Anxiety Rating: Fluctuating between a 1 and a 8 over the last two days
27.08.2014 - 28.08.2014 91 °F
Hello dear readers!
I have not only made it to Madrid, but I successfully spent 48 hours here! Let me give you a little play by play and catch you up on the things that you have missed:
Part 1: The Flight and Arrival
I arrived at the airport on time, and by on time I do mean three hours early, at which time I quickly realized that I didn't know which ticket counter I had to check my bag at, which was an awesome start. The company that I booked my ticket through and the company that was servicing the flight were different hence my confusion. And after inquiring about it, to my dismay, I realized the queue with the enormous crowded line was indeed where I was supposed to be. As soon as my mom and I crowded into the line, I could feel my blood pressure rising. It was too crowded, too loud. I was surrounded, and the fact that I was leaving was suddenly all too real. I was hit with this horribly judgmental and condescending, "What in the world do you think you are doing? Why in the world are you doing this to yourself?" feeling. My eyes darted around, unable to focus, and I stripped off my scarf in attempt to rid myself of some of the heat that had flooded my body. I also hadn't eaten lunch yet, and at 1:30, my hunger pangs were starting to transform into what felt like a powerful nausea. While we slowly inched forward through the maze, I explained to my mom how I was feeling, hoping talking about it would calm me down somewhat. But at that point I was a little far gone for her gentle reasoning. Luckily for me, though, we began moving swiftly through the line, and as soon as I had my bag checked, my discomfort eased.*
- Note: That's the way it often goes for me. The anxiety starts suddenly, persists for a period of time (which depends on a variety of factors like what it is that is stressing me out, if I can leave and gather myself, if I have someone to talk to, etc.) and often leaves just as suddenly. Other times as you will see later, I get so wound up, it is more like a slow fall after the crescendo.
From there, I waited for my travel companions to check their bags before saying my goodbyes and moving on to security. Saying goodbye to my mom caused an uncomfortable dropping sensation in my stomach. All of the denial I had built up was coming down in sudden terrifying jolts. My bag was checked and I was staying goodbye. I could not longer avoid it. After a series of hugs, I managed to extricate myself and get in line. Luckily again for me, I was randomly assigned to the express version of security and whisked through without ever having to take off so much as my shoes. My travel companions were sorted in the express line as well and we were able to continue onward to find our gate all together. We did without much trouble, and I managed to get some food in me to soothe my stomach, but then the waiting began once again.
Waiting is definitely one of my triggers. In the busy, think-on-your feet moments, I am usually fine because I am so forcibly in the moment that my anxiety is shifted to the back burner, but as soon as I slow down enough, all my fears start flooding back, sometimes at double time, and its like I am paralyzed. It is like your world closes in around you, so that all you can see and think and feel is that anxiety and its bodily manifestations: flushes of heat and cold, nausea, rapid heartbeat, cycling thoughts (and no that's not thoughts about bicycling but rather when whatever I think about cycles back to my anxiety and I cycle down and down and down because by focusing on my anxiety and fearing it, I feed it). With this in mind, you can probably imagine why places like airports are difficult in particular. There's a line for security; there is a line to check baggage; there's a line to use the bathroom; there is a line to buy a five dollar bagel! And when you are done waiting for all that, you have to wait for your flight.
Interestingly enough, I was fine when I got on the plane. We had t.v.'s in all of our seats and I had an isle seat to calm any rogue claustrophobia. Before getting on the plane, I made a list of all of the various encouragements people had given me, so I could read them if I got too panicky. I had bought myself some extra snacks in the event that there weren't enough meals on the plane and I had all the entertainment on backpack could hold. And everything was fine. Flight went smoothly; I didn't sleep as much as I wanted to (read: at all) but I was relatively comfortable and entertained. The flight was probably the least anxious part of the whole ordeal.
