The Push | Pull of Travel Anxiety

Right now I’m struggling with the confronting fact that in six weeks, I’ll be stepping out of my day-to-day life, handing over my apartment keys and traveling for two months. It’s a bona fide vacation—the first in four years, and innumerable years before that one—and I should be desperately excited. But lately, if I’m honest, anxiety has me caught in its pull. When my son-in-law asked if I was excited about my up-coming trip, my answer was a hesitant … “yes”. The only thing I could liken the uncertainty to was parenting young children and being in the trenches with no break in sight, feeling deeply weary. You plan a long overdue evening out or a night away, knowing full well that you owe it to yourself to refuel. But when departure is imminent, you hash it out with yourself: Maybe you should just stay home. It’s the end of the day—you’re too tired to go out now. What if someone wakes up and needs you? What if your baby needs you? (You’re walking out the door with your boobs, you know …). What if, oh, I don’t know …  ABCDEFGHI (and god forbid, Z) happens, and you’re not there to sort it out? It’s all so exhausting just running your mind through the paces of those potential disasters, you may as well just stay home. Maybe you don’t really need that break after all. Not this time. Maybe next time.

Children aside, he could relate. And it felt reassuring to know that someone else often battles with themselves, caught between the push of opportunity and the pull and comforting predictability of staying put.

And then this video appeared. It’s a riff on the popular “10 things you wish you could tell your  X-year old self” and it’s really great (or maybe being prone to emotions of the choking kind just now, I’m a lousy judge). I watched it and laughed (and cried) and thought afterwards that while it’s true that our older, battle-worn selves can look back with a gentle, even-handed honesty with which to reassure our younger selves, there’s also the truth that we all possess an uncanny amount of wisdom about our current situations and selves. Sometimes we have great difficulty accessing this self-knowledge. We can’t find our way to the answers, or just don’t know what the remedies are to the obstacles and terrors we face. At times, every aspect of the rut we’re stuck in feels too cavernous and overwhelming to move through. We feel conflicted, confused and even enraged by the external voices that seek to obliterate our internal reality, moving us even further from self-validation. We’re all capable of creating a staggering number of ways to detach from our own wisdom, to soothe, to self-medicate, to sabotage. And there are times when we just don’t sit still long enough, singularly enough and quietly enough to hear our own thoughts.

So—over-consumption of chocolate, internet distraction, shit not getting done and leaking anxiety all acknowledged—what would my 54-year old self say to my 54-year old self? She’d say: It’s true that you may live to see 94—and that would be freaking grand. But all bets are off when it comes to knowing the vast and mysterious ways in which this universe determines your end. So you can stay put for another month, or year, or even decade if you wish, believing that there will be a “better time” to go. And you can stress (you’re so well-accomplished at doing this) about money and whether you shouldn’t have put this into savings instead (Future Voice! Future Voice!). Or, you can call a truce between exhaustion and uncertainty, and trust that your instincts rarely fail you when you’re true to yourself. And if you catch yourself thinking of ways to disrupt or back pedal on this trip, you could also let your 20-year old self shine a light down that corridor of fear and worry. Remember her? The person who bought a one-way ticket and traveled alone for the better part of a year without internet or cell phone? Yeah, that one. She tackled all those situations both imagined and real and downright scary. She’d say:

You’ve got this. Write down all your stories! And for god’s sake—have an amazing time.

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