Diary Entry 15: Travel Anxiety – Part Two of a Personal Journey

Travel Anxiety – Part Two of a Personal Journey

So last week I introduced you to one of my specialist areas of worrying – “Travel Anxiety”.  If you read the diary last week you will know that I did not discover this affliction until I woke up in Peru after my first overseas flight.  You will also recall that, despite being a sniveling bag of nerves for two weeks, I arrived safely back home and managed to convince myself that it had all been in my head.  Thus, the panicky memories faded and, the following year, I was happy to book myself a repeat flight to Peru to visit my dear friends Julia and Christine.

Sadly, on the day of departure, I realised, with some horror, that my earlier Travel Anxiety had not been imaginary.  It was real.  I knew it.  The whole of Edinburgh Airport knew it.  I sobbed loudly in the arms of my other half and told him not to wait with me or else I would never board the plane.   Reluctantly, he kissed me goodbye.  I waved until he was out of sight and then I had a complete (and public) meltdown.

Now you have to remember that this was twenty years ago – and nobody had heard of ‘travel anxiety’.  In fact, I don’t think anyone recognised ‘anxiety’ as a condition.  Therefore, I had no explanation for why I felt so utterly terrified about the prospect of spending two weeks with my best friends in a beautiful part of the world.

What’s that you say? Stop being such a tit? Moi?

In the absence of a rational explanation, I began to wonder if my irrational fear was a sign that I should not travel at all.  The terror was so powerful and overwhelming that I was sure it must be a sixth sense or psychic message warning me to stay at home.  My flight was due to close in the next 30 mins and I had to decide fast.

Should I stay or should I go?

My ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ self did battle while I wept openly in front of everyone.  And then I reached a deal with myself.  I would travel the first leg to Amsterdam and  see how I felt.  If my terror had not subsided I would return to Edinburgh on the next flight.  And if I felt better I would continue on to Peru.

I quaked my way onto the plane and did some deep breathing for ninety minutes.  When we landed at Amsterdam I felt worse but I made another deal with myself.  I decided to walk to the departure gate for Lima and see how I felt when I got there.

No Thanks!

I stopped at every toilet along the way and, by the time I arrived at my gate, the flight was already boarded.  I froze.  I could see the giant KLM aircraft through the window and my heart stopped.  I knew, without any shadow of doubt, that I would NOT be getting on it.

Meekly, I walked over to explain myself to the stern looking woman at the boarding desk.  I prayed she would be kind and understanding; that she would tell me it was OK to cancel and that I could get on the next flight back to Edinburgh.  But before I had the chance to speak, she snatched the boarding card from my shaking hands, asked me to confirm my name and barked at me about being late.  Then she firmly guided me through the doors and down onto the plane.

I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t getting on the plane but I didn’t dare.   I was speechless with fright and indecision.  All I could do was walk up the aisle and take my seat.  The doors closed and that was that.  Twelve hours of hell – both for me and the two gentlemen sitting next to me.

I was familiar with the arrival procedure at Lima and grateful to know that my good friend Christine would be waiting for me.  Did she notice that I was wild eyed with terror when I stepped outside into the ‘meet and greet’ area?  If so she chose to ignore it, but when I gripped her hand and rasped “I should never have come here” she realised that I was not myself.

Given the state of me, Christine was a bit nervous about us getting onto the overnight bus to Trujillo but she did what any good friend would do.   She found some bona fide ‘jungle juice’.  A dusty bottle containing the fermented roots of unidentified plants.  So potent that it would render a person unconscious for twelve hours if consumed in enough quantity.

Jungle Juice – Kiss your cares away!

And so it was that my cares faded away.  I got on the overnight bus, worn out and full of jungle juice.  A deep sleep followed during which I awoke only once and wondered where on earth I was.

After various other transport combinations, Christine and I arrived at Julia’s little clay house in Huanchaco.  Suddenly everything was OK again.  A reminder that no matter what worries and cares we have, the bosom of our friends will always provide safe haven.  There was much to look forward to; we had a full and adventurous itinerary before us but, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was destined to find fear and anxiety around every corner…..

