but he’d want to know right away. My hands shook so much I could barely type. My head pounded as my brain over processed every thought. I rushed into the nearest bathroom as I hit send. I felt my chest begin to tighten, as it turned red and splotchy. My heart pounded through my back.
What is happening to me?!
I locked myself in a stall and rested my elbows on my knees to support the weight of my head. I could feel my tears run through my fingers. Rocking to try to soothe myself I sat until the adrenaline calmed, and I could focus again. I wiped my eyes dry; thankful I hadn’t put any makeup on that morning. I slinked out of the stall and splashed cold water on my face. I dragged myself down the escalator to the platform and waited for the train to the city centre. Soon I’d be back to my apartment.
* * *
I sat on the examination table trying not to rustle the paper sheet underneath me. The faded yellow walls felt like a warning sign I saw too late. I stared at the sterile medical supplies and tried not to focus on the closed door that confined me in the small room. My mom booked this appointment for me because she was concerned about the amount of hair I lost when I was in Europe. I presumed it was just a result of wearing my hair up every day. She thought differently. I didn’t want to tell anyone how much I was struggling – myself included. My sister even had noticed I was not focusing, not remembering, and not being myself, but I didn’t know I needed help.
I finished the assessments and laid the plastic clipboard face down on the table next to me. Twirling the dull pencil I was given to complete the assessments, I tried not to think about my frustration that two simple sheets of paper would determine my ‘illness’. Was there not a better way to diagnose me?
The nurse finally returned, took the clipboard, and quietly left again. I waited, closing my eye until she came back. I saw a kind of sympathy in her eyes. No one outside my family had ever looked at me like that. I started to tremble, the table squeaking below me.
“Well, your assessments match your symptoms.” She typed away on the computer as she spoke. “You’ve ranked exceptionally high on the anxiety and depression scales.”
Exceptionally? I felt my chest begin to tighten, as it turned red and splotchy. My heart pounded through my back. What was so exceptional about what I was dealing with?
The nurse talked about the science behind my brain and the chemicals I lacked or had too much of – I honestly don’t remember. Nothing made much sense to me anymore. All I wanted was to know how to feel better. She explained therapy options and coping techniques. Then she weighed the benefits and side effects of different types of medication. My eyes watered and blurred. Did I really need that much help? I think the nurse could sense my panic because she tried to comfort me.
“It’s okay. I’ve dealt with ten other young ladies this week that came in for anxiety and half of them started on medication like you. You don’t need to worry. This is common.”
I felt an instant sting in the centre of my chest. I froze. My breath shortened. I felt I was loosing control of myself. Why was feeling this way common?
I guess I never realized the magnitude of what I was going through. I accepted the prescription for the nurse’s recommended medication and followed her out to the reception area. I cautiously booked my follow-up appointment and met my mom in the car. Overwhelmed, I collapsed in tears onto my mom’s shoulder. Slowly, I found relief in my mom’s embrace and in her calm, steady breath.
… Inhale … Exhale.
I decided to help myself. Making that decision showed my strength. Medication wasn’t going to make things better instantly, but this was the right direction. My parents and sister saw my courage. I knew I could lean on them. No one else knows what I deal with daily, but that’s okay. I am getting the help I need.
This is my story and my choice and that makes me exceptional.
Traveling With Anxiety
Traveling with anxiety is no easy feat. In fact, the mere concept of traveling with anxiety; being stuck on an airplane or worse, being stuck on another continent can be enough to make you stay in your home city for the rest of your life.
But let’s be honest, what fun is that? Traveling with anxiety is actually easier than living with anxiety because you’re so preoccupied by your new surroundings that the last thing you worry about is having a panic attack.
However, it does happen, but rarely to the extent your anxious mind has tricked you into thinking it’ll be like.
Here at Anxiety Gone, we believe travel to be one of the most powerful forms of natural relief. Being able to escape your comfort zone and get out to explore the world does something to you that is beyond unexplainable; the feelings of accomplishment that follow is the best source of motivation to keep going. Once you’re bitten by the travel bug, you’ll go to great lengths to manage your anxiety so you can continue to see the natural wonders of the world.
But like we said, traveling with anxiety can be hard but it isn’t impossible. Courtney didn’t let this panic attack deter her from doing what she loves – traveling. Instead, she used it as a means to accept what was really going on and to seek the help and treatment she needed.
And being mindful of your mental illness is the first step to living a great life, despite your diagnosis.
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