Monday, March 24, 2014

Travelling with Baggage

“Life’s too short, babe.  Time’s a flying.  I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.”  -Mimi, Rent   

I travel a lot so I’m an expert at stuffing more than you can imagine into my suitcase for long trips.  I also know that, in all reality, I can pack very lightly; I only need a bikini, a few sundresses, and my SPF 100 for any trip less than a week.  My carry-on always contains my MP3 player, Kobo, camera and Ultrabook because, well, we are living in a technological world and I’m a technological girl.  I also know that despite what all the regulations state, no one is ever going to weigh or measure my carry-on.  If my luggage gets damaged on flights, I know how to contact the airline for repairs.  If (God forbid) it should ever get lost, I keep a photocopy of my passport with my address and phone number written on it so I will be easy to track down. I am like a well-oiled machine.  I’ve got this baggage thing down!

I know people view me as a globetrotting free spirit… and yes, that’s true.  People wistfully say things to me all the time like, “I could never do what you do.” And then they put up roadblocks and hurdles to fulfill their own prophecy.  I’m hoping this blog entry can inspire people to tear down their roadblocks and jump those hurdles.  Don’t let anything hold you back from your dreams, whatever those dreams may be. 

Confession: Oh man, do I ever have baggage that cannot be checked or stored in the overhead compartment.  This suitcase has a luggage tag labelled “Pandora”, but let’s go ahead and open it anyway:  I have generalized anxiety disorder (with debilitating panic attacks) and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Whew!  That sure is some heavy baggage I lug around the world with me!

Most of the time, I’m fine.  These are things I’m very used to and I’ve been dealing with for most of my life.  Lately, I haven’t been okay though.  I got stuck in an elevator a few months ago on the 38th floor and that triggered everything negative inside of me to come rushing to the surface.  Since then, I’ve been unable to shake this feeling that transits between moderate uneasiness and complete dread.  I have a silent freak-out every time I set foot in an elevator now (I live on the 39th floor and my school is 8 stories high, so daily).  And there are these constant catastrophic “what if” scenarios running through my head about pretty much everything.  I’m living in fear of life and that is unacceptable.  I’ll be okay.  Yes, I feel like I’ve reverted back to my 18 year old tragic mess of a self, but I know this will pass. 

Panic attacks come at the most inopportune times.  Scuba diving, for example, is a very bad time to have a panic attack.  I liken diving to what it must be like to go to space.  The ocean floor is a giant expanse of unexplored vastness where you are removed from the world, feel particularly small and even experience gravity differently.  One of my favourite views is that of looking up at the surface from the bottom of the sea.  It’s incredible.  But not this time.  Last month in Malaysia, I was 25 metres down at the bottom of the ocean when a cold sweat poured over my body and a mini existential crisis swam through my mind.  When did the ocean become so darn big?  And blue?  I had no choice but to silently work through it as I swam along a coral reef.  (When diving, you have to follow a dive plan and can’t just pop up to the top whenever you feel like it.  The changes in pressure and air can make you very sick if you don’t follow protocol.)

These past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with the news of Malaysian Airlines flight 370.  The first few days, I just sat there and robotically refreshed the news on the internet.  It was very unhealthy.  Then I took two days off work because it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, ripping my heart out and I didn’t want to leave the apartment.  I don’t know if it has hit me so hard because I was already in a vulnerable state or because it is so literally close to home.  Or maybe it’s because I just returned from Malaysia a week before this incident.  I keep thinking about the families involved and what they must be going through and hoping it never has to be like that for my family.  I also keep thinking about what the passengers must have been going through.  I know that next time I get on a plane (in 3 weeks today), that regular fear that grips me is going to feel much more suffocating than usual. 

Aside from the situational and explainable anxiety, it has pretty much been the steady state of my mind for the past few months.  Even when I'm happy and the anxiety is not bubbling over, it is still in a gentle boil on the backburner, right below the surface.

But I’ll be okay.    

Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades of battling mental illness:

-Be patient with yourself

-Take a break.  That’s okay now and then.  But don’t let your whole life become a break.  You don’t want to end up like the Ediths of Grey Gardens.    

-It’s okay to allow yourself to feel anxious or to give in to the compulsions sometimes.  If you try to block those feelings, they just become even more persistent (like when someone says “don’t think about a pink elephant”… you know you’re going to).  But know when to tell yourself no.   

-Keep a sense of humour.  Humour solves everything.  Seriously.

-Find soothing distractions: mine are swimming, writing and chocolate. (Note to self: substitute chocolate with swimming more often or this will not end well.)

-Find support.  You don’t have to do this alone (unless you want to).  I like to be alone, but it helps to talk to friends about it now and then.

-There are going to be enough people and circumstances in life that try to keep you down or hold you back.   You shouldn’t be one of them.  I want to travel, explore and do everything, so that’s what I’m going to do. 

-Gratitude: appreciate the good things and focus on those, even if they are small in comparison. 

-Face your fears.  If you have actual, concrete things you're afraid of, just face it or you're giving the fear the power.  (Unless it's something actually dangerous, then use your common sense and don't do it.)  
-Live your life anyway.  Sometimes I just ignore how I'm feeling and do things anyway.  I have to, otherwise, how would I live my awesome life?

-It will pass.  It always does.   

I guess my point in all this is that travelling the world is not always as easy as I make it look.  I’m a mess right now.  But if I can do this, anyone can!

Embrace the world anyway!


  1. You're brave, and very proactive. I can empathize, and of course I'm not the only one. I wish you a peaceful mind and a rejuvenated spirit in the weeks ahead, especially during your travels. XOXO

  2. the MH370 stuff has hit me really hard too. I am so sad for all of those people and can't stop thinking and wondering about their last moments. I hope they all were in a deep, peaceful sleep at the time of whatever happened to incapacitate that plane :(