First of all, I apologize for how long it has taken me to post an update. I guess I’m still trying to figure out how to best manage my time while traveling and being on the computer takes the bottom rung against other stuff to do around Bangkok.
Second of all, I’d like to point out that this is a personal post and I’m going out on a limb by deciding to post it on the internet for anyone to read. Please be respectful of that.
Bangkok has been wonderful so far. The people are kind, the food is amazing, and everything is super cheap. I’ve explored the city, climbed the Golden Mount, gotten a massage (1 hr, full body, for 5 USD = AMAZING), gone shopping, and experienced some of the night life here (which is wild to say the least). I’ve met tons of interesting people each with their own stories to tell and ways of looking at the world. For the first time in a long time, I’ve gotten the feeling that I belong, like I’ve finally found a community of people I can connect with. I’ve added several new countries to my “places to visit” list purely because of other people’s stories about their travels there. Kyrgyzstan, anyone?
For the first few days I was having no problems at all coping with the new environment. Granted, it was different and at times overwhelming, but I took it all in with wonder and excitement. My stomach was agreeing with the food, I caught on to currency exchanges quickly, figured out how to use a bidet, made many new friends at the hostel, adjusted to the different time zone, learned how to get around (well… kind of), got more comfortable haggling with shop owners, got used to speaking in English that is understandable to non-Americans, etc. Basically, things were running smoothly and I was happy.
And then, out of nowhere, it happened. Complete system failure. A full-blown panic attack, the kind that sends me running for the hospital (and I did).
In the past year or so I had become fairly good at talking myself down when these anxiety attacks would set in; I got to the point where I was able to stomp on them before they got too bad. They were uncomfortable, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was wrong to assume they would remain at a manageable level while traveling. This was anything but manageable. I couldn’t calm down. It gripped me from every angle. Clammy skin, racing heart, difficulty breathing, hot flashes, cold flashes, numbness in my limbs, irrational thoughts, inability to speak or form coherent sentences, afraid to do so much as walk to the bathroom convinced I was on the verge of death or going insane… all at once. I hadn’t experienced an anxiety attack like this in a long while. And it came and went for 2 DAYS STRAIGHT. Had I known that the panic would present itself to me as if I was experiencing it for the first time yet again, I think I would have done a few things differently before leaving home. But I didn’t, so here I am. While I have kept it at bay for the past day or so, it hasn’t really left. It’s just been lingering here in my chest, patiently waiting for me slip up so it can take hold with full force once more. It is mentally exhausting to have to talk myself down again every few minutes (which also makes traveling a lot less fun).
In the past, the only thing that ever calmed me down in these moments of desperation was having my sister, mother or dog nearby; they are my greatest sources of comfort. Obviously that is not an option now. I tried talking about it with people at the hostel but, while kind and reassuring, I could tell they thought I was out of my head. I asked everyone, and no one I spoke with had experienced a panic attack themselves (and I hope they never do). But describing anxiety to someone who doesn’t know how it feels, without making yourself seem like a complete nut job, is really difficult. I know this because I used to be the observer. Before knowing what a panic attack actually was, I watched as someone I cared for had them on a daily basis. I was totally clueless as to what was happening; I thought he was a little bit off and that if I just waited a little while, he’d calm down and go back to normal. I know now that it’s not that simple, but I understand that other people think it might be.
So now I find myself in a tough position. With no support system nearby, I have to discover a way to tackle this before moving on or I’ll surely find myself back home before the month is over. It has already taken a massive amount of strength for me not to book an immediate flight back to the US (I’ve resisted the urge at least 3 times), and phone calls back home can only do so much for my mental state. I need to find a way of dealing with this so that I can do what I set out to do.
While I’m not in a particularly wonderful location for honorable psychiatry, I am lucky to find myself in a place where meditation is taught and practiced around every corner. And with meditation being scientifically proven to combat stress and anxiety, I think that is where I’ll start. I haven’t been too successful with it in the past, but I think I’m motivated enough to try harder this time. Please wish me luck.
I promise my future posts will be more informative of my day-to-day adventures and include more pictures. I know I speak a lot about fear, and that’s because right now, it is what my reality consists of. Fear is my enemy, and the world is my battlefield. Hopefully one day I can look back and know that it was well worth the fight.
******As a disclaimer, I’d just like to add that all of this panic is totally irrational; there is no reason to fear anything here in Thailand (unless you go looking for trouble or let down your guard, as the case would be anywhere). This post was not meant to make anyone scared of traveling to this part of the world… as many people I know seem to think this is a dangerous place. I only wanted to give you a small window into dealing with anxiety and my personal journey to conquer it. ******