Galway Girl

I have about a week and a half before I fly home and naturally, I’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen next. How to navigate the normality of a job and a place to live, not having to repack my clothes every few days, having a closet. I don’t want life as I currently know it to end. What does it look like to come home and continue?

Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran has been playing on repeat. It’s essentially this song about how he has this perfect night with a girl from Galway who plays the fiddle in an Irish band. The song reminds me of two things. First it reminds me of that night in Dublin, surrounded by music and happiness; and second it reminds me of how much I used to want to play the fiddle. I never started to learn to play because I didn’t like the idea of practice, yet I always liked listening to violin music.

When I left two months ago, I fully expected to be challenged beyond what I thought possible. The knowledge that I would have to deal with my insecurities was planted firmly in my head. There’s no question for me if that’s happened, it has. The challenge for me now is to not let my life get stagnant again by returning to a life similar to how I lived before I left. The trick, maybe, is to find new things to learn. Not new lessons per say, but actual skills like playing the violin or Krav Maga (both things I want to learn).

Simply staying in one spot for a while doesn’t mean life has to stop moving.

Pain Into Promise

There’s something quite soothing about Athens. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe I’m actually settling into myself post Starbucks. Maybe it’s the sun. Maybe the air here breathes new life into everyone who needs it. Whatever it is, I’ll take it, open hearted.

The variations of streets, from wide, straight and noisy to narrow, windy and quiet. I’m not sure if I could ever actually get lost, with each new corner comes whispers of beauty, new secrets for me to find. Finding new ways only the stray cats care to roam. Occasionally someone tires to speak to me but I move on, the wind gently guiding me to new, unknown destinations. There is a simplicity in the complexity. The buildings whispered that there has been so much that has come before. So many struggles and hardships, beauty and happiness. The promise of taking whatever has come before and soothing it into acceptance and strength. The knowledge that with great power comes great responsibility. The ability to take pain and turn it into promise.

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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.

Fear; an Intro

I type in “Fear Quotes” on Pinterest and one of the first quotes that pops up goes a little something like this; “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” I smile knowingly, glance up briefly from my iPad and shake my head.

The edge of fear is standing on a cliff, miles in the air and the knot in my stomach at the knowledge that I have to jump off. The knot rises in my troat as I get closer to the edge. No matter how many times I tell myself that the path at the bottom of the cliff will be far better than anything I’ve just experienced doesn’t erase the comfort I feel with two feet on the ground. I think I can handle the heartache and pain I’ll go through if I stay because I know what to expect. Yes, heartache and pain will be there at the bottom but they, I, will be different. As long as I jump.

Just over two months. The amount of time I’ll be jumping. There have been moments over the past year and a half where I thought I wouldn’t be able to make the leap. ┬áBut here I am, less than a week out and I’m preparing to make the jump. This trip is going to be life changing. I can’t expect it not to be.

Some of you are here because you’re family and you’re worried about me. Some of you because you want to live vicariously through me. And others because I know how to use a good hashtag. For those, and other reasons, you are here and here is where I want you. This is where I’ll record my journey in one of the best ways I know how, writing. And to start off, let me introduce myself.

My name is Jenna, I’m getting lost somewhere in my 20’s and no matter where I happen to be living at the time, I will always be from Maine. The first trip I took to Europe was in high school. I went to prep school and was in a music group (English Hand Bells for those of you curious enough to google it). Every two years our director did tours and my sophomore year, we went to Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Ever since then, I’ve wanted to go back. During college, I took a year off and volunteered at a school in Denmark for 10 months. I thought, somewhere in the middle of those months, that my wanderlust would be (at least semi) cured when I got home. I was, happily, wrong. The past few years, I’ve graduated from college, moved across the country, been challenged in so many ways, and still I know there is something missing. I watch the world around me and talk to people I’ve met and I realize that I have this great opportunity to travel. Not only am I young and single, I don’t own anything, I live with family and I work in food service. Seeing the way our world is, I have come to the belief that so many of the problems we’ve created could be resolved by simply doing our utmost to understand others by taking a moment to lay down our egos and preconceptions, walk in their shoes and listen to their stories.

I’ve struggled a lot the past few months with a lot of fear and perceiptions of my own of what my life needed to look like, whether it had to do with my job, how much I made, or my propensity torwards singleness. Perceptions that have held me back from following my dreams of travel and I’ve finally come to a place where I’ve overcome fear and am ready to step off the cliff. Fear can only control what I allow it to control and I’m done letting it control me.

So welcome, whoever you are, for whatever reason you are here. It’s going to be a great journey.