I Went to India to Find Myself and Discovered That I’m a Huge Pile of Trash
It was 10:20 AM. My eyes were puffy and red and the paneer korma I’d mistakenly ordered was coming back up my throat and splashing into the stained toilet bowl. An impatient knock on the door of the restaurant’s bathroom told me I needed to get a move on throwing up my entire stomach lining. Fucking Kingfisher beers. Never again.
“Go to India it’ll be SO spiritual,” they said.
“You look stressed. You need to go to India and cleanse yourself,” they said.
“Trust me. You’ll find yourself there,” they said.
But there I was, spending the day throwing up in public bins, eating Valium like Tic Tacs and hating myself – much like I did constantly at home. Was this really “finding myself”?
In the week that proceeded that vomitty day, I would have exactly four panic attacks and cry 11 times – once on top of an elephant! Fancy. I also put two flights home in my Jetstar online booking cart, only to abandon them hours later. I was simultaneously having the best and worst time of my life.
There’s this wishy-washy idea of travel that it’s always this refreshing escape where you can melt away from all your problems. That once you touch down in some far-off place, your worries are left behind in the overhead baggage compartment. Truth is, travel isn’t a magic pill that makes your problems go away. If you’re a miserable piece of shit when you’re at home, there’s a big chance you’re still a miserable piece of shit in another country. Same shit. Different backdrop.
I’ve had anxiety for eight years, which is why I didn’t fuck off travelling after high school like 8000 of my friends. While they, starry-eyed, were jetting all around the world and studying abroad, I was safely in my Melbourne bubble, scared to even venture too far on the train line.
To me, travel would mean panic attacks in foreign cities, crying in hostels and staying in bed all day wishing I were home. Even at music festivals two hours away from Melbourne, I’d cry in my tent wondering why I was there, then call a friend and beg them to pick me up. My anxiety was completely paralysing me.
However, the more people told me how freeing and beneficial travelling was, the more I thought to myself, Fuck it, may as well give it a red hot crack. The “find yourself in India” narrative was playing over and over in my head. So I booked a flight. What’s the worst that could happen?
People (including my psychiatrist, who told me I was “a bit much”) were stoked I was going – anxious Dani was going to come home a new person and stop breathing into paper bags on public transport! My anxiety was supposedly going to float down the Ganges River like a candle at sunset.
It took me less than 19 hours after touching down to realise that this was not the case. I was an anxious alcoholic mess in Melbourne, and I was still an anxious alcoholic mess in India. The hangovers were still bad, crying was still my favourite hobby and the hyperventilating didn’t stop just because I was in Gandhi’s birthplace.
India was beautiful, vibrant and chaotic. I actually had a fucking blast, but no way in heck did I “find myself”. The only thing I found out about myself is I can’t hack 11 Kingfishers in a night, and that if I sneeze during a panic attack, it kinda feels like an orgasm.
And honestly? I think that’s so okay. For some people, travel is an escape and an opportunity to switch their problems onto aeroplane mode. For others, like me, this isn’t the case. We can travel and still be weighted down with our problems from home. They’re still real and valid when you’re abroad.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t travel though – it’s just better to be realistic. Even though my India trip was characterised by vomit, sweat and tears, I still seriously loved it and continue to travel whenever I can. I’m literally writing this sitting on a tatami mat with a bottle of wine in Nippori, Tokyo. Maybe I cried in a Thank You Mart today because I lost a $50 note. Who knows?
Maybe you won’t find yourself overseas. There’s a chance your problems will come with you. It’s better to just embrace them and realise you’re a human being with flaws and you still deserve to be happy. Travel will throw curve balls and maybe from time to time you’ll cry on the train and old ladies will look at you and call the police. But travelling can still also be fan-bloody-tastic.
So why not just fucking travel anyway? If anything, it’ll a great opportunity to be an anxious pile of trash with some mountains in the background.
Cover by the author