My partner and I are going on holiday this week. In our four years together we have rarely been away; once to Italy for a friend’s wedding two years ago; once to a cottage in Cumbria for a few days with all our friends for New Year’s; a night away here and there for weddings and trips to see my parents.
We’ve spoken about it, but our financial situations have always been slightly unstable and it’s never been a priority. At the start of this year, I thought stuff the finances, we are going away. We deserve a break, a bit of sun, a treat. We spend a lot of time together, so it’s not about getting away to spend time together, it’s just about doing something different, seeing new places and trying to do that thing other people call ‘living’.
I think I enjoy going on holiday, but I’m never quite sure. There is a lot of anxiety that comes with it: getting to the airport on time, have I remembered to pack everything (yes – I am a notorious over-packer), what will it be like when we get there, will I enjoy myself, what about the language barrier? How do I explain that I’m vegan? Will I be too warm? What should I wear? Will people think I’m weird?
Being in a unfamiliar situation is a perfectly valid reason to feel anxious, but I’m not convinced that I ever get over it enough to fully let go and enjoy myself. I get uncomfortable in the heat, and very conscious of what to wear and how I look. I over think everything, as is my default. It’s been useful at times, in terms of planning how to get to our accommodation or other places, but it doesn’t really increase the enjoyment factor.
I’m not a globetrotter, but I have travelled. I’ve been on countless city breaks, as well as longer holidays to the US and Thailand. Nothing terrible has ever happened on these holidays. Objectively, they’ve barely been anxiety-provoking, although that’s by the by if you have anxiety. I have survived, and even managed to enjoy my trips away. Things feel different now simply because I have been in a less stable place with my mental health for such a long time, and because I am so much more aware of my problematic thinking. There’s no doubt that I’ve felt anxious about going away before, but it’s never been quite as front-and-centre as it is now.
There’s almost a sense of guilt, the same as how I would feel about doing things other than going to work, or even at times going to work itself. If I’m unwell, then I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be able to. If I can, then I must be well, I must be wrong about how I’ve been feeling, and I must be able to just get over it. Then, of course, there’s the expectation that because I’m on holiday I must have a good time, 24/7. My mental health doesn’t have a place in the sunshine and scenery of a holiday, and any attempt to feel otherwise is unwelcome and an overreaction. You may have noticed that the two things I’ve just described are essentially in direct opposition to each other – welcome to my life.
Of course, not only will I be micro-analysing and catastrophising every possible scenario that could occur whilst we’re away, but I will be consistently worrying about whether my partner is having a good time. Have I forced him to go on holiday? Does he wish he wasn’t here? Does he wish I wasn’t here? Do we want to do the same things? Is it boring? Am I boring? I will try my absolute hardest to keep these things in – but they do, on occasion, burst forth without warning. I’ve been known to decide that he’s angry with me based on not an awful lot, so it’s pretty standard that a heightened-anxiety situation such as this will send me merrily trotting down a path of delusion at some stage.
Who could forget that once the holiday is over, whether I’ve managed to dampen the anxious chirrups (or, more accurately, full blown war cries) in my mind and enjoy myself or not, I am then expected to talk to people about it.
‘How was your holiday?’
‘Oh, great thanks. I only had one panic attack.’
My mind is inevitably overrun with how people will react. They’ll probably think it sounds shit, they’re judging me because we didn’t do enough, we didn’t go to see every single sight there is to see, we’re uncultured and have somehow managed to do it wrong. I’m expected to come back refreshed and ready to take on the world, when in reality I’ll probably need several days in a darkened room to recover. We’re supposed to have rested and relaxed, when actually there’s so much to take in when you’re in a new, exciting, place that you often spend entire days in a row walking around for miles in the heat and expect not to feel completely exhausted when you return home.
Overall, it will be good for my mental wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be without discomfort. I hate airports and waiting around. There is never anything to do or anything to eat. There are too many people. My brain will dutifully run over scenarios of delayed or cancelled flights or missing baggage without me even being aware of it. I’m actually fine with flying, it seems like something I don’t need to worry about trying to control because the control is already happening. Some well-trained so-and-so is flying the damn thing, and disasters or mishaps are rare enough that whilst I may idly consider them, thankfully they aren’t given the same credence in the jumble of my mind.
I’m aware that doesn’t make sense – I can serenely accept the very slim chance that I may die in a fiery plane crash, but will work myself into an anxious frenzy over the possibility of some stranger thinking I look weird in shorts.
Having low self esteem and anxiety are a great combination when stepping into the unfamiliar, and naturally I can expect to be clobbered about the head with both of them as they gleefully embrace the opportunity to make me feel like shit in a new environment. I spend too much time worrying what people – native people living in cities or places I may never go to again – will think of me, what will happen when I inevitably embarrass myself trying to interact with them. If we wander around and get lost, I will panic and become agitated.
What I’m going to try to do this time is be mindful of my feelings. I might be wandering the sun-kissed streets of Spain, but I am allowed to feel however I want. If I’m out and about all day every day it’s bound to catch up with me, and pushing myself through isn’t always going to be an option. I need to be kind to myself. I do want to see new places, admire the architecture, and explore at our own pace, but I also want to accept my anxieties instead of trying to sit on them and force myself to have a good time. It might work better if I listen to them, then let them pop on their holiday hats and sunglasses and just come along with me for the ride.
Do you get holiday anxiety, or do your mental health problems manifest themselves in other ways when faced with going abroad? Do holidays work the opposite way and actually make you feel better? I’ve limited experience of the latter, I’d be interested to hear!