And you know what they say?  Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the world isn’t out to get you……

Next Week:  Travel Anxiety – Part 3 of a Personal Journey.



Diary Entry 14: Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

 By now, you will be aware that ‘worrying’ is my thing.  I worry about everything but, over the years, I have developed some particular areas of fretting specialisms.  One of these is ‘travel anxiety’; a complex combination of fear which can manifest itself in all manner of ways.   With that in mind, I intend to cover this vast subject during the next few diary entries.

So yes – Travel Anxiety is one of my more complicated fears because there are so many aspects to it.  I’m never sure whether the anxiety is about being away from home; or about embarking on a journey; or whether it is linked to being in unfamiliar territory.  No doubt it is a strange mix of them all.

Despite a lifelong battle with anxiety, my travel fears were a late addition to the mix. When I was growing up, people didn’t travel as much as they do today.  In other words, I didn’t suffer from travel anxiety because I never really went anywhere.

And then one day I stepped onto a plane and flew to Peru to visit an old school friend who was teaching there.  I was twenty-seven and it was the first year that I had ever travelled by air – or travelled beyond the North of France.  It was an epic journey for me.

It all started so well.  I booked the flights and counted the weeks until departure.  I was hopping with excitement on the day of travel.  I enjoyed the flight and I was glued to the live flight map which charted my Atlantic crossing, the skirting of the Caribbean and, finally, the descent into deepest South America.

On arrival in Lima, I felt like the coolest, most adventurous person in the world. I was on the other side of the world!  My friend Julia was waiting for me and, after much hugging and shrieking, we made our way to the overnight accommodation – a rooftop room in someone’s house.  It was dark; it was the end of the day and I fell into a happy, exhausted sleep.

So far so good.  Until I woke up in the morning and staggered out into the open.  It was 5am and a hazy sun was rising across the half-built roofs of the city. From nowhere came an all-consuming, electrifying terror.  My knees buckled; my stomach churned and I started shaking.  When Julia asked what was wrong I lied.  I told her it was jet lag.  I didn’t know how to explain this new emotion; an acute distress about being too far away from home.

And therein lay the birth of my Travel Anxiety.  For two weeks I was plagued by irrational emotion and fear.  Until then, I had no idea that familiarity, security and routine were so important to me.  Without them I quickly lost my bearings – and my mind.

I loved Peru but, amidst the cloud forests and the Inca ruins, I was on edge the entire time.  I cried and lost my appetite; I quaked in my bed and eyed everyone with suspicion.  I was desperate to get back home and assure myself that my family was OK and that my dog had not been run over.  I was convinced that I might never see them again and I watched every minute passing until it was time to fly back home again.

I was overjoyed when I touched down in the UK. I collected my luggage and found my loved ones in the arrivals hall.  My family were surprised to find me hysterical with relief.  They expected tales of far off lands but there was none of that.  Just me, wailing and declaring that I would never leave the country again.

It was days before I could look at my holiday photographs.
But, when I did, I could only see evidence of an amazing trip.  There I was – on top of the world at Maccu Piccu, snoozing on a bus to Chiclayo; perched on a bench in the Plaza de Armas.  It was hard to remember the terror that had ensnarled me during those moments.  In fact, I could almost convince myself that it had all been in my head.  According to these photographs I had a great time.

Which is why I was more than happy to repeat the trip to Peru the following year.  No way did I suffer from Travel Anxiety.  Next time I would be an oasis of calm.

But of course I wasn’t!  Next time I was much, much worse…..

Next Week: Travel Anxiety – Part Two of a Personal Journey











Diary Entry 13: These Boots Were Made for Walking

Diary Entry 13: These Boots Were Made for Walking

Well – there has been another fabulous moment of insight into my Anxiety and how it filters into life without being noticed.  This recent revelation came in the form of my new heeled boots.  I bought them a couple of weeks ago because I started to crave a bit more height!  I am a reasonable 5ft 6 but I do feel a bit shrunken these days.

