This disease comes with a package: shame. When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.
– Ruby Wax
Travelling with Anxiety. How my day differs to yours.
8.00: Your alarm goes off, you wake, you might shower, you grab some clothes from your backpack, you head to breakfast. You eat wherever looks good, and at the right price
8.00: My alarm goes off, I wake, I must shower, I put on the clothes that I pre-prepared the night before (as happens every day), I head for breakfast. I eat where there are people, but not too many, I sit by a wall, with my back to it, so I can see both the kitchen and the front door/windows. At the very least, I face towards the door to make sure who is coming in.
9.00: You head towards the market. You amble through the streets. You stop at a shop or a street vendor, just because.
9.00: I head towards the market. I go on a pre-mapped route to avoid the main thoroughfares (I can’t deal with all the pushing around rush hour), but also avoiding the back alleys (I’m not ridiculous, I know how to stay safe)
9.30: You arrive at the market. The sights, sounds and smells assault your senses, you breathe in, smile and giddily head towards a stall, any one.
9.30: I arrive at the market. The sights, sounds and smells assault my senses, I breathe in, choke, have a minor attack because there is just so much to take in. Puff on my inhaler, squeeze of the hand from Sam, smile from him, and a slight push towards the food section. I need a drink of water or I am not going to make it around here.
10.00: You carry on ambling around the market. There is so much to see. So many things to buy, so much culture, so many languages, so much to absorb.
10.00: I go back to ambling around the market. There is so much to see. So many things to buy, so much culture, so many languages, so much to absorb. I’m pretty certain everyone is watching me. That stall owner is definitely staring. Am I shaking? Am I screaming and haven’t realised it? Sam stops to look at me, passes me my inhaler, apparently I am breathing a bit funny, and look like I am about to collapse. They are looking at me, but only because I have the international symbol for ‘about to faint’ stamped across my forehead.
10.30: You make your first purchase, you haggle (or try to) you feel that excitement at having bought a piece of genuine Thai tourist memorabilia. And that sets you off. You buy more and more, who doesn’t need 75 carved wooden vases? They are gifts after all, and you could always consider the FedEx stall if it becomes too heavy to carry.
10.30: Sam makes our first purchase. I do not haggle; that is far too stressful for me. I feel the excitement once he has bought it, but until then, I will pretend to be looking at something else. We buy based on very strategic gift purchases. And by what would look amazing in our house.
11.30: The lunchtime crush begins. You embrace it. It is an incredible feeling to have so many lives pass you in such a small amount of time. You stop for a spot of lunch at somewhere cheap and authentic. And you just watch the world go by for a little while
11.30: The lunchtime crush begins. I root to the spot. Sam has to push me out of the middle of the tight space I seem to be trapped in. We go for lunch, at a place that I deem acceptable. One that serves bottled water, one where I can see where the food is cooked (preferably on a hotter than the sun hot plate) and I can use my hands to eat with, or they have sealed chopsticks. None of this cutlery malarkey, I have enough issues with that in the UK, I am not going to cope with it in a market. Once I am seated in a ‘safe’ seat, I can watch the world go by… Provided they won’t bump into me.
1.30: You head back into the market, maybe to the pet zone, just to check it out. You “Ahhh” at the tiny puppies, you speak with the parrots. You just have some fun, because there is no way that you are buying an animal, but… IT IS A MARKET WITH ANIMALS!!! AHHHH, EXCITING!!!
1.30: I head back into the market, maybe to the pet zone, just to check it out. I “Ahhh” at the tiny puppies. Then I cry, because they shouldn’t be being sold, they should be with their Mum’s. They are too tiny to survive. We leave the pet zone quite swiftly.
2.30: You wander around the furniture zone. You aren’t going to buy anything, you can’t lug a hand carved king sized beg around in your rucksack after all, but the craftsmanship is incredible.
2.30: I wander around the furniture zone. I’m not going to buy anything, I can’t lug a hand carved king sized beg around in my rucksack after all, but the craftsmanship is incredible. The problem is, now I have started to get worked up (after the pet incident) I’m on hyper alert. Someone has to squeeze past me because it is a tiny space, and they are simply too close. Someone turns down the same little turning, and I am convinced they are following me. So now, I break down. The panic grips in. My inhaler gets yanked out of my bag by Sam (sometimes, if you catch it just right, because of the way you have to breathe it curtails an attack). I curl up in a ball in the middle of the market, everyone stares. I begin to shake and my breathing goes all funny. The tears start to flow. A local stall owner offers a fresh bottle of water, free of charge. He won’t take money for it even though this is how he makes his money. It takes me an hour to calm down.
3.30: You head back, its been a long day, the market is starting to close. You update your Facebook “Been to Chatuchak market today, watched a girl have a full on break down in the middle of it. Some people just shouldn’t travel!”
3.30: I head back, it’s been a long day, the market is starting to close. I get back to our room. Sam updates those at home. I take some diazepam and curl up in bed to calm myself properly. Tonight is a write off. But we have been out here for a couple of months now, we have another month to go before we move on.
I know I can travel, just not today.
How do you travel with anxiety? What is your best coping strategy?