Anxiety In Europe – Embracing Fear During My Travels

I have suffered from Anxiety all my life

Me and my anxiety

It has prevented me from accomplishing many things because I was too afraid to venture beyond my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong though, I can be confident and independent in many ways, but there are some triggers that turn me from a brave woman to a cowardly lion.

My mind and body also cannot distinguish between anxious excited and anxious nervous. The symptoms are very much the same (racing pulse, stomach tension, excessive thoughts, sleep issues) and so I often struggle to appreciate excitement.

The day before I was due to fly to Europe, I was a nervous wreck.

Did I really want to go?

My mum had me over for a Bon Voyage Dinner, and we talked about all the amazing things I had planned. By the end of the night, I was finding every excuse not to go home. 

“You don’t want to leave, do you?” she asked.

I started to tear up and tell her I was really overwhelmed, and I was extremely anxious. I felt excited, nervous, scared, and like I was going to break down.

What if I can’t communicate due to language barriers? Or a pickpocket steals all my money? How about if I get lost and can’t find my way back?

She assured me that although it is scary to travel to another country, the opportunity to do so was an incredible privilege and that I will have the time of my life. 

I managed to pull myself together and began the journey of a lifetime.

Not a great start

My Anxiety took a turn on the flight from Dubai to Scotland.

My friend Cleo and I had realised we would not be sitting together. Our travel agent had screwed up big time. Now, I am not a nervous flyer, I love flying. But for some reason, my anxiety kicked up a few thousand notches. Before I knew it, I was charging down the aisle to Cleo’s seat to ask the people next to her if they were travelling together and if one of them would be willing to swap. Of course with my luck, they were a couple and rightfully so didn’t want to be parted.

Cleo, the amazingly calm and patient angel she was, tried to comfort me and say that the plan probably wouldn’t work, but it was okay because she would see me in Scotland. My anxious beast was not to be reasoned with and I practically dragged her to my seat to ask the same question of the passengers next to me. They were also a married couple, and of course they wanted to sit together.

I squeezed into my window seat and watched glumly as Cleo went back to hers. My anxious episode grew to its peak. My gut sank to the floor. I was losing control. The sounds of people bustling to their seats, storing their luggage, and crying children thumped in my ears. I clung to my carry-on bag for dear life, grateful to have my flight essentials with me to make this situation less awful.

But I had spoken too soon. 

It only got worse

The couple beside me asked if they could put my bag overhead as it wouldn’t fit under the seat in front of me. I frantically pulled out whatever I could – hand cream, an eye mask, cooling facial spray, ANYTHING that could offer me some comfort.

There I was, sitting miles away from my friend, without all my belongings within reach, on a plane to a foreign country, having an anxious episode. Eventually, I put my earphones in, bundled up towards the window, and cried myself to sleep

For those of you who do not have Anxiety, you may not understand why I was seemingly ‘overreacting’. Anxiety is not something you can control. Your body perceives threats everywhere, and automatically goes into Fight or Flight mode. This might look like hysteria, dramatics, or panic etc. Anxiety is not rational, and the triggers aren’t always the same. I think the main trigger for me is if I feel like I don’t have control, or if I feel vulnerable and outside my comfort zone. I was all of these at this moment. 

Towards the end of my flight, feeling groggy and miserable, I couldn’t see how I would enjoy the rest of my trip. In the moments after an Anxious Episode, you feel so down and depressed that you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Seeing the hope again

This changed for me when we began our descent. I looked out the window as white fluffy clouds slowly parted, revealing the most beautiful sight. Luscious green lands cascaded over the hills, sweeping in every direction. I swear I had never seen grass so green in my life. It was at that moment that I realised “I’m in Scotland right now”. All my life I have wanted to travel to Europe and here I was beginning my journey. The sight literally cleared my mind and body, and I felt at peace. When I met Cleo after the flight, I was ready and excited to start our amazing trip. 