I also had a desire to ‘walk tall’ because, apparently, it brings all sorts of physical and emotional benefits.  It straightens the back, aligns the body and opens the chest out for more efficient breathing.  It also improves confidence and purpose, encouraging the wearer to look the world in the eye and say “Yes, I am GOOD”.  All of this positive energy for free (other than the price of the boots of course)!

Anyway, I found the perfect pair of black heeled boots – which, of course, they did not have in my size.  In order to get the comfortable ones I liked, I had to switch colour to ‘tan brown’.   Not my ideal, but fine for wearing with jeans.

Yesterday I teetered off to meet Mum and the Aunties and my choice of footwear really did cause a stir!  My Mum said “Those are funny little boots!” Of course, everyone turned to look at them and a conversation commenced on whether my ‘little boots’ really were ‘funny’ and, if so, what was it that made them so.

Mum thought it was the colour; she was not convinced that they were ‘tan brown’ and, in the cold light of day, I had to agree.  They were almost orange.

Then we discussed the material – suede.  This is a fairly inoffensive fabric but, given the strange colour, I could now see that there was something ‘animal-ish’ about them.  In fact, they made me look like I had hooves instead of feet.

Next – potential shocker!  Perhaps it was not the boots that were funny – but the fact that my jeans were too short.  We all know that half-mast trousers are a terrible fashion faux pas but I could see the point!  When I looked down, my jeans only came to the top of the boots and they were too tight to go over them. Not a good look.

Anyway, whilst all of the above contributed to the appearance of ‘funny little boots’, we finally got to the main issue – and it wasn’t really about the boots.  It was because I NEVER wear heels.  The three inches of height I had gained (not to mention the weird style walk that followed) was an unfamiliar sight for my family.  They had never seen me looking so tall – and that was clearly down to my heeled outfit.

So then….and I promise we are getting to the revelation ….. we discussed why, as a woman, I had never been a fan of high heels and why they had never really featured in my wardrobe.  And it was a good question!  I had to think about it and when the reason came to me, it made perfect sense.  Or, should I say it would make perfect sense to anyone who thinks they are always five minutes away from catastrophe.

I recall shopping with friends and having them ask why I was sticking to flat shoes when those gorgeous high heels were in the sale.  And my answer would be “because I can’t run in them“.  They would look at me with a puzzled expression and ask “but why would you need to run in them?”.   And I would think “Doh! Don’t you watch the news?” but I wouldn’t actually say it because it would take too long to explain.

 But now I can put it into words.  So yes – the reason I have never liked high heels is because I can’t run in them.  And if I can’t run, then I’m not safe!  If I can’t run, then how can I ‘get away’?  How would I flee a burning building in high heels?  How could I leap out of the path of a raging bull?  And are we not always told to avoid wearing high heels on the escape chute of stricken aircraft?

To my anxious mind, the wearing of high heels reduces your chances of survival.  It messes with the ‘fight or flight’ instinct which has been so powerfully instilled in us.  The only advantage is that, if they do prevent you from taking ‘flight’, they may still come in handy to ‘fight’ with (by taking them off and using the pointy bit as a weapon).

So how come I am wearing them now?  What does this mean?  Have my new anti-depressants reduced my anxiety enough to have me wearing high heels?  Is this a sign that there is a new part of me that does not see catastrophe around the corner?  The very thought of this development does make me want to ‘walk tall’!

Of course I still have my fashion catastrophe to deal with i.e. the wearing of tan/orange boots with half mast jeans and a silly walk.  But that won’t kill me!

Next Week: Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

Diary Entry 12: Water Shortage

Diary Entry 12: Water Shortage

A few weeks ago, hubby and I finally accepted that the damp problem in our flat would have to be resolved for once and for all.  And I also accepted that it would be madness to try and stay in the flat while the professionals shredded my walls.  Hence I decided to book holiday accommodation near our flat.

It was great!  I set myself a five-mile limit and took to Trip Advisor as if I were a visitor from the Far East, rather than someone who was born and bred in the area.  And two weeks later, we were off!  With bags packed, we merrily drove three miles out of town and commenced with our ‘holiday’ in a lovely wooden cabin high up on the hill.

