It was during the last hours of my last night, traveling solo through Barcelona, that I realized I’d been branded falsely: as a fearless, free-spirited woman exploring the world.
I’ve been to Kenya, Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Czech Republic and Spain, all on my own. I’ve had at least one anxiety attack in each country. I’m not fearless, in fact I’m generally afraid, generally of everything.
I’m not fearless, I just smile a lot. I’ve never talked about my anxiety because I’ve always been embarrassed about it. But then, that night in Barcelona, standing in rain that had calmed itself into a drizzle and saying goodbye to a recurring Barcelona friend, I realize the hazard of my false face to the world.
I was accidentally telling people that you had to be fearless to do what I did. Strangers and new friends saw me sitting at restaurants alone, with an open face and lifted chin, “I could never travel on my own,” they said. “You don’t stress. You are good with yourself.” “You’re just a free spirit.” I wish any and all of these things were true. They aren’t. I’ve been anxious since I was a little girl. Perhaps that’s the secret, I’ve had plenty of time to get comfortable with my anxiety.
The most important thing is, it’s okay to be anxious. It’s an emotion, and little by little I took bites out of that emotion. I sat in my anxiety for one minute and then five minutes and then and hour until the anxiety itself wasn’t so scary anymore.
Once I realized that it was okay to be an anxious person, I wasn’t nearly as afraid. I stopped worrying about my potential to worry.
Some times are easier than others. Some times I can breathe deeply and tell myself it’s my anxiety and not me and allow it to pass. Other times I walk in circles, clenching my fists until I wind up huddled in tears on a corner on Passaige de Gracia. It’s now, my most favorite corner in Barcelona. Not because I cried there, but because I eventually stopped crying and kept going.
Yes, I’m a free spirit. For me, closed doors are terrifying. But that doesn’t mean open doors don’t also scare me. To help me walk through them, I keep some tricks for travel.
I keep a morning routine in my back pocket and adhere to it wherever I go, whenever I need it. Keeping one thing constant, allows me to enjoy everything else being different.
I keep silly putty with me. Busy hands can get you through most things.
I stop and and ask myself what I’m afraid of. Then I ask myself if the fear is real. If it’s not, I try to breathe through it. If it is real, I run the other way.
In cities I revisit, I find one place and make it my own. When I feel homesick or lonely, I visit that place and it’s like seeing an old friend.
Wine and espresso usually work for me.
I look for yoga classes in different cities. It’s a fun way to explore a local side to each place.
When I’m in full-swing panic, I smile bigger and am extra kind to people. Seeing the positive impact I can have on other people helps to calms me.
And sometimes, I walk and cry until it passes. That’s okay too.
The important thing is, if there is something you want to do, find a way to do it. If anxiety accompanies you, well, walk hand in hand with your anxiety.
I’ve often had the best experiences, running through anxiety towards what I want. What you find on the other side may change you.