How I overcame my anxiety

It took me a long time to book my ticket to Central Asia. I’ve been mulling whether I should go or not. When I finally purchased my ticket, I still hadn’t convinced myself if I had made the right decision, or if it was a mistake.

Steppe Kazakhstan

Wake up call

Often, I travel to controversial or less developed destinations. It gives me a rollercoaster of emotions. Happiness because I realise how fortunate I am, guilt because I feel a spoilt western, sad because it makes me wanna change some things in my life and a million more emotions are passing my mind. I love to talk about my experience and people sometimes say they envy me, but many don’t know I need to overcome my anxiety more often than I’d like. In fact, until recent I didn’t realise I suffered from anxiety. It was only when my friend asked me out of the blue if I was anxious that I realised what was wrong with me. A wake up call I didn’t want to deny.

Having a good time at a beergarden in Munich
Having a good time at a beergarden in Munich, 2013

When I started my solo travels, 3,5 years ago, I never experienced anxiety at all. I would ‘blame’ it on my lack of experience. I was more naive than I am now. My anxiety only started after a few minor annoying experiences, like the time I almost had to spend the night in a park in the unrecognized country Transnistria, the time I got some stomach issues on a 7-hour overnight bus with no toilet onboard, or the 2 times I was locked inside the cabin on an overnight train.

It resulted in more thinking about the “what if scenario”. Basically it became more difficult for me to go out of my comfort zone. Not being able to have control over the situation when travelling started to become an issue. It worked out on my stomach and I continuously had the feeling I needed to visit a bathroom. Not really ideal when you need to travel for a few hours. It also turned me more into an introvert. More often than before I liked to be on my own and not depending on someone else.

To travel the Pamir, or not to travel

I took my anxiety into serious consideration when I made my travel plans for summer. Central Asia, and the Pamir in particular, were a destination I dreamed of. A mountainous scenery so beautiful you won’t find anywhere else and villages so remote there’s hardly any western standards like internet and running water. The region is not much travelled either, so it took much time finding only a little information.

Meeting new friends in a park in Kiev
Meeting new friends in a park in Kiev

Was I going to make the safe decision by postponing my trip, or would I face my anxiety and take and buy the flight tickets? Also food poisoning and altitude sickness seemed to be guaranteed. Would it make me stop from going there, is what I asked myself several times. The deciding factor was that I realised it may be my last chance for a while to go somewhere for 6 weeks, since I will finish my studies next year and have no idea what my life will be like. Also, there weren’t (m)any other places on top of my list to visit in summer for 6 weeks within the same budget range. I booked the flights, but promised myself to take a few precautions to make myself feel more comfortable.

Plan B

I wanted to avoid any chance of being stuck somewhere halfway my itinerary because I felt bad because of my anxiety. Before I started my trip I made 2 itineraries. One if everything went well and a plan B. Plan C consisted of an ‘evacuation plan’ from several places in my itinerary, so I could go back to Bishkek and just hang out near this city, before I’d fly home. I also decided to avoid long distance journeys as much as possible. I booked 3 domestic flights in Kazakhstan to avoid 10+ hours journeys by bus or train and planned to fly one leg within Tajikistan.

Host family Almaty
Host family and fellow couchsurfers in Almaty

 

A year ago, while travelling through the Caucasus, I already decided to quit drinking while travelling. On my travels through Central Asia I decided not to drink at all. Quite a challenge in a region where vodka was offered on a daily basis.

Tea homestay Tajikistan
Tea and dinner in a homestay in Langar, Tajikistan

No Regrets

Did I regret my choice to board the plane? Not at all. I had the time of my life. I suffered a little from anxiety the first few days in Almaty, but quickly overcame my anxiety. Sometimes the feeling came back for a moment, but it never bothered me too much. I felt more comfortable in Central Asia than I recently did on travels in Europe.

The people were so welcoming, I believed they would help me if I asked their help or stop the car for a moment if I’d demand it. Not only the locals, but also the travellers in the Pamir are more helpful than anywhere else. When I was suffering from food poisoning in Dushanbe, the whole hostel knew in no time. They’d ask regularly if I need anything from the shop or anything else. It seemed that travellers are more caring about each other, since it’s a region less travelled.

I also had some concerns about getting around in the Pamir. There’s no public transport and I expected a hard time to find a car that could take me. Instead, it was very easy to team up with other travellers and hire a car and driver together. It also made it a lot easier to stop for a pee break, photo stop or visit a hot spring when any of us wanted to. Time flew while driving 12 hours a day.

pee break pamir
Pee break in the Pamir, Tajikistan

So was it all perfect? Well, almost. The first half of my trip I still had some anxiety, but it disappeared as soon as I left Dushanbe for the Pamir. I had also hoped to visit the Wakhan in Afghanistan for a few days, but it didn’t work out for several reasons. First of all, I got sick in Dushanbe and didn’t want to travel further before I was completely recovered, so I was a few days behind schedule. Second, due to some natural disaster in Tajikistan the main road between Khorog and Murghab had been washed away, so I wasn’t sure if and how I could reach Murghab. Roads in Afghanistan may have been washed away too due to this disaster. I didn’t want to take the risk of any further delays and thus overstaying my visa, so I skipped the possibility of hopping into Afghanistan.

Have I really overcome my Anxiety?

I’m not sure. It may come back another time. But this trip was a victory for myself. I rely more on myself and I didn’t experience any anxiety on my most recent trip to Germany. And at least I now know, that I won’t let anxiety stop me from chasing my dreams in the future.

So how did I overcome my anxiety?

I spent a lot of time on doing research to know better what to expect, I found substitutions for factors I expected to cause me stress, I exchanged experiences with many other travellers on the road, I teamed up with fellow travellers that I trusted and made me feel comfortable and quit drinking because I knew I’d require less bathroom stops. And more than all, I managed to relax and not worry about “what if” scenarios.

Crashing a wedding in Kyrgyzstan. Recently I would have missed the opportunity due to the anxiety.

Crashing a wedding in Kyrgyzstan. Recently I would have missed the opportunity due to the anxiety.

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