In case you know me well enough, you must have noticed there’s something wrong with me lately. If you don’t know me that well, you may just think I’m a grumpy blogger that’s doing really bad at social media and networking. Or maybe I am better than I think at hiding stuff, and you didn’t realize anything. This is not the point anyway.
The thing is that I am not ok.
Actually, now that I finally have the guts to write this, I am doing better. Fact is, I don’t write this blog for the stats. I know it’s almost a full time job and all now and I am grateful for this, but it’s still my personal blog and I am very bad at pretending that everything is ok when it’s not. This is probably one of my biggest lacks, but be assured at least I never lie: I simply didn’t feel like writing these days, and I didn’t.
If you never had a panic attack in your life, you may want to leave this page now. If you know someone who suffers from panic attacks, or if you are one of the ‘lucky ones’ like me, maybe you should read on. My aim is to help the ones who suffer to overcome this horrible, distressing state of mind and start living again. If I succeed helping even just one person, I will be very happy.
2012 was a fantastic year for me, at least until July. I visited 10 countries in half year (Italy, UK, St Vincent and Grenadines, The Netherlands, Turkey, Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt) and had my #MEtrip during which I was very happy and relaxed.
As soon as I arrived to Egypt though, I started having weird experiences that led me to a deep disillusionment and disappointment… I was planning to buy a house in Cairo, and I suddenly hated that place. Can you imagine? All my plans and dreams were falling apart, and this is not all: the place where I once felt so comfortable looked like hell to me now. I cried so many times. I started feeling anxious and even thought I had some issue with my breathing apparatus – having 2 day jobs definitely didn’t help, and most of the time by the end of the day I was so exhausted I couldn’t breathe.
Finally my working contract ended and I was finally free for 2 months: I was going to travel again! My mother joined me and we left for the desert. My anxiety disappeared, and I was loving my life again. I was actually thinking about writing a post about the therapeutic power of the desert against anxiety – if you think you will feel more anxious in the middle of the desert, you’re wrong. There’s nothing to be anxious about in the desert, believe me.
Then one day we woke up at 5am to see the sunrise. It was beautiful. A white fox ate my camera strap that morning. It made me laugh. We left the White Desert and headed south to the Dakhla Oasis. We crashed, my right arm was suddenly broken and painful.
I resisted more than 10 hours before reaching the closest hospital. During these endless hours I told my mother
I know, I am being strong now, but as soon as I relax… it will hit me. I know.
She didn’t believe me.
The day after the accident, we were in the Kharga Oasis. We visited a beautiful Christian cemetery and I was still ok. Then there was a moment in which we -me, my mom, the guide and driver- all relaxed, and bursted out laughing. I was doomed. My first panic attack came minutes later, and I can say it never ended until days later.
Well I don’t know what you think about long term travelers. You may think we are invincible and fearless. I tell you this ain’t true.
A nightmare. It’s like a nightmare. You are not yourself anymore. Someone took out your personality and made you numb. You feel like you’re losing your mind. All kinds of weird things start happening to you: you sweat, you can’t breathe, it feels like your heart doesn’t beat anymore, you can’t feel your hands and feet. Basically you are the victim of the worst fears you ever had, all at once. And there’s nothing that can help you because you are sure you’re dying and no one can understand.
Add all this to being in the middle of the desert, 3 days away from the main city, with a broken arm that hurts like hell and a brain concussion.
Then we reached Cairo. I felt better for a couple of hours. The following day we went to the beauty center and while riding a taxi on the way back home we had a minor fender bender. Normally that’s pretty normal in Cairo but not that day. I blacked out. I couldn’t breathe, see, talk or move anymore. Hours later, I was still lying on my bed and struggling to breathe.
I have no idea how I managed to fly to Italy the following night. Then I even attended the TBE conference and all. I thought that being back home everything was ok, but that was not the case yet. A few days later it hit me again, and the thought of even stepping out of my apartment’s door became unbearable. I cried myself to sleep so many times.
