Traveling with Anxiety

I have debated about writing this blog post for quite some time, but a recent short conversation I had with someone gave me the push, reason, or inspiration I needed to actually write.  Mainly because I began to view this post more as a way to help those who have the same mental disorder(s) that I have or a similar one.

Traveling and exploring the planet, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is one of my favorite things to do in life and I would consider it to be a passion of mine.  I may not be the world explorer that others are, but I don’t feel you need to go far or often for traveling and exploring to be a passion of yours.  You just have to truly have a Love for it and go about it with Love.

While I have a passion for exploring, I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), something I was diagnosed with when I was eight years old (I am 25 going on 26 today).  As a side effect, if you will, of GAD I also on a regular basis deal with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, and depression, you know…all that fun stuff.

All of these things can at times make traveling tough and/or very difficult for me, despite my passion for it.  Granted there are times when exploring brings me a certain peace from it all, but for majority of the time they always linger like a dark cloud.  Providing me with irrational fears and worry or making rational ones seem much worse or like there is no escape from them.  Sometimes the irrational ones are so overpowering that rational fears flee from my mind.

For example, during my first true camping trip with friends we stayed at a site that I picked out, roughly 25 minutes to the South of the town of Munising in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It was basically in the middle of nowhere, but it was a great campground, although it didn’t have showers like we thought it did (We thought the water fountain symbol on the website was the shower symbol, not our best moment).

When we got our camp set up, my buddy was concerned about bears, which was very logical because we were in the backwoods and one was just hit by a car less than a mile from our site.  I wasn’t worried about bears at all though; instead my mind was filled with intense fears of ticks, not showering for the three day trip, my friends not liking the site, my friends not ever wanting to camp with me again, getting dehydrated, not being closer to Munising, and so on.

Of course I didn’t physically or verbally express my fears, but they were there causing turmoil in my head.  Things that aren’t really a big deal become huge deals, as my mind spirals.  Whenever I jump on a trip, I expect fears to come and I know they are waiting for me and it can make traveling difficult and more exhausting then it should be.

Discovering a Light in Travel Companions

Fire on the beach with friends

One of the big things that helps me get past anxiety that occurs when I travel is those who I travel with.  Sometimes they help me indirectly and don’t even realize they are helping me find a peace.

There are times that I travel with friends who know about my anxiety and help me get through it, by providing encouragement and reassurance that things are going to be okay.  When anxiety comes calling, they talk me through it and help me to take my mind off of it and focus on the journey ahead.

For example, my friend Allie, who I have gone on many adventures with in the past, also has similar anxiety issues that I face and so we were able to help each other through anxious thoughts.  Odds were that if one of us was getting an anxious thought, so was the other.  For me, this bond that I shared with a friend helped me to get past my fearful feelings when we would go on explorations with one another.

Allie, me, and the Northern Lights (Photo by: Megan Dubay)

Majority of the times that I find my friends provide a light in the storm clouds of anxiety and depression during journeys is indirectly and without them even realizing the impact they are having.  Just by being there and seeing how much fun they are having takes my mind away from the fear and into the moment at hand.

This is common throughout my life outside of exploring, there is something about being with friends and family and sharing special moments with them that frees my mind.

My friend Bobby who I have gone on pretty much all of my trips with the past few years, except for Ireland and Scotland, has played such a huge role in helping me deal with anxiety.  Simply because of his fearless and take life as it comes at you spirit.  It pushes me to keep up with him and do things my fears tell me not to do or ditch my fears altogether.

During that camping trip I mentioned earlier he was one of the friends I was with and seeing how he took the situation with confident stride, no worry, and viewed it as just part of the story, helped me to push away those fears and jump on the same outlook as him.  Today, after all of our trips together, I am finding myself being pushed more and more toward this outlook and the outlook becoming more predominant than my anxieties.

Bobby and me on top of Mauna Kea

The human connection is a powerful one and my anxieties have taught me that it is one to cherish, for the impact one person can have on another simply by being there and sharing the moment is pretty stellar.

Pushing Past and Finding Peace

Exploring with GAD can be difficult and make moments of expeditions less enjoyable as your brain betrays you and feeds you fears and darkness, but the important thing to remember is that you are not your anxiety, your anxiety is part of who you are.

In the past there have been moments for me on trips where anxiety has benefited me, such as by helping me solve problems, like when I had to reschedule a flight to Hawaii the day we were supposed to leave because our original one got cancelled.  It helps me to be more empathetic and understanding to the world around me and those that I travel with.

Granted, there have been so many times where I have just wished for it to go away so I could enjoy the fullness of a trip, but I find that the more time I spend wishing it would go away the worse it becomes.

So, I try to accept that it is a part of who I am and that I am not going to let it stop me from going on great adventures and live like I am dreaming, but this isn’t always easy and I am not saying that it is.  What I am saying is that if anxiety or depression is something that haunts you, you can overcome it and truly enjoy and feel every moment for what it is.

I know it is not easy, trust me, for the thoughts feel so real like daggers in the night.

I want to tell you though that when I travel and I get past my fears and get past my anxious thoughts and get into the expedition of an area of the planet away from home I reach a peace and a feeling of being alive unlike any other.  Simply, viewing each experience as a story to tell.

I also want to tell you that you can feel this same feeling, just start by focusing on where you are, the people you are with, and have faith and I swear to you, you will feel this peace I am describing.  There is a great big world out there waiting for you to explore.

When you push past the anxiety, depression, or feeling of doubt you will realize that you are so much stronger than your anxiety says you are.  It won’t be easy and it may take time, but keep your head up and keep your feet moving, for you are not alone and I know you can do this.  You are strong and awesome, and the world is waiting for you.

Song for thought: “Everything’s Magic” by Angels & Airwaves

Travel with Love

– Dustin


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