I bolt out of bed and blink a few times, waiting for the morning fog to clear my eyes…this isn’t my house. This isn’t even my country.
As my pulse and my breath quickens, I slip into the bathroom as to not wake my fellow travelers. I sit on the floor and count the tiles. I think about how cold the floor feels on my bare legs. I count the towels on the rack. Lately, I’ve even resorted to counting the scars on my legs if I need to. This often makes me giggle, because I have so many. Often times I just lay there and think; “where did all these scars come from?”
Slowly, these things have a way of restoring me to a somewhat content state. I stand up and begin my morning routine, even though there is nothing “routine” about this morning. I push that thought out of my mind as I do my make-up. Not too much eye liner, though…long travel days may cause anxiety induced tears.
I check my phone to see the time, and it isn’t long before the background of my boyfriend and I laying on our couch makes my eyes sting again. I blink a few times and put on some quiet music to distract me. La Vie en Rose plays, and I think “what a wonderful song.”
By the time I come out of the bathroom, the others in the room are beginning to stir. I’m glad I can be somewhat composed by the time they are alert enough to pay any attention. I mean, my sister and her friend are hardly people I need to impress – but I still don’t feel like explaining why our last day in Paris began with me in tears on the dirty bathroom floor of this 2 star hotel.
They get ready, I pack my bags for the day and we leave the hotel; dropping the card by the empty front desk on our way out the front door.
The cool morning breeze hits me. It’s refreshing, and the sun is just rising. We navigate our way through the streets and the GPS on my phone buzzes – I turn my attention to it’s directions. More paranoid thoughts come, but I try to keep them at bay. It doesn’t work.
“How does a GPS work? What if this GPS app doesn’t actually work? What if we take a wrong turn? What if I get us lost? That would be my fault, I am the one holding the phone and pointing out our turns. Will they hate me for the rest of the day if I steer us wrong? I could potentially ruin their trip if I don’t get this right…”
Eventually, we get to our first destination, and although I’m sweating and nervous from the journey – they don’t seem angry that we’ve arrived 15 minutes later than we’d anticipated.
We gaze at the beauty of the Eiffel Tower – couples posing for photos, solo travelers whipping out their selfie sticks and tour buses pulling up in the streets. We giggle about the last time we were standing here and for a second, I think “how could someone be stressed here?”
A voice calling my name snaps me back into the reasons why, and we run to catch the bus before it takes off.
Riding around, hopping on and off at various stops, I try to find my voice. I make jokes, I laugh, I feel the warm sun as it gets hotter and I listen to the informative speaker on the bus. My muscles ease, and I am actually having fun.
We get off the bus after a few hours and decide to walk for a while. Not really knowing how to say no, I am in charge of directions again. I lead us a stray a few times and I can feel the ease of the last few hours wearing off. Muscles tense, my head pounds and my pulse quickens. I tend to hyperventilate myself unconscious when I get too anxious – so I spend the day sipping water and trying to control my breathing.
We stand in lines, we wait in crowds – I try not to breathe too loud or too fast.Our train leaves to take us back to Belgium in less than 5 hours, and this line is not giving up. The girls are insisting we move on from this attraction, because we only have a limited time and it’s not time they want to spend in a line moving slower than a snail stuck in tar.
I reluctantly agree becaus standing in lines is not how I want to spend our last few hours, either. I try not to think about having this be my third time in Paris, never having done the only thing I want to do in Paris – climbing to the top of the Notre Dame.
My skin crawls and my pulse quickens. “Next time, I guess.”
We come across a corner store and I see a little wind up music box that plays La Vie en Rose. I take this as a sign and buy the little music box.
I fiddle with it, just holding it in my hand, staring at the little springs and shiny metals visible from the top. We see a Canadian pub, and the feelings of our home country are welcome distractions.
We joke, we drink and we laugh, we watch the hockey games on the televisions. Even though I moved away from Canada years ago, my native land still has a soothing affect on me. I let this bar be my little piece of Canada, and we spend an hour having fun.
My sister and her friend excuse themselves to the bathroom, and I’m alone. Alone drinking at a bar. While they are only gone a few moments, that’s really all it takes, I guess. Because by the time they return, I’m dizzy from how fast I’ve been breathing. The bartender had noticed, and brought me some water, suggesting I could be dehydrated.
I gulped it down and thanked her, knowing that water isn’t really what I needed. The girls come back and I excuse myself, saying I should get to the bathroom before we go walking again.
I’m alone in the bathroom, and my hands fumble in my purse. I clutch the music box and whip it out of my bag as my eyes sting with tears. I mumble the words to the song through fast breaths. I miss my cat. I miss my boyfriend. I miss our half-renovated house. I can’t breathe. I would give anything to make this “itchy” feeling end.
By the end of the third rendition, I find my bearings and manage to pull myself together. I take out the key to my house, string it on my necklace and walk out of the bathroom. For some reason, even just having this key around my neck makes me feel okay. It’s home. I could go home at any time, because I have the key that opens my front door. It’s something, and I cling to it.
Finding the girls, we pay our tab and walk out of the bar. We stop to get some fun photos of us Canadian girls at this Canadian pub. I strike the funniest pose I can think of in hopes of lightening my mood; and it does.
We have to get to the station, but the girls are too nervous to take a cab. I’ve been nervous all day and doing things I didn’t want to do (or rather, not doing things I really wanted to do…), but I agree and hop on.
Arriving at the train station, we quickly find our train and board. We gush about our last few days in Paris; the creepy Catacombs, the random Canadian bar we found, all the wrong turns we took and how discovering Paris’ lesser known streets was kind of fun. We take train selfies and look through our photos. We talk a lot about the cheap and disgusting wine we bought at a corner store and the night we drank it laying in the grass in front of the Eiffel Tower.
As the train speeds towards Belgium, I think a lot about that night. It was the best night on our trip. We weren’t rushing to get anywhere, we weren’t arguing over where to be and when, we weren’t frustrated, sweaty or nervous. We were 3 tipsy girls laying in front of the Eiffel Tower.
My phone pings to let me know we’ve reached Belgian land (and I realize I’m now free to call my boyfriend without having a ridiculous international roaming charge attached to my bill). Even though I don’t call him, the thought of being able to talk to him calms me.
I enjoy the rest of the train ride, and we finally arrive at my Belgian home.
It’s 3:13am, my cat is laying on my face and my boyfriend is breathing so loud I can’t sleep. Is this what I sound like when I panic? I hope not, because it’s very annoying.
I smirk a little, because annoyed and comfortable is better than anxious and crying.
A tip for those traveling with anxiety: grit your teeth through the attacks. Hold on. And when those moments come when it fades away to a view of the Eiffel Tower or that feeling of flight take off…embrace it!
There’s no “avoiding” the anxiety – there’s only embracing the moments when something beautiful distracts you from it.