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“How long have you been traveling for?”

“A little over a week..”

“Do you like it so far?”

“It’s…well…harder than I expected….”

“Have you traveled before?”

“Yeah..I took a year off in college and lived in Denmark for 10 months.”

“Ok so you know what its like.”

“This time it’s different. I’ve been having anxiety, mostly about money because that’s where the majority of my anxiety comes from….and I want to go home.”

“Sounds rough. It get’s better. I know it’s a cliche, but there are ups and downs. Everyone has them when traveling so you aren’t alone in that. Just be the cliche and go out there and meet people.”

“I’ve been trying…”

“Well, do something. If you remember anything from the New Zealand guy in Budapest, he said to..”

“…do shit?”

“Yeah. Do shit.”

I’ve often heard stories of people making changes in their lives to follow their dreams and essentially every time, it all works out so well for them. They don’t seem to have any difficulties or if they do, its minor and “all worth it in the end.” Coming into this trip, I was hoping that because I was leaving a job that I didn’t love and a life that wasn’t ideal to do something I’ve always dreamed about, it would be easy. That somehow the universe, fates, God would smile kindly on me and say “Hey! This is so exciting. Here’s safe and easy passage to the other side.” Not so.

About a week in, I discovered that one of the hostels I had reserved was listed as “No longer available” on Hostelworld (great site for finding hostels, btw). I sent an email to the email address provided, hoping against all hope that I’d get a response by the end of the day. By the time I returned to my hostel that evening, I hadn’t. So I decided to cancel the reservation and work something else out. I was able to make my itinerary just as good, if not better. Then I started thinking, “Ok Jenna, is this going to cost any more than I had thought.” I did the math, it was roughly the same cost. But then I started to panic.

A panic attack is essentially an unexpected, overwhelming sense of fear that’s crippling. I can’t move, I have trouble breathing, I sweat. I think the world is ending. Sometimes, I’m able to sense that one’s about to start and I’m able to breathe through it so that I don’t reach the stage of almost uncontrollable sobbing. Even then, my chest is tight and the world darkens. I honestly couldn’t tell you what causes my panic attacks. I think they often have to do with money, nothing specific about money, just money.

The first panic attack I ever had was the summer in between my junior and senior years in college. I got off the phone with mom, we had been talking about how it was almost time for me to pay for my car insurance and I started panicking. Sitting on the floor in the kitchen, unable to move, sobbing, sweating. That next year in college, I started saving money like nothing else mattered. Kept myself on a strict budget of only having $100 in my checking account per pay period (every 2 weeks). Thankfully, I had a group of friends who liked to go to the cheap movie theater or spend nights in. I had a few moments of panic, nothing as drastic, which gave me hope. After graduating and moving to New Hampshire, I thought I would be ok. I was able to [barely] make ends meet and I hoped that I would find something soon that would let me save money. I didn’t find anything better and the few friends I did have were having trouble of their own. I started to withdraw. I guess I was depressed but never severe enough to cause me to miss work or not get up in the morning. Life slowed down, almost to a standstill, nights were restless, days were slow, and the panic attacks grew more numerous.

One day I was told I was getting promoted, I had interviewed a month or so before and had been told “Wait.” It was a relatively unexpected promotion but with an added pay raise which meant money into savings. Life began to shift. The few toxic people I had been spending time with were cut out and slowly I started saving. The panic attacks lessened, making occasional appearances. And I realized that, if I allowed myself, I would be able to travel. So I started looking for plane tickets. From Boston to anywhere, anytime. Anything that got me thinking of something, anything else. It helped. I made a few good friends and spent time with them. Became more open with the people at work that I enjoyed talking with so I’d have people to talk to. Bought a one way plane ticket. Started planning. Realized that a good way to help me deal with my anxiety and panic attacks was to just do something little. Make small steps in a direction of something I wanted to do. Spend a few hours at the local coffee shop, drinking coffee, eating scones and looking on Pinterest. Taking care of my friends dogs. Get lunch with a friend. My load became lighter.

I hoped when I left, my load would be gone because I was finally doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I’d spent a year planning and getting ready and here I was, ready. Ready to take a few small challenges, to learn to be more confident in myself. Ready to learn to be alone. And the load stayed with me. The darkness didn’t lift. I got to Copenhagen and it was still there, clouding over me, threatening to never leave.

My last night in Budapest, I had another panic attack. I had already decided to cut my trip short and had spent the day trying to cancel plane tickets and hostels for the last month of the trip. I even decided to shorten my time in the places I was already going, in an attempt to spend less money but still see places I wanted to see. And still the panic attack. And I still worry. I worry that I’m still taking to much time, that I’ve miscalculated something. But I must continue.

Last night, I fully intended to stay at my hostel and get lost somewhere in YouTube. But I didn’t. I drank elderberry Fanta, tried homemade Serbian alcohol, and walked to the top of a hill with people I’ve never met to watch the sunset over Novi Sad. Cliche things. Small things. Because that is how I have to handle my anxiety. My panic attacks. They aren’t going to leave me just because I flew across the ocean.

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