The negative voice of anxiety is a negative little bitch, and can really stop you from enjoying the more exciting things in life. So if we want to stick two fingers up at this voice, it’s important to make a few decisions that are a bit ‘out there’.
I was reminded of this fact this week, which marked two years ago exactly since I walked into a travel agent—more or less on a whim—and splashed my life savings on a seven month, solo, round-the-world trip.
This was a bit of a rogue move from me. Like most people, I’d always wanted to travel, but I’d never hankered for the backpacker life. I like routine, stability, my own space and creatures comforts: not your natural candidate for hostel life, which requires a cheerful willingness to fall asleep to the sound of two strangers shagging.
Add to this the fact I was only three months recovered from a monumental nervous breakdown, and travelling solo around the world seemed less of a dreamy escape and more of a recipe for complete disaster.
But if there’s one thing being suicidal will do for you, it’s give you a hearty dose of perspective. If you can get over literally wanting to die, it becomes very apparent that nothing is forever. Life is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but always transient.
Which got me thinking: you should probably go travelling now, whilst you still have this cavalier attitude, because the voice of anxiety will talk you out of it before long.
When you’ve got anxiety—or are even just somebody who spends too much time worrying—you can talk yourself out of doing pretty much anything fun. I’ve missed out on countless opportunities because I was too busy fretting about whether they were a good idea. I’ve sat at home instead of making memories. I’ve said no when I should have said yes.
I’ve not followed my dreams because it’s safer and more comfortable not to. Sometimes, it’s tempting to wear your mental health diagnosis like a suit of armour. It’s a get out clause: I can’t do that thing that makes feel nervous, because I have anxiety.
After all, you can try and live a life free from the things that trigger your anxiety. But that’s not overcoming anxiety: that’s just avoiding it.
It’s not easy. Before I left for my trip, I was bloody terrified. What if I couldn’t get by without my medication, my counsellor, my routine? What if I didn’t make any friends and hated every second and just wanted to fly home and bin it all off, after spaffing my life savings on the trip? What if I got back and couldn’t get a job and was unemployed and had no friends and no money for the rest of my life?
I had a million what-ifs. But I also knew there was only one answer to all of them: so what? Half a year previously, I had literally wanted to die. Now I was desperate to live, and live big.
It wasn’t all roses. Sometimes I was anxious, or frustrated, or homesick. I can now boast about having had a panic attack overlooking the Sydney Opera House. People definitely romanticise travelling; it’s definitely not a magical cure-all for your mental health problems. (Seriously: don’t book flight tickets if your illness means you aren’t in a good place to make big decisions).
But it was also an amazing adventure; a chance to see things I’d dreamt of my entire life, and meet some truly incredible people from around the globe. And even when it was less than perfect, I always knew that it would pass. I proved my theory to myself, time and time again; travelling solo puts you in a near constant state of having to overcome feelings of discomfort, so I truly learnt that no matter how awkward I felt, it would never kill me.
I was always glad—and always will be—to have taken the leap. (And, being a recalcitrant sort, delighted to have stuck two fingers up to the voice of anxiety).
So whatever your leap is, think about taking it. Maybe you want to quit your job or move to France or get a fringe. Maybe you want to start a business, or tell someone you love them. Maybe someone in your life is a massive dick and you just need to tell them. The voice of anxiety says you can’t, or it won’t work out. Well, maybe it won’t. But so what? Just like me, you have survived 100% of your worst days.
Whatever the outcome of taking a big leap in your life, I promise, you will survive that too.