Airplanes Can’t Outrun Anxiety

When you get to Medellin, go straight to the Poblado district, they all said. It’s the best. This was just a small one of the many lies told by travelers. I should have learned by now not to listen. And most of the time, I don’t. But truthfully, prolonged sickness had made me weary, and the travel had stressed me out. Well, it was more than stress.

My first week in Colombia was plagued by the sort of chronic anxiety I hadn’t dealt with in ages. And when it finally did materialize it was almost unrecognizable to me. But, a bad feeling had been welling up before the plane even landed. The weasely whisper found its way into my mind’s dark spaces, and the only way to quell it would be to get out of the country. Fast. Leave. I didn’t know what it was, but Colombia already wasn’t for me.

I was in such a fog that I left the airport without going to baggage claim for my pack. I was eventually let back in, after a security screening. In the late afternoon of what had already been a long day, I managed to get myself and my belongings into a taxi, but the face in the mirror was glaring, and covered in tattoos. I considered that maybe I was being kidnapped. The driver drove recklessly to the posh Poblado part of town, before leaving me with a warm smile and an earnest goodbye. I should have felt ridiculous right then for misjudging the man, but I was still too on edge. The next day as I got off the metro I was followed by a young couple. I stopped for some street food, and disappeared into a busy plaza to elude them.

No matter what I did, where I went, the sinking feeling persisted. My heart seemed to perpetually beat at an uncomfortable pace. Strange things kept happening. This went on for over a week. I was screaming inside, and it wouldn’t stop. The Colombian pesos had too many zeros. I didn’t have an ear for Colombian Spanish. The city was difficult to navigate. And on, and on.

I had to get away, so I went a couple hours by bus to the countryside. I was eager for it to change me, to force the anxiety back to deep enough spaces in my mind that I could manage it. I kept track of this anxiety, became acutely aware of it, and paid attention to the behavorial changes it produced in me. I knew I’d get there, but it took some time to start really getting back to normal. I faked it for the first couple days, as I began meeting people. And then one afternoon I felt the weight lift. Everything from stress to stuff as simple as the inability to laugh without scrutinizing the way it sounded, all of it, just dissipated.

Finally, I could breathe again. I could laugh at myself, and with others. I could be myself without thinking about it. It had nothing to do with Colombia. It was the doubt that makes a home for inadequacy in the small spaces of an anxious brain.

I used to think that journals were for documenting the good stuff because I never wanted to look back and remember being in pain. I believed that if I buried my pain deep enough, I wouldn’t have to deal with it again. It seems normal to keep my most troubling feelings to myself, to wait out the storm that is suppressing my anxiety, and to wonder why I’m weird, without speaking it aloud. But I am human. I struggle. I do weird shit, like convince myself that I’m being followed. And I own that shit. It’s just part of coming into myself, I think. By recognizing these anxieties, I can bring my misery some company when it surfaces, and ultimately I can take the weirdness with the wildness, and embrace the fullness of my funky life.