Travelling With Anxiety: It Happens to the Best of Us
In the dying days of the Japanese ski season, there was a definite lack of snow. When there is a lack of snow around these parts, the only thing left to do is attempt to drink your weight in 9% chūhais. And at the annual end-of-season Splash Jam at the bottom of Happo-one ski resort in Hakuba, framed by the magnificent Japanese Alps, spirits were higher than the monstrous mountains themselves. Everyone was running wild on vibes and alcohol, attempting to ride their skis and snowboards over a pond full of freezing water. It was a sight that needed to be seen to be understood.
It was also the last day for someone I’d met during the season. Someone who had changed me for the better. Someone I thought I was ready to say goodbye to in less than 12 hours.
With the setting sun casting a breathtaking pink hue, and everybody sufficiently drunk, we stumbled back to the house. A few of us went to work for a few short hours, only to return to the house to keep kicking on.
The next day, I woke up hungover and said a tearful goodbye that was swiftly followed by another night of extensive social lubrication. To be truthful, I can’t remember if anything of note even happened or whether we were simply drinking because, by this point, it was just what we did. Awaking on the third morning, I started to feel regret and the questions started to loop over and over again. Was the goodbye enough? Should I have done more? I really need to start getting my life together…
When I felt the beginning of my anxiety start to rear its destructive head, I did the smart, sensible thing: went to the closing night of my local bar, and this time, iI didn’t just delete some files. I wiped the whole fucking hard drive.
Waking up on the afternoon of day four in the midst of a less-than-ideal panic attack, I told myself, “Just count to 10 and breathe.”
One. Breathe. Two. Breathe. Three. Four. Five. Fuck, I forgot to breathe. I can’t even do that right.
Even though I was four hours late, I decided I should go to work. I sat in my car and realised I couldn’t go to work: I needed to sort this out.
Anyone who’s dealt with panic attacks and anxiety will tell you it’s different. It’s not just a fear, but a sense as though you’re being controlled. You’re worried and upset and you don’t know why. For me, it’s like having a hand on your brain controlling it, and a fist clenched around your lungs.
No one can really tell I get like this. I’m overseas “living my best life”, apparently – especially if you look at my social media profiles, which are full of snowboarding, epic sunsets and good times with my mates: all things that might make me the envy of my friends back home. Normally it’s under control, and you would never realise that at any moment, the infinite amount of irrational thoughts and fears that are spiralling around my head may force me to jump to ridiculous conclusions.
The reality is that mental health isn’t something that can be cured with a change of country. Sure, it can help to refresh your surroundings, but it is something that affects almost everybody no matter where they are. And when things like this happen in foreign places, you can feel very alone – when all you want is your best friend to tell you it’s all fine, but they’re thousands of kilometres away. If you can’t ask for help, it’s worth remembering that as long as what you’re doing right now is important to you, then it’s probably right.
The stigma surrounding mental health is something we all need to work together to remove. This needs to go part-in-part with being okay with telling people you’re not okay. If you’re off on the adventure of a lifetime, you still have a right to feel shitty sometimes. You may think a call home to your parents or friends to tell them how you feel is ridiculous, because you don’t want them to think you’re wasting your trip being unhappy, but sometimes it can be all you need. It’s also worth remembering that almost all of us feel bad from time to time: your parents, your newly-married friends with their houses and babies, your other mate who just landed their dream job, even that Instagram influencer who spends so much time in Bali you wonder how they’re legally still allowed an Australian passport.
Our troubles don’t define us nearly as much as our experiences and actions do. So next time you feel shitty when you think you shouldn’t, or a privileged friend reaches out to you for some help, it might be worth remembering that.
If you or someone you know is living with anxiety or depression, help is available at www.headspace.org, or you can call Lifelife on 13 11 14.