As I stepped, sweaty and anxious, through the door, my wife looked at me and frowned. “Are you okay?” I didn’t always want to be the Debbie-downer, so I said, “I’m okay, it’s just a little spicy outside. It’s not too hot but the sun is intense!” I didn’t want to say I had an anxiety attack on the way back from getting food, so I deflected.
If I get anxious walking to the store, you can imagine what happens when I plan a trip.
Imagine three glorious days trekking through the streets around Nagoya, Japan. You have no one to answer to, no clients to please, no dirty dishes to wash, and no poopy butts to wipe. You have three days of peace where all you really must do is sleep, eat, and explore a place you only dreamed of ever visiting in your lifetime.
You have everything researched. All you have to do is smash a button on Agoda, and your flights and hotel room are reserved. You have all the apps you need on your phone, and Google maps is up to date. There’s nothing left to plan.
Do you go and enjoy yourself?
I had that opportunity in October of 2019. Everything was ready — all I had to do was press a button. My wife was happy I was going, even though she would have liked to go with me. We already had plans to go again in March 2020 after she got her passport.
Do you know what I did? I canceled everything. Why?
Because I was scared.
What is Wrong With Me?
To understand where my head was at the time, you have to go back a week. What usually happens at this time of the month is we run out of money. We don’t make much, so all we have to do is stop at McDonald’s one time too many and the bank account is empty. It was a week before my client paid me for some work I’d done, and we’d tapped everyone out who could have lent us money.
I’d made a mistake earlier of not getting a month’s supply of medication. The pharmacy ran out, and instead of trudging to another store, I put it off until later.
Long story short, I ran out of pills for my mental issues, and my bank balance was $0.00. My pills are quite expensive, and I have to pay the full cost myself every month. I try not to complain because it’s a necessity, and there is no reason to rage over things I can’t change.
The first few days after I ran out of pills weren’t too bad, except that my anxiety level went somewhere from a five to a ten overnight. On about the third day, I took a short nap, and when I woke, it was like a switch flipped, or an important component of my mind snapped because the voices that were usually at a dull roar in my head went to a full-on screaming match.
It’s hard to explain what’s it’s like to someone who never experienced it themselves, but this is how I tried to frame it to my wife:
Imagine being in a small, but surprisingly echoey room, with about 100 sweaty, smelly people. These were the worst people you could imagine having to share a room with. Donald Trump is there, as is my 5th-grade teacher Mrs. Redman, who terrorized our lives with furious, spittle-flinging tirades every 2nd, 4th, and 5th periods.
These people aren’t just standing around like cows in a pasture. They’ve worked themselves into a foamy lather of hate and are screaming the filthiest and most hateful words in our face. As if there wasn’t enough noise from the yelling, somebody was revving chainsaws to the left, and a pack of wild dogs was fighting for territory to the right.
It is chaos. It is loud. It is stressful.
I can’t say it’s like that for me every minute, but a lot of the time, I have to close my eyes to blot out the pain and the sheer amount of stimuli attacking my brain.
By the end of the weekend, I was spent, and I was in such a bad place mentally that I could hardly get out of bed. I missed an event at my daughters’ school. I avoided dinners at the in-law’s house. My brain was so fried that all I wanted to do was lie in the dark and cry.
I didn’t pick up my phone or look at my computer. I only ate because my wife forced me. I didn’t even get up to relieve myself until I had an emergency on my hands.
This situation is the frame of mind I was in as I was trying to decide whether I should go to Japan or not.
What it’s Like to Be Me
In the best of times, I’m frightened of everything. I make my poor wife and daughter go with me everywhere because I’m terrified to be alone with the voices in my head. I don’t like the mall. I can’t stand being at the school because the screaming of the children sends me in a panic.
I rarely leave the house, and when I do, I often won’t get out of the car. The car and house are safe to me, but anywhere else is a danger zone that can send me spiraling down into the swamp.
On the other hand, I’ve dreamed of traveling and seeing exotic places and eating questionable foods. I want to see the spring cherry blossoms in Japan and visit with far-off relatives in Norway. I want to hike the green meadows of Ireland and feel like the only person on earth in the wilderness of Iceland. I want to join the Fellowship of the Ring in New Zealand. I want to eat Paella in Spain, Sushi in Nara, Baguettes in Paris, and Cannoli in Italy.
I want to experience life because all those years I spent alone in my bed, so sick I couldn’t face the outside world, I dreamed of seeing far-off places. The only way to pacify the passion of the imprisoned but adventurous part of me was to tell it “one day.”
I need to travel, but I’m scared to do anything that will take me out of my comfort zone. I’m especially nervous about going anywhere by myself. When I came to the Philippines eight years ago, I was alone, but I was nearly undone when I arrived.
I have a problem.
My wife, Flora, is more than willing to travel with me. But with a new baby and a 7-year-old in school, it’s hard to take time. We have close family who is willing and able to help, but we are overly responsible and don’t want to be those parents who drop their kids and go jet-setting.
But a 3-day weekend every six months isn’t too much to ask?
If Flora were with me, I would be braver. When she is close, I don’t spend so much time in my own head. I’m more willing to break out of my comfort zone and try new and interesting things.
So I have the solution — all I must do is somehow learn to act despite the fear. I have to unlearn all these behaviors I picked up when I was hiding in bed from the world.
I can’t remain scared of everything if I want to do something with what’s left of my life. I’m almost 51, in good health, and have people willing to make it easy for me to do what I want. Money is starting not to be as much of an issue as it was.
I know it’s time.
Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone
Just last week, because I had to exit the Philippines and renew my tourist visa, I went to Singapore — by myself. Granted, I never left Changi airport, but it was a big step for me.
One of the reasons I went to Changi and stayed there was it allowed me to get my feet wet without skydiving out of my comfort zone. It was amazing for my confidence because I did something I didn’t think I could do, all without having an anxiety or panic attack.
Now I know I’m ready for a real trip, with or without Flora, and I will enjoy myself without the dread of feeling like I’m going to die. If I can do it with the Coronavirus raging around Asia, I can do anything.
I’m ready to go. Where are we going?
Is fear holding you back from what you want to do? Are you like me and have pushed your passion for life somewhere deep inside, hoping for one day? Are you frightened and you find yourself making excuses for doing nothing because you fear your life will change?
Maybe that’s what we all need — our lives to change?
What do you think?