I have always thought of myself as fearless. I have hitchhiked through Namibia, protested in Tahrir Square (and consequently been tear gassed), and bungee jumped on almost every continent, and I have survived all of this without one anxiety attack. Travel anxiety was something I never fully understood. Up until my first one (in 2015), I was one of those fucking twiddledicks who would say, “ugh, just like, meditate or read The Secret or something.”
I’m groaning at myself now. I am sorry for my arrogance and my insensitivity.
In March of 2015, I fainted on a flight from Rome to New York. The plane was a bit warmer than usual, I was slightly hungover, and the Roman teenagers occupying the four rows in front of me were yelling and flailing about. I took a sip of water and the next thing I remember was an Italian flight attendant checking my pulse and asking me if I had taken any medications. This was the start of what has become near paralyzing travel anxiety.
When I landed back home in New York, I was plagued with constant bouts of dizziness and nausea, mostly while riding the subway. So I went to my doctor, thinking I had a brain tumor or some other life-threatening illness. Her diagnoses? Anxiety.
No way. I am fearless, not anxious. I wrote her off as incompetent, and bought a bicycle to avoid trains.
But then in late April I had to get on a plane to Trinidad and Tobago to shoot the first episode of Top Knot Travel. This was the first flight I took after I fainted. And yup, another attack. I would like to send out a very big Fuck You to the cunt sitting next to me who ate smelly ass fried chicken as I was crying and moaning like a little bitch.
Pro Tip: Don’t bring anything smelly on a plane, especially fried chicken. I will literally put a goddamn spell on you, you mortal bitch.
I have had moderate to severe anxiety on every single flight I have taken since that day. The worst attack, backwards as though it may seem, was on a flight coming from North Korea going to China. If losing your shit on one of the big name international carriers is bad, losing your shit on North Korea’s Air Fucking Koryo is the worst.
It was only in this moment, as I felt trapped in a body that seemed as if it were dying and a mind that was going crazy at the same time, that I finally conceded to my doctor’s diagnoses: I have anxiety. And this realization made me feel so low, because I figured that if I had anxiety then I would no longer be fearless, a big part of my identity. I felt that I had lost part of myself.
Through all of this, I haven’t stopped traveling. In fact, since that first incident a year ago, I have travelled to ten more countries. Truth: It has never gotten easier, I have just learned to dance with the anxiety. Two months ago, while driving through a bitch of a snow storm in Slovenia on a solo trip, a smile crept up on my face. I realized that anxiety and fearlessness are not mutually exclusive. Do I have anxiety? Yup. Am I also fearless? Definitely.