Leave it to me to be a downer when on vacation.
It’s summer here and the sun shines brightly. The beach I’m at is majestic. At times, the ocean is calm and a placid breeze cools us down. In other instances, the ocean smacks the shore with intense waves and the winds whip up the sands with stinging potential. The beach almost seems like life—volatile, temperamental, and just as willing to relax as it is to attack.
The beach is fine and I’m glad to be here. In fact, it is my favorite vacation spot. If I were rich enough, I’d invest in a summer home because I love this area so much. So, how am I going to be a downer? How am I going to dampen the brightness of the sun, the warmth of the summer weather? Well, it can’t be cloudless blue skies and perfect waves every single day. At some point, it has to rain.
I have travel anxiety. This is not an official diagnosis since “travel anxiety” isn’t really in the books. What I do know is that vacations like this one activate anxiety. I need to explain why. This is a somewhat complicated explanation. You see, the destination is oftentimes less intimidating than the process of actually getting there. It is indeed the “travel” part of travel anxiety that gets me the most.
I wouldn’t have travel anxiety without driving anxiety. Being behind the wheel is never a fun proposition if I’m driving on unfamiliar roads. For this particular trip, I had to drive with a passenger for a bit over five hours. There were rests along the way, but it’s still a long trip to me. I hate driving in this situation because, even with a GPS on full display, I still have no clue where I’m going. The lack of predictability coupled with the fact that other drivers may not be driving safely makes me nervous to be on the road.
Add in the fact that I have a passenger and that I’m also trying to keep up with my parents (who drive separately on these trips), and you’ll see me for the white-knuckled mess I am. I retain a calm demeanor since showing outward signs of distress doesn’t seem to do any good. I’m sure my brother doesn’t want to know that I view this trip as life or death. Like, literally, my life and his are on the line. Funny thing is, I don’t think my dad even considers the possibility of crashing.
The driving is what makes the prospect of a vacation less exciting. It is stimulating, but not in a good way. My nerves are stimulated and I am constantly on edge behind the wheel. Objectively, I’m an okay driver that leans a bit too heavily on “cautious.” But even the most cautious driver can make a mistake. I hate to say it, but sometimes, you have to drive aggressively on certain roads if you don’t want to miss your exit. I hate that.
If I truly had it my way, I’d just take back roads the whole way since they’re a little less exciting than the highways. Even then, I still would feel anxious since the roads and routes are relatively new to me. I mean, sure, some stretches of the trip are more familiar to me than others. But I only take this trip once a year. That’s not enough time to become truly comfortable with the roads and their unique characters.
I just feel a bit astounded that people could get in a car, drive for hours to a place they visit just once a year, and not feel anxiety. It baffles me. Is it just that I think about disaster more? Can I just not let it go? I guess that’s anxiety. Plain and simple.
Truth be told, I’ve never had a great relationship with driving. I didn’t even really have much of a passion for learning. I knew it was something that had to happen, but the process of getting my license left me a nervous wreck. You couldn’t pay me to go back to those days when I had to takes tests—both on and off the road.
My behind-the-wheel testing sessions were really stressful for me. It was myself, two other high school students, and our gruff, dispassionate instructor who also happened to be the middle school gym teacher. He was a wooden plank of a man in the sense that he was not a harbor to which you took safety. I learned to fear him. The experience was bad. I mean, there’s just no way around it. There was no comfort in combating my social anxiety (I was in the student driving car with three strangers). I felt exposed, weak, and intimidated in the presence of these people. We had multiple driving sessions until the final test.
The instructor promised us only two of us could pass. The third would fail and have to try again. I did my best and passed. I never wanted to go through that again. Maybe that experience, alone, soured my own opinions on getting behind the wheel for good. I had some other bad experiences, but I won’t get into those now. It’s just that, back then, I held no real excitement for driving and the freedoms that driving would afford me were of little concern compared to the anxiety of actually being behind the wheel. This was a stark contrast to my parents, who, I’ve been told, were extremely eager to get their licenses back in the day.
So, I highlight all of this to say that my relaxation at the beach always comes with a cost. Sometimes, I’d rather just stay home than have to deal with it. I don’t like to bring it up because I feel that people would take it as ungratefulness. I realize not everyone can afford a week off going somewhere nice—in other words, I need to suck it up and just be thankful for my situation. Yeah, I get that. I am thankful. Now that I’m actually at my destination, I can relax a little more.
What I wish people would understand is the depths of anxiety. Not that I wish anxiety on them—hell no. If they don’t experience it the way I do, then I would never wish that on them. I’d rather them not understand or empathize with me than for them to have to feel it for themselves. Because if you know what I’m talking about, then you know the gnawing feelings, the rapid heartbeats, the shallow breathing, the sweat, and the sense of impending doom. I just don’t feel like I can make the severity of these sensations and thought processes clear to the people who, in theory, might care. I guess you just have to live it to truly emphasize.
When people say, “Ah yes, just drive over to XYZ” or “Hop on a plane and get to XYZ,” there is nothing casual or light about these sentences. In order for me to get comfortable with these ideas, I’d have to take for granted the factors that drive my anxiety. For instance, I’d have to assume that I’d make it to my destination just fine. I’d have to assume that I wouldn’t die along the way. Because there is no guarantee, I can’t simply shut off my “disaster mode.” And it makes me wonder, how do people travel so nonchalant when any number of tragedies could happen? Because there is no human who can guarantee a safe trip. I guess my question is, how do you get those eerie thoughts out of the back of your mind? Because for me, when I’m traveling, it’s always on. Always. I can’t shut it down.
The best I can do is just manage it. To “just keep swimming,” to quote Dory. Still, the anxiety isn’t really going away. I mean, it just exists. It all comes down to being placed in unfamiliar territory. As soon as I’m out of my neck of the woods, I’m on edge. This could almost be agoraphobia, except I don’t have a particular fear of having an anxiety attack. Mostly, I just hate the anxiety and would love to be able to drive to the beach without five hours of it running at the front and/or back of my mind.
My fear and anxiety have dulled my curiosity to see the rest of the world. I don’t have any natural inclination to travel. In fact, if left to my own devices, I doubt I would go anywhere often. And in a twisted way, I’d be fine with that. Some people can’t seem to live without travel, and I am awed by them. I . . . just don’t know how they do it. I cannot get into their mindset.
I know that anxiety speaks volumes and I am not the type of person to use “never” too much. I want to leave myself open to maybe one day getting on a plane. Maybe traveling internationally. But as of right now, I just can’t. I’m not ready. I may never be ready. I may live my whole life without ever expanding my horizons. And basically, I’ve just come to accept it. I place great emphasis on finding peace and happiness where I’m at now. Because if I can’t do it at home, I sure as hell can’t do it anywhere else.
But I will say one thing in my favor. I made it here. Despite the anxiety, I made it to the beach. I had the gumption to earn my driver’s license. I had the gumption to make this trip and previous trips behind the wheel. Despite the cloudiness in my head, I rose up to the challenge and made it in one piece. If this is as far as I can go, well, it’s better than nothing at all, right?
Anxiety sucks. Which is why, if you suffer from it, please don’t shrug off accomplishments that may seem mundane to most. Keep in mind that we all fight our own battles and yours just happens to be anxiety. Never forget the times where you acted despite feeling down or scared. You’re doing just fine, taking on life’s challenges at your own pace. I wish anyone reading this peace and plenty of rest.