Given that our ‘holiday lodge’ was only a few miles from home, I had no need to torment myself with my normal travel anxiety; the endless visions of illnesses, air disasters, muggings, deaths and any number of other incidents.  I could enjoy the excitement and relaxation of being away from home – without the anxiety of being away from home!  Brilliant!

Unfortunately, anxiety will always track me down in one form or another – and it came knocking at our door on the evening of our second day.

The lodge owner turned up on the step with a five-litre bottle of water for us.  My heart sank as soon as I saw it.  I knew exactly what he was going to say – and my instincts were correct.

The water is going off tomorrow” he said.  “Essential works in the area”.

 What time?” I said, pale-faced.

8am” he replied.  “It should be back on by 4pm but remember to let the water run clear before you drink it again”.

I wanted to tell the owner that I felt mildly anxious at the thought of this ‘life essential’ being cut off; that having no water would give me a cold glimpse at what the world would be like if civilisation collapsed.  Crucially, I wanted to know what would happen if I forgot to run the water until it cleared. Would it kill us stone dead if we drank it?

But the questions died in my throat and I could only manage a meek ‘Thank You’ before the owner was gone.

Now I wouldn’t say I felt panicky as such, but there was a definite unease about me and I took it to bed.  Hubby fell asleep quickly but I lay awake for a while pondering the risks of ‘the water going off’.  And the more I thought about it, the more I reckoned that the five-litre bottle of water we had been given, was woefully inadequate.  If I wanted to remain in control, then I would have to get up sharply the next morning and get ready for it.

I set the alarm for the early hours and, when it went off, I was up like a shot.  I was poised, alert and highly focused.  I filled the kettle with water and had a shower.  Once dressed, I decided to fill the bath (not to bathe in but just to keep the water in case of emergency).   Sadly, the water flow was so slow that I abandoned the plan because I needed to make sure that Hubby had time to shower before ‘the water went off’.  Time was passing quickly so I fell back through the bedroom door and shook Hubby awake with dramatic urgency.

Quick, quick – get in the shower” I shrieked.  The water is going off!”

Hubby said he didn’t care and that he would ‘shower later’.  Well – I was stunned by this relaxed approach to ‘the water going off’.  While he snoozed for a bit longer, I let my water shortage fears fill me.  What would happen if I had a stomach upset during the day? What if I could not use the flush and I clogged up the pipes?  Even if I didn’t develop mystery dysentery, there was still a risk of having to leave something lying in the toilet for hours.  I tried to solve this problem by sitting on the pan and willing everything to pass.  No such luck.

There was nothing else for it but to get on with the day and to pray that we would survive the next 7 hours without running water.

And here’s the funny thing.  It was 6pm before I remembered that the water had ever been off.  And by that time, it was already back on again.  After all my fretting, I was taken aback at the absence of consequence.  No toilet disasters; no crawling to the roadside gasping for a drink; The emergency five-litre bottle of water lay unopened in the porch.

You may think I am over-reacting but…..

When I realised that I had indeed survived a few hours without running water I was euphoric. I had some residual panic because I could not for the life of me remember if I had inadvertently drunk it without ‘running it clear’ – but I am still here to tell the tale and that’s all that matters.

And so, yet again, my anxiety about something that might happen – was far worse than the thing I feared.  When will I learn?

Having said that, our dependency on water does make me nervous because it is such a vulnerable resource.  We are fortunate that, in this country, we get more than our fair share of the stuff falling from the sky.  But how easy would it be to poison the supply? How quickly would a major engineering problem bring the nation to its knees?  Quick as a flash we could find ourselves brawling in the street and pushing each other out of the queue at the army patrolled water station.

“Pass the rifle will ya – only a matter of time before things turn ugly!”

 So for that reason, I will be taking that unopened 5 litre bottle of emergency water home with me and keeping it in the hall cupboard – along with the others…….

Next Week:  These Boots Were Made For Walking