Traveling with agoraphobia

I am scared. I feel like I am a drunk person trapped on a roller coaster in a theme park. The noises, the smells, the lights, everything is so bright and strong, it is making me sick. I have this unbearable urge to get out of that place, but do I really want to get out of there?!

The reality is that I am at an airport in the midst of a panic attack – the reality of living with an anxiety disorder.

A year ago, I moved home – a rather casual experience – that put me into the worst spiral of unmanageable anxiety, agoraphobia and funny enough unprecedented progress I have ever experienced. It is true what they say ‘what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger’ – the reality of it for me was that when you live in a hell every second of every day you either choose to die or to get out of it – often a mixture of the two. So many times, I felt like I could not go on like that anymore, I was praying for a sign from God every day to know that there is a reason to stay alive.

Kesha – Praying

The worst of all was that I could not go outside anymore. I felt like a prisoner but leaving out of the door was an utter torture. Eventually I got used to going outside with either my boyfriend or my mum. To this day, I have not been outside on my own for more than 100 metres outside of my apartment. This, however, did not stop me to do many things that I have not been able to accomplish for years before that. During this year I survived a job interview in a mind-blowing panic attack and landed the job, I started working (from home), I met with friends, I went to work drinks, I met new people and created contacts. Most of the time, my boyfriend was waiting for me around the corner, but I was there, and I was doing things whilst feeling sick to my core. Few years back I could not do most of those things even when I was feeling perfectly healthy.

Oh God, years ago I could not even imagine how strong I was, how much resilience was hidden inside of me. This past year I got to know parts of myself that I never knew existed and I started loving myself so much more.

This pure self-love made me want to get to the depths of my problems, to my childhood. I even confronted my father, which might not seem like much but was actually the hardest thing I have ever done. I am still recovering from the truths I unveiled.

Sia – Bird Set Free

Anyway, going back to the airport I started with – traveling has also been a major issue for me, especially since suffering with agoraphobia made leaving my home for a few hours impossible, let alone for weeks. I also rely heavily on the thought that I could easily leave any place I feel uncomfortable at – I never do it but the thought is enough to get me out of the house. When you get on a plane, you know that you cannot easily leave whenever you want so I felt like I had no ground to step on. At the same time, I had this huge desire to get out of my routine for a bit, so I made a huge step in the dark and booked the flights.

It was much harder than expected. The anticipation was the worst, but the day itself was not a walk in the park either. There were probably a million times when I decided that I am not going to get on that plane.

However, something was different this time. I would normally just sit and wait in horror for a certain stressful event without trying to help myself much. This time I was proactive and tried to prepare as much as possible to get through something that seemed so much bigger than myself.

I will share below what helped me and hopefully it will help you too:

  1. I accidentally bumped into this Zoella video on travel/flight anxiety that had tons of useful tips and suggestions that I personally incorporated into my travel routine and really made a difference:
Zoella – Travel Anxiety Tips
  1. I decided to do something that will normally make me feel very uncomfortable, but this temporary feeling of unease was essential to normalise planes and flights in my head:
  • I did a bit of plane watching and imagining what it is inside on a regular basis.
  • I also started watching Trip Reports videos on YouTube, so I can kind of ‘share’ the flight with the traveler and actually see that planes are not that uncomfortable and unbearable. I wanted to understand why some people love traveling so much and cannot wait to get on the next flight.
Simply Aviation – Trip Report

3. I bought everything I needed – clothes, pills and supplements, toiletries – weeks in advance so that I do not feel overwhelmed in the last minute. I also prepared my luggage the day before the flight.

4. On the day, I was traveling with my boyfriend so decided to trust him and let go of any need to control our schedule, trains, airport queues, etc. I was extremely stressed out as I was to add more to it. It was tough thing to achieve as I am normally a control freak, but I felt that this was the only way.

5. When we were preparing to take off I was at my worst – there was this impeding doom in front of me and this was my last chance to get out of there and save myself. Naturally anxiety, fear and panic were all-consuming trying to get me off the plane – we were at the runway taking off and I was crying and asking my boyfriend to go home in total despair. I could not think straight during the whole experience, but I had this tiny voice in my head that was telling me that this is all a lie and that I actually want to go on this holiday, so I better stay on this plane. This is the most important point of them all – being completely sure in yourself before doing anything that you really want to do this thing!! This is the main thing that always comes to my mind in any stressful situation and actually makes me do things that I fear to death. Be completely clear with yourself and your own wishes – this is the main antidote to anxiety and panic.

6. During take off and at the initial phase of the flight I was listening to the Headspace app’s meditation on ‘Fear of flying’. I did not think that it will be of much help, but it was actually incredible at making me feel much more grounded. I have tried both Calm and Headspace and I definitely like Headspace better for meditation and general tension relief. Thoroughly recommend!

7. After take off I felt much better, because I was up in the air, there was nothing more to fear, I managed to get there so nothing else mattered. At this point I was able to dig into the plethora of activities I have prepared to keep me distracted. As Zoella suggests I tried to keep my mind occupied with a certain activity for around 15 mins, afterwards I changed the activity. This was really helpful because when you are under such an enormous amount of stress, your attention span is incredibly short. I had prepared a book, a magazine, tons of music, downloaded tons of Headspace meditations and around 4 different sitcoms because they make me laugh, games to play on my phone, UNO to play with my boyfriend on the plane. I also took lots of pictures, edited them, talked with my boyfriend and overall tried to create an atmosphere that is very reminiscent to my everyday home environment.

8. My therapist has always told me to bring something with me that reminds me of home and helps me feel safe and secure. This for me is a teddy bear I have ever since I was a kid. I would normally bring it everywhere with me except on the plane, because I was too ashamed. This time it was in my hand luggage and I actually had it with me on my seat during the whole flight. Nobody even noticed. Moral of the story: think of yourself and what will help you, because no one else cares what you are doing. It did help me a lot to feel much more at ease during the actual flight.

9. I find it extremely difficult to eat when I am in extreme panic, so I had prepared some light toasts which consisted of only bread and cheddar slices – my go-to dish for stressful days – to dig into when I eventually feel hungry. If you are a nervous flyer, it is always good to have some food from home that you feel comfortable eating.

10. I had pretty much an enjoyable flight considering the state I was in. I was even rewarded with an incredible rainbow right before landing.

IMG_20180725_165633_edited_

There is always sun after the storm!
Never give up on yourself – you are capable of anything.

Happy traveling! If I can do it, you can too!!!

As always, thanks for reading, guys.

Lots of love xx

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