Your illness does not define you. Your strength and courage does.
Today I will focus upon flying.
That stressful time that begins all far away travel.
I travel because I have to, because I was born to, because I love to. However, it is not without its difficulties. I suffer from both depression and anxiety. And it is the latter which affects me most.
For those of you that are unsure, I will try to explain. For those of you that suffer, I know it is different for everyone, so I will not pretend to be an expert. I know how my own feelings are, but even this is hard for myself to comprehend. So here goes.
Anxiety is a taboo.
People do not talk of it, people do not understand. ‘Just snap out of it’ is said far too often. It is debilitating. It takes over your life and consumes the light. There have been times that I have been unable to leave my bed for the fear that anywhere else is unsafe. For three weeks I literally couldn’t go downstairs in my own house – where I have lived for 24years – as I was convinced it was not safe. I am a lot better now, yet I still have my own idiosyncrasies. I must sit in the same chair when I go to the doctors. I have to go on trial runs: I once convinced myself that I could only go somewhere if I could walk to it first. I shake when I am nervous or stressed. I break down. When I have an attack I cannot breathe. I cannot see. I black out. I hyperventilate. My airways close. I feel pressure everywhere. I cry. I shake. I feel numb yet in so much pain. It feels like I imagine a heart attack does. It feels like the end of life, the end of the World. And there is nothing you can do. You know it is completely ridiculous most of the time, you know there is nothing that really justifies this level of response, yet, it is the only thing that you can do. Anxiety doesn’t stop you from WANTING to live life, it just stops your ABILITY to live life.
So now, you understand a little about how I suffer. And yet, I love to travel and be out of my safe space. I love the freedom. Yet fear the panic.
I have spoken to a friend about this, and we both established the worst thing is the flight. It is not because of the flying, it is because you are trapped. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of being 30,000ft above the Earth scares the hell out of me, but that space, that enclosed tin tube, is what scares me most. Once you are on there, you are trapped until you land. And that is where the fear hits in. People around don’t understand, they assume a fear of flying (which I am sure is horrific) but it isn’t that, my anxiety is a fear of anything. When you land, everyone wants to get off as quickly as possible, but what if, like me, you NEED to get off. I’m small, I always get pushed out of the way. But as soon as we land I feel this desperation to escape. I feel there needs to be time for people like myself to escape before everyone else pushes their way off. I have no issues with waiting until after everyone else has been allowed through passport control if that is what you all want, but let me get out of that tin can. Please.
And yet, I still go.
I go because I miss out on so much if I don’t. I have to force these fears away, but I can’t do it alone. I do it with the help of Sam. He holds my hand; he understands when I stop still that you can’t just tell me to ‘carry on’. It doesn’t work like that. I need the time to convince my legs they are OK to move. I am the person that bursts into tears at the check-in gate when I find out that we are not seated together. I am the one that shakes uncontrollably until they find us a seat together. It is not because I don’t want to sit alone, it is because I literally cannot sit alone.
Then we have to deal with the crowds, the crush, the people. I don’t cope well with crowds, I don’t cope well with the noise, and the bumping, and the feeling of being trapped. Yet, I love the markets in Far East Asia. I know it is a complete contradiction, but that is how it works. When we are in an airport I become focused. I have to endure it, I have to get through as quick as possible, so if I ever bump into you in an airport, I do not mean to be rude, I have just focused my mind on the goal so that I can get through it all and cannot see other people around me.
Then on the flight, I have to do the pre-flight checks. If you are ever unfortunate enough to sit next to me, you will have the pleasure of knowing where all the life-jackets are, how to put them on yourself and others, you will have to deal with me putting the window shields fully up and making sure the tray table catch is perfectly vertical. You will see me practise the brace position and check the distances for the closest exit (and I will have an air practise how to open the doors just in case I somehow beat everyone to it). And then you can hear me chant “It’s the safest form of travel. The pilot wants to get there safely.” Over and over again until we have taken off and are at cruising height. I also pray a little, I am not religious, but it is part of my ritual. And, chances are, I will grab and crush your hand if there is any turbulence.
“Why don’t you just take tranquillisers?”
Because I can’t. I can’t cope with not being in control. I don’t drink at all because that first drop puts you into the ‘not quite in control of my thoughts or actions’ zone. I couldn’t comprehend hypnosis to help for the same reasons. So tranquillisers, which stop you from being in any form of control are not going to happen. unless of course, you want to see me fight against them, and thus become even more erratic than normal.
So, knowing this, why bother with travelling?
It would be so much simpler to stay in the UK and just travel by car. But how much would you miss out if that is all you did? As much as the fears and the anxieties take over, the hope and the freedom is what makes me go. It sets that fire in my heart, and lets me be who I used to be.
Anxiety is not logical. It crushes me one day for no reason, yet on another when I have perfect reasons to fear, it does not appear. I travel because that is what I was born to do, it drives me, it makes me whole. It doesn’t mean that I won’t crack when I am away, but I will deal with it.
So, next time you are on a plane, please bear in mind that the person next to you that is looking rather pale and is muttering to under their breath probably isn’t crazy. It’s just me, and people like me trying to get through the necessary fear in order to carry on with actually living a life that is already harder than most.
Go forth, travel, see the World, because life is an adventure, you only get one shot, and these trials are sent to make us stronger. When I am away, I am freer than at home, I cope so much better. I am meant to be out of my comfort zone.
Maybe this is the difference?