Happy New Year everyone. This is a post I've wanted to share on here in the past but never got round to writing. Then, a girl on a Facebook group that I'm part of posted something about being scared to travel because of the state of the world, worrying about nuclear war and terrorist attacks. So I shared this story with her, so I thought I should share it here now too.
For my 21st birthday, I saved up money to take me and my mum on a weekend away. We're both extremely anxious people but I wanted a holiday so we picked somewhere we thought was very safe, Paris. We researched the safest district in the city, we planned everything down to the letter to avoid us getting mugged or lost or anything else. I picked seats on the flight that were my lucky numbers, we specifically picked a place that was only an hour away (i'm a nervous flyer) and we were all set to go.
It was January 2015, we had booked a hotel on Boulevard Voltaire. We ended up right in the middle of where the Charlie Hebdo attacks took place. When our plane was due to land, our pilot told us we'd have to circle in the air for a while, as there was an 'incident'. When we landed we were terrified. We had booked a shared taxi and we had to wait for so long for the taxi man to pick up and drop off all the other taxi users. We didn't understand why we we're being kept till last. We didn't realise it was because the street our hotel was on had been shut because there were armed men on the run in the area. The taxi man, who I'm sure was just as scared as us, and kept getting worried calls from his wife, drove us up and down different streets for over an hour until he found a way to get us safely to our hotel. I was blown away by his kindness and how determined he was to get us there safely. We hugged him tight when we finally arrived and hoped he made it home safely too. We checked into our hotel and was told there was no food or drinks available as the staff had been sent home. That first night, while the manhunt continued outside, we stayed locked in our room and constantly checked for updates on the news. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, but my mum, being the amazing woman she is, didn't want it to ruin my birthday. The next day, after a pretty sleepless night, she forced us to go out to all the landmarks and enjoy the city, even though all I wanted to do was go home, or stay inside. When we first got up for breakfast, the lovely lady at the front desk was just beginning her shift, we asked her if we should go out. She said "We must continue living our lives as normal or they win." She was wonderful, so kind, and made us feel safer. Every second we spent outside I shook with fear. I was constantly scanning the area for threats, but my mum made us carry on. Long story short, obviously, we survived.
On the Sunday the city had arranged a march to take place on our street. I was on high alert. I immediately pictured all the terrible things that could happen, in a big crowd, right outside our hotel, when there was still threat of terror activities. So we agreed to stay inside and watch from the window rather than take part. But seeing all those people of different backgrounds, ages, languages, and religions come together - it's something I'll never forget.
My point is, you never know what is going to happen when and where. Nowhere is dangerous, and nowhere is safe. It's natural to be anxious, when so much of the news is filled with doom and gloom. The last few months have been a real challenge for me, mental health wise. The short, dark days, and gloomy weather; the expectations of the holiday seasons; financial worries; world news; work, family, relationships; and a mind that is already predisposed to rumination - it's a recipe for disaster. But as we enter this new year, I've been reflecting a lot, and I realise how pointless it is to live in fear. As someone who has been agoraphobic for large chunks of my adult life I can tell you, staying inside being anxious is no better than being outside where you might be equally terrified, but afterwards you realise that there's nothing to be scared of. Believe me, I know that it's easier said than done.
New Years Eve was a perfect example of this. My boyfriend and his friends were at the pub, but I was too anxious to go. What if I got anxious in front of everyone? What if I cried? What if I had a panic attack? What if I couldn't cope? I'm going to go crazy! I'm going to die! I didn't end up leaving the house until 11:30pm, but only because I knew if I didn't leave then I wouldn't get to bring in the bells with my boyfriend. I went, and guess what, I was absolutely fine. The next day there was due to be a party again, and I worked myself up into a panic attack because I had a headache and a bit of vertigo earlier in the day (which my anxiety convinced me meant that there was obviously something seriously wrong with me and death was imminent) so I ended up not going. It's a day-at-a-time sort of thing.
It doesn't take away my anxiety about leaving the house, or fear of travelling, or of anything. I know I just have to force myself to do it, to try to enjoy myself, because only by doing it do I realise that things rarely go as badly as I imagine, and there's usually nothing to be scared of.
Anxiety doesn't change or solve anything, worrying about something has never made the problem go away. Through mindfulness and CBT, I'm learning things I can tell myself to help me cope when fear and anxiety start to overwhelm me. At the end of the day, and as I enter a new year I have to remind myself that I want to live a full life and have exciting adventures then I just have to do things in spite of my anxiety.
BEHIND THE SCENES