Just wanted to share some thoughts on fear, anxiety, shyness and solo travel that have accumulated over the last year.
First, let me just be frank about the fact that I'm always terrified of everything, and then let me follow that up by telling you that I've conquered twice as many fears as your normal never-scared person, and that actually makes me a badass. I've always been a bit quiet and tentative in certain settings, though in other circumstances I can actually be quite the opposite, it just only ever happens when I'm on my own and I can be whoever I want or when I've had 1/3rd a glass of wine. Regardless, it's been a central issue in my life, and the focus of a lot of my energy trying to change things in a healthy way. You don't just magically wake up one day not being scared of something, and making someone feel guilty about their anxiety or shyness (which, by the way, are different things) in the moment only makes it worse, not better.
I know I'm rambling a little, but bear with me because I might get to the point eventually.
To clarify, when I say I'm terrified of everything (or used to be), I don't mean like... bungee jumping and murderers. I mean... being the first person to walk into a new, unknown space. Learning a skill in front of someone else. Asking a stupid store employee for help when I'm with someone who thinks I will never ask a store employee for help (I can do this just fine when on my own). Calling strangers on the phone. Speaking in front of 500 people. Figuring out public transit in a big new city. MOVING to a new city by myself where I don't know anyone. Dealing with unwanted or unexpected attention. Dancing in public. [side note like Zach Morris on Saved By the Bell where everyone freezes -- I've done all of these things now. Me from 15 years ago would have been squirming to even write the list]
Anyway, I'm basically trying to tell you that scenarios you may have never ever given a second thought to can be crippling for some people. I know I don't fall at the extreme end of the spectrum, but I'm far enough down that line that it stands out.
So, that brings me to fear and this trip, this 8 month, international, 10-ish country, SOLO travel. Like...what. the. crap. Jen. Why am I even DOING this? Well, you jerk face, I'm doing it because I have to. I have to prove to myself that I can. Because I've done all the other things on that list from earlier and many more, and right now, this one feels like the biggest thing I could do. Because I need to do it and have the highs and the lows and come home and say holy bananas I cannot believe I did that thing. And my inner 12 year old will be like "WHAT IS GOING ON WE DID WHAT?!" and I can go back to still being terrified of calling strangers on the phone but I will know that I can do anything.
Okay, so I know I'm doing this, and I know it will be hard, and I know it will be rewarding. So I've spent the last year trying to mentally prepare myself for all of this, because I'm nothing if not a planner-aheader. The trouble is, A) I tend to overshare because I think we're all humans and we should share our human experience or what's the point and B) No one else seems to think this will be hard or scary. Normally my conversations go something like this:
Person: "Cool, what a neat experience you will have!"
Me: "Yeah, it's a really humbling opportunity. Of course I'm terrified, but I'm also really excited!"
Person: *blank stare*
Person: "But cool, you'll have so much fun!"
Me: "Yeah, I think I will learn a lot about other cultures and people. Plus I'm travelling alone so I will learn a lot about myself during the hard and scary parts."
Person: *blank stare*
Person: "When do you leave again?"
Ugh. Who are these people who are never scared of anything and who never vocalize their fears or insecurities ever? Do you not feel them? Do you think it makes you weak to share your emotions? Why are you letting me sit out here in the emotional rain like an idiot while you watch me from the warm indoors, judging me while sipping your hot cocoa instead of opening the god damn door??
Which brings me to one of my points on fear: how much of our fears are about what other people think.
Particularly my fears, which all seem to be about other stupid people. For years I've had one big guiding theme or objective for each year, and for many years I conquered that objective by the time the next calendar went in the trash (which sometimes was more like March than January, but that says more about my household skills than my fear-conquering skills). However, the last two years have had the same objective, and I keep whiffing the freaking ball: STOP CARING WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK.
I'm coming to realize how intertwined these two things are, fear and this obsessive concern with others' opinions. I listened to an interesting podcast the other day about fear, and among many things they had a psychologist on who gave this equation (which you know after the fact I realize I totally wrote down because it was an equation and the scientist in me can't NOT write down equations after 6 years of school):
Now, personally I would write it more like this: Fear= thinking x time, because I think the thinking compounds over time rather than adding up, but I realize I'm getting a little deep in the weeds. The point is, fear stems from your thoughts, and the longer you can sit with those thoughts, the more the fear can grow. It's one of those things I've heard is unique to humans - we can imagine scenarios and how they might play out, in order to prepare ourselves for their occurrence, or to decide which choice to make about something. The problem starts when our thinking muscles get on steroids and create scenarios that don't even lie within the realm of the laws of physics.
And this is where our imagination comes in. Long praised by my teachers in school for writing the most interesting and creative stories, my little Jen imagination grew and grew and grew. I've always had vivid, crazy dreams, some of them awesome and amazing and some of them so terrifying I remember them to this day. Is it possible that those of us who are overactive in our imaginings of the outcomes of daily interactions (no matter how mundane, like mailing a package at the post office) are more prone to suffer the worst of these unsubstantiated fears? Because, I tell you what, the most boring, non-creative people I know (sorry, I still love you) never seem to be scared of anything.
I'm not saying this is the answer, but for right now, it's my theory.
I'm not sure yet what this means for this trip or my life or the universe in general, but it gives me a new starting point. Maybe it's not about ceasing to care what other people think, but rather slowing down my imagination about those particular scenarios. There are plenty of other things I can daydream about, after all.