How questioning my mind, help me find my love of travel

I come from a long line of people with sanity issues. I also come from a long line of people who love to travel. So it only makes sense that I, too, have some sanity issues and a love of travel. But just like the majority of the world, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me that my, at times, fragile mental state is hanging in a very precarious balance. 

I didn’t want to admit to any of it for the longest time, not to myself and certainly not to others that I questioned my mind. Everyone else was “normal,” and they couldn’t possibly understand someone like me. Someone who had to check the window repeatedly in 2nd grade to see if a storm was coming after a traumatizing incident in the rain or wash their hands until they developed eczema because of a silly quip from their father. I knew I was different, but I didn’t know why, and I didn’t know how to explain how, to myself or anyone, not even my parents. 

My parents recognized that my brother needed to see a physiatrist early on due to his behavior. Still, only after that traumatizing incident in the rain was it my turn to see one. And even then, it was a one-time thing. Essentially the doctor said, “ok, she’s afraid of storms because something bad happened during a storm, so make sure nothing bad happens during a storm again.” Gee Doc, thanks for that really expensive and utterly useless advice. Mental soundness, still in precarious balance. 

But honestly, those incidents weren’t the beginning by any stretch of the imagination. They happen to be the ones I recall quite vividly for being so young. As the years rolled by, looking back, I can say that I started to exhibit a widening range of signs that indicated a fragile mental state.  But my grades were excellent, I seemed to have friends, I was for the most part “outwardly normal with some quirks,” and so I continued with my life as usual. 

I can’t remember when the diagnosis of Depression or OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive disorder), or anxiety. I know they happened at different times, with OCD being the first, but I didn’t start any medication until high school. Fifteen years later, the original three diagnoses remain the same with Neuro Divergent’s addition (likely ADHD), and so many of the things from when I was a kid make sense. “Outwardly normal with some quirks” pretty much explains it all. 

Before going any further, I want to say that I’m about to talk about therapy, which I know can be a touchy subject. I have encountered an entire spectrum of opinions on therapy. Some people are all for it while others are not. And for that matter, I will say this; therapy is a personal choice one needs to make for themselves. My opinion here is simply that, my opinion, please take it at face value. Ok, with all that said, let’s continue. 

Going to therapy regularly was a game-changer for me. I had always been painfully self-aware, a burden of my fragile mental state, but the reasons why have now been made clear to me. The most profound thing I have discovered through this journey over the last few years is why travel and adventure and certain types of risk have always been able to wash away anxiety and depression, and OCD. 

You see, when I am living my day to day life, I spend much of my time anxious and questioning my mind about anything and everything—engaging in OCD rituals in a futile attempt to alleviate my anxiety. When I’m traveling or experiencing new things, I inadvertently force my brain to focus solely on that moment in time out of my comfort zone. Therefore I am depriving my brain of the capacity to worry and think critically (which is necessary for things like making sure you get on the right tram in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language or rock climbing). The present entirely consumes my brain, and all my fears wash away. After 34 years of near-constant anxiety, I can’t even begin to describe how freeing it is for the weight of all your worries to be lifted. To feel confident in my mental soundness.

So this last year has been a bit harder than most. Most years, I take one or two big trips and many small ones. This year has been entirely different. I was able to take one big trip, and the wonders it did for sanity are inexplicable. This year has also made me realize that the tiniest of trips or adventures can be as powerful as larger ones. 

The trip that I was able to take this year was a 12 days road trip/camping trip to 5 of the U.S.’s largest national parks and some smaller state parks in the US Southwest. This trip required a lot of preparation. No, we were driving hundreds of miles a day, several thousand overall. Everything had to be planned out extensively, from where we would camp to what we had in our cooler. We also had to stay on a strict schedule to ensure we could see and do everything we planned in the allotted 12 days. So while all that planning and preparation was anxiety-inducing, once we made it to our various destinations and I got to see canyons shaped over hundreds of thousands of years by snow and rain and how the sunlight made the various layers of rock sparkle, all I could feel was awe. 

So if you’re like me and get antsy waiting to go somewhere new, find books that give you ideas for your next journey, start planning (not intensively, we don’t need to add any more anxiety to this mix) and look at a lot of pictures while visualizing yourself at those places. 

I will always be “Outwardly normal with some quirks and slightly fragile, And I’m ok with that because what gives me those quirks also gives me my love of adventure and travel. 

Oh and here’s hoping 2021, we can all have the adventures we missed out on in 2020.

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