“Where are you headed next?”, asked the man, “Agra? Jaipur?”.
I was standing in the air-conditioned lobby of a hotel in Delhi as I got chatting with the older Indian man. He turned out to be a tour guide for a bunch of elderly western tourists. I turned out to be a big-headed idiot, but I didn’t know it then.
“No”, I said, feeling a little pleased with myself that we weren’t going to the Taj Mahal or the famous Pink City as did everyone else. “We’re going to Haridwar”.
The man gave me a quick look. “Are you going on a tour?”.
I laughed a little as I shook my head. “Nahh. Just the two of us”, I said, pointing towards Marvin who was waiting a few steps away.
“Well”, said the man and returned my smirk with a gentle smile, “seems like you’re diving head first into real India. Best of luck to you”.
“Are we gonna need it?”, I asked jokingly, if a bit startled – but he was already walking away, leaving me with just one of these indefinite head wiggles for an answer.
If only I’d known how right he was.
No matter how hard you study, there will always be some parts of a language that you won’t be able to capture without living where it is actually used. Raised north of the Alps, I have always struggled to grasp certain nuances of my second language Italian (and pretty much everything about its grammar, but that’s a different story). It wasn’t until I went to live in Italy for a few months that I got a little closer to the art of expression that the Italians call their language – and that I finally cracked the one I’d been racking my brains about all my life. About the most Italian of words.
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?).
When you’re away from home for a while, you’re most probably going to have some expectations for your return. That can be things you look forward to, like a loved one picking you up from the airport, or less pleasant outlooks, like getting back to a cold house because you forgot to turn on the heating or whatever.
When I came back home after ten months of travel, any possible expectations I could have had became outdone in both these senses: I was greeted by my family and closest friends at the airport – and by many more beloved people gathered in my parents’ backyard as a surprise for me: A memory I will treasure forever. But what else I had awaiting me was a new level of anxiety, one that so seriously messed with my life that I soon knew I wasn’t going to get back on track without professional help.
If I got one euro every time I saw a blog post title like “how travel helped cure my anxiety” and I’d buy pizza from that money – I’d end up with more pizza than I could eat (a lot). What I’m trying to say is: Travel seems to work magic for many sufferers of anxiety, depression or whatever other mental condition. When searching the internet for contrary experiences though, there isn’t much to be found. Or there wasn’t until now.
Is it ever really true when we say that „everything changed“ after a certain event? In my mind, there’s very few situations in life to which this phrase actually applies and I don’t think I’ve ever lived through one. So when I first experienced panic and anxiety as a clueless teenager, did that change everything in my life? Well… no.
But, fuck, it got close.
When I was 17 years old, I attended a sleep-over at a local community center where I used to hang out with a group of friends all the time then. We’d been up all night, joking around and having a good time like we always did – and when morning came, we were expected to attend church because this was a religious institution we were having our fun at, and so we did.
Halfway through the service, I started to feel sick to my stomach. Very quickly, I felt extremely ill and without thinking, I half stumbled, half scrambled my way out from mid bench where I was sitting between all my friends.
Like millions of other people around the world, I was watching the One Love Manchester Concert on Youtube the other day – and I won’t say I didn’t cry because it simply wouldn’t be true. All these artists – no matter what you think of their music – gathering in a spirit of love and unification with and for those affected by the sickening, horrific attack on a pop concert, is a truly meaningful thing to me.
There’s more of three hours of footage of that concert online, and perhaps I am being unfair, because despite all the touching, heart-melting moments in this event, it is just one little quote, one little moment that stayed with me – and that upsets me enough to sit down and write this.
The red dust swirls up around our ankles as we step on the deserted street. It’s still dark and we’re yawning like you only can when it’s 4 am and you’re not still up, but already.
As we walk towards the rental place, I feel my heart beating uneasily in my chest.
A little girl greets us with a smirk as we approach. My stomach rumbles audibly as she asks “You want two?”, pointing at the motorcycles.