The clock on my laptop hits 10:54pm. I’ve been sitting here for 58 minutes. The same screen with the same flights. The same travel plans that I looked at two days ago, seven days ago, ten days ago. The same idea has been in my head for a long time. But, for some reason I cannot bring myself to click ‘purchase’.
It’s only Stockholm. I know in my mind it is one of the safest places in the world – everybody seems to know that. So why am I worried? I’ve travelled to so many ‘dangerous’ places and haven’t felt this insecure. So why now? Why Stockholm?
Then the cool, slow wave of realisation washes over me – it’s because I just don’t want to do it alone.
All the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done have had one constant: I have never truly done it alone. Mum and dad, boyfriends, friends, whoever. Never have I travelled more than 24 hours without the comfort of somebody I know and love by my side. And it scares me; it makes me anxious.
It feels strange saying writing it down for the world to see but anxiety is something I have struggled with since I can remember, particularly social anxiety. It’s a weird feeling and it is hard to put into words, but I suppose it all stems from an intrinsic perfectionism. I want people to like me (as most people do), but for me it goes to another level where it makes me anxious if I think somebody doesn’t like me. Like a ruminating, heart beating, sweaty kind of anxious.
At parties or hostels I find it difficult to strike up conversation with people; I feel self-conscious and question whether people find what I’m saying interesting. Through my head are thoughts of ‘sh*t, what I said was stupid’, ‘what do I say next?’, ‘why are they looking at me like that?’, ‘did I say something wrong?’… you get the point. Often I will opt to not talk to anybody rather than go through this. Getting on the College Committee was relief to me because suddenly I got to work the parties rather than go to them. It gave me a reason to talk to people or have something to say, even if it was just “do you want another drink?”. Sounds weird, I know.
In hostels I usually wait for other people to talk to me because it freaks me out to be the one starting the conversation. I would ditch study groups for irrational fear of saying something wrong or would worry excessively if I wasn’t invited to something. Even silly things like being worried to go to the gym in case people see me exercise, or God forbid, actually play sport in front of other people, or even driving a car. But these things I have learned to deal with and overcome.
For me, it is the one-on-one or small group conversations that freak me out the most. Maybe because they are where actual connections are formed. For those who know me, and maybe the ones who don’t, it is clear that I love public speaking, debating and blogging. These activities are up-front and social on the surface but looking deeper, I don’t know that they really are. It’s rare in these activities that you make yourself truly vulnerable. You put yourself in the position of ‘preacher’ rather than in a conversation; and I guess that’s where the difference lies. You never really get to know what people’s reactions were to what you said whereas in close conversation it is a lot more personal.
So, with all of that off my chest, that is why Stockholm scares me. Hostels full of people who want to chat. Which doesn’t sound like something to be scared of, and I guess that makes it all the more difficult to describe. I won’t have somebody by my side to rescue me once I’m in that situation.
So that is why it is important that I go alone.
Over the years I have realised that immersion is what works and this tactic has helped me with so many of my triggers before. So a pre-emptive thank you to Stockholm. Even if our relationship is rocky, your airport, hostels and attractions will be the beautiful Scandinavian backdrop to my challenge.
And with this, I click purchase.
ARN 13 December 2016 15:55. I’ll see you then.
Have you ever been travelling with anxiety? Or have another experience? Comment below.