Another Anxiety riddled situation greeted me when we were travelling through Italy

We had hired a semi private bus tour to take us from Rome to Florence for the day. If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing Rome traffic, let’s just say it is freaking terrifying. There are no rules, the roads are impossibly narrow, and everyone is speeding around like they are driving for Formula 1. It didn’t help that our driver was an absolute maniac behind the wheel. I learned to not look out the windows, and instead bow my head in prayers to God. I am not a religious woman, but that day I was.  

Just before leaving the city of Rome, we were almost in a dozen car crashes. The seatbelt cut into my skin, leaving it red and raw. I gasped and jumped the whole time, and eventually closed my eyes until we were on the open road. I breathed through the fear and focused on the calming scenery on the way to Florence.

The rollercoaster ride of emotions

Shortly after, the fear had returned. 

We eventually pulled into an underground car park with a driveway large enough for just one car at a time. A group of scruffy men surrounded the bus, guiding us into a tight spot that seemed impossible to get out of. Exiting the bus, the men were even scarier up close. My eyes darted around the place, looking for signs of guns or kidnapping paraphernalia. Cleo and I huddled close to each other and raced up the driveway and breathed a sigh of relief. 

Florence was a beautiful city, full of incredible sculptures and artwork. One of the highlights of the day was sitting at the Il Porcospino restaurant and enjoying a tantalising feast of stuffed aubergine, creamy tomato pesto pasta, followed by pear and pecorino cheese ravioli. Without a doubt, the most amazing Italian food I have ever had in my life.

The day passed in a flurry, and we found ourselves once again in the Mafia’s lair… I mean carpark. We avoided all eye contact and practically power walked to the bus; the dodgy men allowed us to live another day. 

The Fast&Furious ride

Exhausted from the long day, I laid back in my seat and almost went to sleep. Night-time had fallen and everyone was quietly relaxing on the journey. Now when I say everyone, that even includes our driver. Clearly, he had a long day and was visibly struggling to stay awake 

He literally nodded off at one point, swerving off the road and I swear my life flashed before my eyes. It happened several times throughout the journey. Each time he did, pure panic spread through my veins, and my Anxiety decided to torture me once again. We were not going to make it back. I looked at Cleo, seeking comfort or calm reasoning. She was visibly nervous as well, which sent me into extreme worry mode. What I did next was the most logical course of action I believed I could take.

I pulled my phone out of my bag and began writing my last Will and Testament.

It’s not a joke. I wrote a silly little Will to my mother saying she could have everything. In case these were my last words on this earth, I signed it off with “I Love You” just . I am ashamed to say that I was about 85.6% serious about this Will. Rational thought had left the building. Later that night, I showed Cleo what I had sent to my mum, and we thought it was hilarious. 

Even though the ride was a nightmare, I was able to focus on the positives. We got to see Florence, which is a beautiful city, and I also had the BEST pasta I have ever had in my entire life. That would not have happened if I hadn’t ridden the bus of death. 

Throughout my trip, there were many moments that caused me great Anxiety.

Learning something from every trip

From almost falling off a Gondola in Venice, to flying in an 800-year-old rickety seaplane; there were many times I thought I would die.

But here’s the thing. If I had not gone on this trip, and faced these Anxiety riddled situations, I wouldn’t have the memories of a trip of a lifetime. Or have seen the incredible greenery of Scotland, eaten the best pasta in Florence, or experienced a magical dinner cruise along the Seine past the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower.

Sure, in those Anxious moments I was terrified and believed my life was over. As time has gone by thought, I have learned to embrace my Anxiety. Also, at this point in my life, I didn’t know I had an Anxiety disorder and so didn’t know how to cope with it. Now that I am aware of it and am working through it, I cannot wait to go travelling again, and embrace my Anxiety with the amazing experiences.

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story by

The Anxious Butterfly

“I’m here to share my anxiety journey in the hopes that at least one person can benefit from my own experience.”

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