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The Line Between Anxiety and Wonder is Made of Humidity

by Rena 8 months ago in coping
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Knowing what's on the other side of your fears makes them a lot easier to face

When I was seventeen, I went to Japan for the first time. It felt insurmountable.

I had to apply to the program, be interviewed, get a passport, talk to someone over the phone—all things that felt utterly impossible at the time. I spent an hour just to psych myself up to make that single, required phone call to get into the program, and melted down right afterwards.

Anxiety and depression are constants in my life, and they were at their most impactful in middle and high school. I had a terrible time talking to people, being in unfamiliar places or situations, or handling sudden changes. Anything could send me into a tight, steep spiral straight down into a panic attack, or total meltdown. Honestly, it’s still like that now. This is the way my brain chemistry turned out, and all I can do is learn the most effective coping mechanisms to help me through day-to-day life.

The first step towards discovering that—finding the other side of all that fear and moving towards becoming a person who understands how their brain works, can plan ahead for things, or cope with changes and new situations—was like stepping through a curtain.

The air inside the plane was cool, and conditioned. The air inside Narita airport was hot and muggy in midsummer. It was sudden and weird. I had never experienced heavy humidity before. I had never been overseas before. I had never been so far from home, on my own. There was a clear line between the inside of the plane, and the inside of the airport, drawn in the air by the sudden shift in temperature and humidity.

I hadn’t slept on the plane, and I was so anxious I was shaking. We’d hit turbulence two hours before landing and my stomach was churning into knots. I was in a new place, unsure of what I should be doing, and surrounded by strangers. It was a perfect storm of everything that might bring on a crushing, humiliating panic attack.

But the panic attack never happened. Every time I started sliding down the spiral towards a meltdown, something caught me off guard. Everything was new, everything was wonderful. I’d wanted to visit Japan since I was eight years old and there I was. I was on the complete other side of the world, with barely a grasp on the language, and surrounded by other American high schoolers who were complete strangers, and it was fantastic.

It’s hard to be afraid of new places when everywhere you go in a day is new--when you turn a corner and find yourself at a shrine, or a museum dedicated to something you’d never even heard of, or when you ride a boat out onto the other side of the ocean you grew up next to.

People had always terrified me, but it’s hard to give much room to fear when you’re frantically flipping through a phrasebook with two other teenagers, digging through everything you know about speaking Japanese in an effort to ask the tour guide if you can take a picture of her because her uniform is adorable and amazing. Or when you’re sent into a kindergarten so they can hang out with native speakers, but what they really want to do is show you how many Pocky they can fit in their mouths at once.

The other thing was, I was visibly out of place. The feeling I always had at home of sticking out too much, of not fitting in, had become a stark, visible reality. Yet this reality didn’t come with the sense of ostracism or shame it did at home. In Japan, there was an understanding that came with my being out of place. Of course I wouldn’t know exactly what to say. Of course I wouldn’t know exactly what to do in each situation. I was very obviously not from around there. My mistakes and stumbles were, at best, met with kindness, guidance, and encouragement, and at worst, politely ignored. It was freeing in a way I had never experienced, being expected to make mistakes in the best possible way.

I will always struggle with anxiety and depression. The slump I fell into when I returned home from Japan that first time was one of the worst I’ve experienced. One can’t help their brain chemistry, but that first adventure changed everything. Getting to step through to the other side of all that fear, being in a place where mistakes and stumbles were welcomed, and where everything was new and wonderful, changed the way I looked at my anxiety, the panic attacks and meltdowns. I might not ever be without that fear, but it was worth pushing through, to find the wonder on the other side.

My family were not big travelers, and with my anxiety I was barely allowed to go on that trip in the first place. I really truly believed that the stamps I got in my passport on that trip would be the only ones I ever got, that all my travels were already over.

I turned out to be very, wonderfully wrong.


About the author


Find me on Instagram @gingerbreadbookie

Find me on Twitter @namaenani86

Check my profile for short stories, fictional cooking blogs, and a fantasy/adventure serial!

*Bard will be resume on May 25*

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