**Warning, this post includes detailed romanization of my time abroad. Sigh. Sorry not sorry**
I’d rather be a solo traveler than ask a Target employee for help.
For the 3 weeks I spent in Budapest, a city where I didn’t speak a word of Hungarian and used mainly pointing and smiling to communicate, I felt less anxious than I have in years.
Which is weird…right?
I should have been nervous. Scratch that. I should have been straight up scared.
I planned on traveling alone. Only meeting the group of 5 girls who I would become quick friends with, if and only if, I was able to survive 12 hours of air travel. For context, I experience a *bit* of motion sickness.
With Dramamine in my system, my silk eye mask in place, and my music cranked I somehow managed to disassociate for 9 hours not uttering a single word to my middle aged male seat mate. Never in my life had I flown on a plane without my mom sitting next to me sanitizing her tray table with a pack of wet wipes. But, off I went.
I’d never been to Europe. I’d never experienced public transportation on such a large scale. I’d spent a weekend here and there in New York and Chicago. But this? Nothing prepared me for the efficiency and dependability of European public transportation. I never wanted to drive again.
I didn’t know much about Hungarian food, culture, or anything honestly. Prior to leaving I’m not even sure I could have pointed out Hungary on a map.
I had to get a new phone plan, navigate a foreign city, keep up in class, and eventually figure out COVID isolation while somehow getting food and medicine delivered to my hotel room that was practically on lockdown.
But you know what, I was surprisingly calm. That is until my flight to MSP got delayed and rerouted to Boston so we could change captains and I lost my mind in the Amsterdam airport. Then my parents received a teary eyed phone call at 3:00 am their time.
But honestly, I have never been so relaxed and unbothered in my life.
And after some reflection I think I’ve figured it out.
See, as an anxious person, I falsely believe that people are thinking about me way more than they actually are.
I feel people’s eyes on me when in all reality they’re just trying to read the sign behind me. I think people are whispering about me when they walk by but they are really just holding a conversation, like a normal freaking human being. My point is, my anxiety makes me little paranoid.
And so the best way that I’ve found to avoid being perceived is to act as “normally” as I possibly can. I avoid drawing attention to myself at all costs. And in my sick little twisted rat brain over time that has come to mean that I can never fail.
I’ve stopped trying new things out of the fear that I will be bad at them or embarrass myself. I stick to what I know and what I’m comfortable with. I have pushed myself to excel within these limitations. Fearing that if I ever venture off the path, I will immediately be discovered as an imposter.
Much of my life I feel like I’ve just been waiting for people to figure out that I’m_____. Weird. Annoying. Clumsy. Scared. And a long list of things that my anxiety whispers in my ear.
And I think being in a city, surrounded by strangers, I gave myself a little grace. Which is not something I ever manage to do.
First off, I understood that I was never going to see most of these people again.
So even when I made an absolute fool of myself, I would just be the nameless girl in their story who got caught in the train doors. Yes, this actually happened. Along with a long list of embarrassing events that for now I’m okay keeping to myself.
The thing about being a small fish in a big bond is that it gives you refreshing anonymity.
Standing at the crosswalk surrounded by weary eyes I’d never seen before and cell phone chatter that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend, reminded me how big this world is. How big life can be should I choose to explore and adventure my way through endless possibilities.
I embraced feeling small, not in a diminishing framework. But in a freeing one. I realized that no one would ever know who I was and what laughable event had happened to me, 30 second after I passed by them on the sidewalk.
Second, in my mind I had an excuse as to why I was inherently “bad” at everything.
It’s was simple. Beyond basic logic.
I was a tourist.
Took the wrong train? No need to get frustrated. In my discourse with myself I would simply justify this mistake and miss found sense of direction as acceptable because of my unfamiliarity with the area.
Trip while walking? No, I was just caught up admiring the architecture. Markets and malls were no match for me. I wasn’t anxious asking for help because I accepted that if there was a lull or awkward occurrence in conversation, I had the language barrier to blame.
None of the anxiety I feel from the result of my own actions fell on my shoulders. Tourists are supposed to be annoying and perpetually confused. I was just playing my part. And I was dang good at it too.
Basically, I accepted that I had no idea what I was doing. Which isn’t out of the ordinary. That’s what’s been happening for the last 20 years. But normally that makes me feel panicked. I feel left behind. Out of the loop.
But I guess I just started to go with the flow. And realized that people would only know me as the person I presented. They didn’t know me as a bucktooth kid with a bad bob. They didn’t know me as a high school try hard. They had no context of who I was other than the person standing before them.
So if I just acted cool, calm, and collected, that’s exactly who I would be to them.
And sure, I still allowed myself moments to panic.
- When I found out I had COVID and was basically on my own in a foreign country. And then realized I faced the possibility of turning 20 alone in my quarantine bunker.
- When we were almost late to class, on a regular basis.
- When a homeless man heckled and taunted me as I stood frozen in fear and confusion.
- When me and my roommate got food poisoning from PizzaMe. How do you mess up pizza?
It’s impossible to not freakout when your life is like a fever dream sitcom.
However, in an act of self preservation I stepped off the crazy train rather than riding it off the rails.
I realized that if I didn’t care, no one did. I was the only one still replaying the moment in my head. Most people didn’t even notice, and the few who did forgot it all when their cellphone buzzed with a notification seconds later.
So, here’s no not giving your emotions the power to control you. Something’s only embarrassing if you decide that you are embarrassed.
Egészségére (cheers) – the only word I learned in Hungarian.