Over the last couple of weeks, I have written and shared several posts about my issues with mental health – something I would’ve never thought of doing in all the years I have struggled with them. After writing about the beginnings of anxiety, ways of dealing with it through my school, gap and university years and my experiences with therapy, I want to come full circle and make some final confessions about what it’s like to live with anxiety now – in “adult life” (haha?).
Of course with adult life, I mean nothing more than “post graduation life”. Not really sure how this adult thing is supposed to go down, but I guess being in between jobs and apartments and having another month-long trip upcoming (EXCITED) does not exactly qualify.
But definitions aside: I have managed to graduate from high school, to travel the world in a gap year, to receive a bachelor degree and to gain some work experience over the past years – all of which while I was more of less struggling with anxiety and panic attacks.
Of course, therapy has helped make most of this possible and if you’re interested in that please continue to read here. What I want to do in this post is take a glimpse at the outcome of it all. From all these years of struggling, what still remains today? What have I learned? What are my fears and issues that outlasted therapy? What helps me to deal with all this today? Let’s make this series into a full circle.
In contrast to my school or university years, I struggle way less – waaay less. I do encounter challenges on almost a daily basis, but not all of them are the world-shattering type. It’s all about day-to-day condition really. A train ride of five hours could be a piece of cake today but then a 10 minutes subway ride might give me the creeps only days later. There’s a lot of factors that influence this, but I can’t grasp them all. Sometimes I might have all the sleep and good nutrition I need, be with someone I feel comfortable around and still freak the fuck out for no obvious reason.
Parties or other social gatherings used to be really hard, but I’m happy to say that I do once again enjoy them. There’s always exceptions of course but if I’m really not comfortable going somewhere today, I’d rather take a moment and think about what the problem is instead of forcing myself to just go already. Obviously, I won’t stay home from somewhere I’d LIKE to go but am scared of – but when I’m feeling anxious because I know I won’t be comfortable around the people anyway, why even bother?!
Then there’s things like eating at restaurants that used to be really difficult for me and just aren’t anymore – a freedom I enjoy a lot now that I know how hard it can be. It’s a huge success but one even I have gotten used to.
Other issues have remained MAJOR obstacles for me and probably will for much more time to come. Church services for example still absolutely mess with me – or anything that feels similar as to the setup of sit down, shut up, be appropriate around a lot of people. Just to give you an example:
In summer of 2016, my best friend got married and asked me to be her maid of honour. And honoured I was – but horrified. This meant sitting through the ceremony her and her now wife, in the middle of a room full of people gathered to witness this super significant event. Right there on the silver platter. For months, I was terrified every single night when I went to sleep. In the end, I somehow managed to get through it and honestly, I am more than proud of that. After all, I was able to be with my friend for this super important moment of her life and I would not have missed that for a thousand panic attacks. But to be fair: When my friend and I held hands during the ceremony, it wasn’t because I was calming her.
A bit surprising maybe after the experiences I made with regard to travel and anxiety, travel is something that really helps me tackle my anxieties today.
As opposed to long-term travel, which I used to flee my personal issues and turn my everyday life into a giant comfort zone, rather short episodes of travel allow me to just relax and get some distance to it – but never enough to pretend these problems aren’t real. Travel gives me the chance to challenge myself in a different way than everyday life does. It’s planes, germs, crowds, chaos, loneliness, excitement and diarrhoea: It’s hella scary, but wonderful too. Instead of running away from the person I am and trying to be someone else entirely, I now see travel as an opportunity to experiment with the person I am. Sometimes I’m more worried (what the hell are these red bites all over my body in the middle of fucking nowhere???!?!), sometimes I’m more chill (Life vests? Ooops, didn’t even see them).
The last example happened at Inle Lake in Myanmar a couple of months back by the way, and it was one of those moments when I realized how travel works for me and why I love it so much. We had spent the whole day on the lake in a tiny boat with two lovely folks we’d met at the breakfast table. When walking back to our hostel after dinner, I was chatting with one of them about how everyone had put on the life vests provided on the boat right away – except for me. I was really shocked at this because I really hadn’t even noticed them at all and told him it was really unlike me. “I’m usually the first one with safety measures”, I laughed, but with self-criticism hiding between the words. “Really?”, replied he in a genuinely surprised tone, “you don’t seem like that at all.”
Sometimes, all you need is a break from yourself, and a few weeks away from home and your home-bound habits and structures can really help with that. I’m still not sure how I would deal with long-term travel to be honest, so maybe it’s a good thing that isn’t on my personal (financial?) agenda anytime soon. I’d still like to get back to it at some point in my life though, so I’ll definitely have to come up with a better plan for mental health then (makes note for future reference).
Another aspect that really helps me keep it together is as simple as it gets: It’s reading and educating myself about anxiety and mental health. I used to refrain from doing so in the past when I wasn’t well, because a) I already spent enough time with anxiety on my mind and didn’t want to give that any more more and b) I had the weird idea that reading about anxiety would give my mind more “ideas” what to be anxious about and only make everything worse.
I ran into this book at the airport in London recently after I had a major anxiety attack about going to a gig and just had to buy it. Reading this incredibly honest account, I realized that it actually helps A LOT to know other people are going through similar struggles and that you’re not crazy (or crazier them, so to say). I have found this book deeply inspiring and have identified with the writer on so many levels.
I always thought that if people knew about my issues, I would somehow become less respectable in their eyes. But here I was binge-reading about the deepest troubles and worries of an accomplished journalist – and did I respect her any less after knowing about them? If anything, I respected her even more because I knew how much it must have taken her to get this out there. So basically, this book inspired me to start writing (publicly) about my fears.
And yes, this is another part of what has helped me become/stay sane: Writing and talking about it.
Many might wonder why I decided to go so personal on a travel blog that is usually full of whimsy and cat photos, and the fact that I wanted to get this off my chest was definitely one reason for that. But most importantly, and I know it may sound cheesy, I wanted to make a difference.
I know that I am not a person most people will perceive as the “type” for mental health issues – in fact, some have even reached out and told me so after reading about it. So what I really wanted to do is spread some awareness that everyone, even the person you least suspect, could be struggling with mental health – and that it is important that we learn to listen to these people and take them seriously.
I decided to publicly write about my issues because I believe that for people to open up about this topic… well, people need to open about it. So I did. Today, it was still a scary thing to do for me, but I hope it will be a much more normal topic to discuss in the future. If I have maybe opened just a few eyes to the fact that everyone can be affected by this, I consider this series, that will end in exactly three words, a success.
This is the last part of a series I wrote about anxiety and the many ways it has interacted with my life so far. Anything I write here is my personal experience and thus just one little dot in the whole picture that can be painted about mental health issues. If you have any questions, concerns or personal experiences you would like to share, feel free to leave me a comment below. Read parts one, two, three, four and five of this series here.