I thought I was never going to be the same again. My life was gone. One night I found myself watching a TV show where they showed scenes from India, and I cried. “I could never do that anymore”, I thought. I was desperate. I always say “travel is my oxygen” but it had been taken away from me. I was like a dead woman walking.
On a rare moment of lucidity, I decided I wanted to go to Iceland and see the Northern Lights on January. I was so excited and happy. Shortly after, it felt like a curse. I thought I could never get on a plane again and be away from home for a whole week. Picture this: a full time traveler that doesn’t feel like traveling anymore. How ridiculous!
Then something happened. One night I had another crisis, and told my mother my life was over. The following day, all tears, I called my shrink (oh no this is not the first time I go through something like this!) and scheduled an appointment. In the meantime, I attended my monthly 3-days meditation session even though I thought I couldn’t even ride the train all the way to that place, but I managed to do it. Everything started to change. In three days only I felt like I was healing. I went to the shrink and I was already feeling great, and didn’t even know what to tell him. Weird, because the two approaches are very different and I apparently went for the hardest one: while my psychologist tells me to (try and) ignore the attack when it comes, my meditation guide says I have to “enjoy the ride”: I have to accept it and get through it all the way until it’s gone. Sounds crazy huh? Well since I started doing this, everything kept going better and better.
This was about 1 month ago. I am still not 100% ok as I write, but I am definitely having a life again. I never had a panic attack anymore, and I only feel a bit anxious sometimes. Things that may sound so simple to everyone else -riding a bus, having dinner at the restaurant- now feel like an everyday conquest. I never felt so happy to ride a train and look outside of the window, rejoicing at my ability to breathe. Isn’t this the spirit of meditation after all?
I am now going to give you my advice, in case you’re going through something similar. I know what you will be thinking when you read it. “You are ok now so it’s easy to talk for you!“. No it’s not. I am still not ok, but at least I have a life now! When you have a moment of tranquility between your attacks you can read this and understand the concept, and keep it in mind when the next episode occurs. It will take some time but you will see the result, I can say this for sure. Here it is:
Don’t be scared. I KNOW how terrified you are, but still. No fear. You have to understand this is your spirit talking to you and there’s just one thing you can do: let it speak. If you oppose it, it won’t leave. If you let it flow, it will pass. Whenever you feel like anxiety is coming, focus on your heart. When you can feel it your fear will leave and no panic attack will occur. And if it does, just let it go, and remember you’re not going to die from it. Actually nothing will happen. Do you feel like sitting down? Sit down. Do you feel like lying down? Lay down. You are not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t take stupid medicines. They don’t cure anything, they just cover the symptoms and the fact that day after day you need to take them again simply means you’re not ok yet. So stop prolonging your suffering and let it go. It shall pass.
Believe me, I know how the thought of travel is absurd when you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I just don’t want anyone to give up on his dreams because of this disorder. I believe the problem is that most of the times panic attacks and anxiety are not treated in the right way. You just have to accept the situation, love yourself, focus on your breathing, and remember not to be scared. Listen to your feelings, don’t suffocate them.
If you need help or advice, please feel free to ask. As I said before, I want to help other people that are going through the same experience. I would be happy to hear your stories. Talking about it helps a lot already.
And concerning myself, maybe it’s just that I’m tired and I’ve been too demanding with myself. Maybe I just need some time to take care of myself, both physically and spiritually. I don’t know. I think I have to take it easy a little bit more from now on. Moreover, my arm is not doing good at all. They told me it will take 2 more months at least in order to heal. I even stopped planning stuff.
No “best of 2012” posts for me. No 2013 resolutions post for me. I just have to be ok first, and then I will do what I feel like doing.
Happy new year everyone and thanks for reading.
Giulia, thanks for sharing this post! It took a lot of courage and I think you will inspire others to realize traveling isn’t “fun” all the time and even travel bloggers can have moments of dread and panic. I could definitely relate to your post. I’m sorry Egypt has been so disillusioning– I know you were the biggest supporter of Egypt travel right after the revolution. But I’m glad you are feeling better. Here’s to a happy and successful 2013!