When we finally got there after 8 hours in the air, everything was a mad dash. No waiting involved, so my anxiety stayed quiet. My group got off the plane and quickly went up 5 escalators, (well, as quickly as a large mass of people can go up 5 escalators), went through Customs (basically they just stamped our passport, no questions, no nothing, easy peesy), and piled onto the underground tram, along with everyone else. The tram took us to the main building where we would retrieve our suitcases. Everybody got their luggage and we boarded another bus to take us over to Terminal 1 where we would meet our program director and be transported to the hotel.
Part 2: El Hotel
We arrived at our hotel, got a bit settled, and we decided to grab lunch. A group of us wandered around the neighborhood for a bit before we finally settled on a place to eat that would satisfy everyone. Madrid is beautiful in a New York city way, lots of little shops and restaurants crowded together, people walking everywhere, while a combination of buses, cars, mopeds, and motorcycles clog the streets. After lunch we meandered back to the hotel, exhaustion and heat finally getting the best of us. When I got back I tried to set up my internet, with less than successful results, my iMessage wasn't working, I didn't have a phone, my internet was cutting out. Not good.
So I gave up and finally gave in to the pull of sleep. I woke up suddenly about an hour later with a sick feeling in my stomach, and my mind just started turning. I kept thinking about how I couldn't get on iMessage, how I had made this big commitment that was going to last four months and I was just at the start of it, how I wouldn't see my family or friends or boyfriend for four more months, how I was alone and trapped in this big city. It hit me like a ton of bricks as I was laying there, and before I knew it, I was in a full blown, category 8 (out of a possible 10) panic attack. Nausea flooded me, and I was suddenly cold, even under all my blankets. I got up to refill my water bottle and wandered aimlessly around the room a bit, lost in my anxiety. I couldn't think about anything other then the things I was feeling and how much they scared me. Any time I thought about trying to do something to distract myself (watch a movie, read a book, write, etc), all my mind could think about was how much more freaked out I would get if it wouldn't work. In a last ditch effort, after about 30+ minutes of sitting up, laying down, walking, rocking and just generally trying to shake off the feeling that I was trapped in my body, I was able to get online and send panicked email to my mom, explaining what was happening. Luckily for me, she had the day off and messaged back right away with some words of advice. While we emailed back and forth, I also googled "Anxiety and Travel" to see if I could find any coping strategies that would pull me out of my funk.
Only when my mom and I started talking did I finally start the slow process of winding down. I was even able to skype with her a little bit and that helped the process along immensely as well. Talking to her, I felt less alone, scared, and isolated. Everything felt less pressurized. I was able to get on the internet and connect with someone I was used to seeing or talking to a ton, someone familiar and comforting. That made the next few months in general seem less foreign and stressful. I saw that my panicked mind had been wrong. I wouldn't have to go though everything all alone. I still have my family, boyfriend, and friends to help me along when I do need it. That's not to say I would or will be in constant contact; I just simply won't be flying blind, cut off from my support network, for the next four months with really only myself to rely on.
After talking to my mom, things calmed down somewhat. All study abroad students on our program met for a brief meeting with the study abroad director where we got some common sense advice and were given our cell phones. Then we were tossed out into bustling Madrid to find dinner on our own. My exhausted roommate and I ended ducking out right across the street for something quick and easy, and after we ate we returned to our room to relax and go to bed before day two.
I definitely chalk up my stress during the first 48 hours of the trip to lack of sleep, dehydration, and overstimulation. The past two days, including my second day in Madrid and a day in Toledo, were no less hectic, but I have managed to get my footing, or at least I would like to think so. My stress level has gone down for the time being, though I am sure it will spike back up just in time for me to meet my host mother and in time for me to take my placement exam on Monday. Although, I do feel much better prepared to handle it with the first few days under my belt and with reliable connections to my support system back home firmly established.
Thank you for reading my long-winded account of my turbulent, first 48 hours as a world traveler, and check back soon for more updates!
Thank you to the Helen Barr Rudin Grant for making this blog and my adventures abroad possible*