I’m a liar. There is no other way to look at it, and it is important to face up to these things. In my last post I stated that my next post would be about Plitvice, yet here is said post and about Plitvice it ain’t. It’s time to go off piste, and I’m not talking about having one too many Aperol Spritz’s at apres ski. If a member of the grammar police could give me a pointer about how to pluralise Aperol Spritz correctly that would be greatly appreciated.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. A cause close to my heart although one that I must admit I didn’t know was happening until Monday when I saw hashtags popping up on Instagram. Every week is mental health awareness week inside the vessel known as my bonce. Now this isn’t a woe is me post, but a little departure from my online interrail adventures to talk about how travel in particular has helped me overcome mental health issues. We won’t get too deep so don’t reach for the tissues. They’re in short supply right now.
If we look back at my last post on Zagreb you may well have noticed that I happened to be a miserable git when the weather was bad and a slightly more bearable git when the sun was shining. Fairly natural behaviour but magnified for me slightly as I suffer from SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Kudos to whoever came up with that acronym. This is something I’ve had to deal with since my early teenage years but around the age of 21 I hit a wall where I was a miserable git all the time. Nobody was entirely sure what the problem was and I had more tests over the next few years than Edexcel and AQA could hand out between them before we realised it was severe anxiety. Knowing what is wrong is one thing, dealing with it is an entirely different kettle of fish. Unlike broken bones mental health issues can’t be seen, there is also no sure fire way to fix them.
Anxiety also manifests itself in different ways for different people. For me at my worst it induced anxiety attacks where I felt as though I was having a stroke. I was unable to speak coherently or remember my name. Seriously heavy stuff. I spent three to four years in my early 20s in a state of dizziness. No exaggeration, I just had to try and plough on with life as normal. The only times during that period I felt any sense of normality were when I was in the company of my friends and I would be focussing on that interaction as opposed to worrying what was wrong with me, a vicious circle which would cause anxiety, rinse and repeat. At this point I didn’t realise what the issue was.
In 2014 I went on my first lads holiday. Not typical travel blog fare I know but I told you way back in my first post that I’m a maverick. I had only flown for the first time that year so I was bricking it. Then I spent a week in Kavos with my pals and I felt like a normal human again for the first time in years. So in short, if you suffer with anxiety, go to Kavos and indulge in a spot of hedonism. The End. I jest. Before the trip I was riddled with nerves and had no confidence in myself as a human. A by product of anxiety for me is that my confidence can be fragile at times, at that time it was shot to pieces. My internal monologue was expecting a trip full of posers and people who would be judgemental, on the outside I felt I had to show that cooler than cool exterior. Just kidding I’m not cool.
The reality of the situation was that everyone wanted to have a good time and I spent the week with three friends feeling the best I had in years and making new friends along the way as well as memories that we still talk about to this day. Little did I know that reflecting on this trip would hold the key to realising that I was suffering with anxiety. On returning home I had to spend a few days in bed with what was known as the “Eristoff Cough,” something caused by the week of consuming suspect spirits served in some bars. Spirits certainly not produced by Eristoff I should point out for legal reasons. When the time came to return to work it was back to business as usual in terms of feeling lousy and it took some time before it sunk in that it wasn’t a case of the holiday blues.
Over the next few years holidays and events with friends came and went with the same recurring pattern of feeling like a normal human being before crashing back to reality. Of course I was staring two and two in the face and not even considering a spot of mathematics. It wasn’t until 2017 when I started to take more of an interest in seeing the world beyond getting a tan and putting away copious amounts of alcohol (still a favourite pastime of mine) that the penny finally dropped. When I travelled I felt “normal.” When I travelled I was living in the moment, I wasn’t worrying about what other people thought of me or what issue was lurking around the next corner. I was finally able to implement that way of thinking into my day to day life and suddenly the fog lifted.
One of the most irritating things to be asked when you are suffering with your mental health is, “what’s wrong with you?” Second only to the two words, “cheer up.” If you knew what was causing the issue it wouldn’t be there and I finally knew what was causing the issue in terms of my anxiety. I needed to live in the moment. If it hadn’t been for travelling I perhaps wouldn’t have stumbled upon the answer. I still suffer from these issues, there is no complete fix and it is important to accept that. I have made other adjustments to ensure as best as I can that anxiety doesn’t have a detrimental impact on my life but they aren’t travel related so I won’t bore you with them here.
Going into lockdown I was concerned that my mental health would become a big issue. Instead it has become a productive time during which I have started this blog and added to an already extensive bucket list. It is impossible to open my Instagram account these days without seeing a new place that I itch to visit post-lockdown. The itching could be nits I guess… I never caught them at school so now they’ve come back for vengeance. I have also been able to reflect on past travels and holidays (they’re the same thing in reality). This has made me realise how lucky I am and to give myself a little pat on the back at how far I have come. I have to put a lot of that down to travelling, the people I have travelled with and the people I have met on my travels.
My final thought is one that we hear a lot but so many of us don’t act upon. If something doesn’t feel right then speak up. If I had done so sooner I may have been in a much better place at an earlier stage in life. Sometimes the answer lies at the end of a plane trip, in my case a plane trip to an 18-30 land of hedonism. Perhaps one day I’ll write a post about exactly what went down on that trip… Think The Inbetweeners Movie but more awkward. As for my next post, it really will be about Plitvice, I promise!