I traveled to Mexico this past week for the first time. In fact, this trip encompassed many “firsts:” my first time out of the country, my first time going on an extended vacation since my eating disorder treatment, my first time saving up my money for a trip that would be all my own and not a “family vacation.”
While in its original intention the trip was a Christmas present for my boyfriend, it became something more as time crept closer to our departure. The closer the date on the calendar got to July 6th, the more real it became- and into reality came all the fears I’d shoved into the back of my mind to deal with later.
I’ve dealt with anxiety my entire life, and while it’s become fairly well-managed in my day-to-day life, large changes in my routine is a huge agitating force for it. I like to compare it to chronic skin issues: you can get your skin pretty nice and clear when you find the right foods to eat, wash your pillowcases, have access to all your skincare products, and get on a solid sleeping routine. But if all those elements become sporadic and drastically different over a short period of time, chances are you’re going to wake up to a face full of pimples one morning.
It’s like that. Except for instead of something I can cover with concealer, it’s a deep-seated sense of lingering dread and the occasional outburst of panic.
While I employed every anti-anxiety tactic I know in the few days before the trip began (extra yoga, plenty of sleep, walks in nature, time with animals, mediation…the list goes on), the worries still popped into my head periodically like phone notifications that couldn’t be turned off. I’d be going about my day when the alert would flash in my mind: Have you considered the possibility of your flight home being cancelled due to a hurricane?
I’d linger in the anxiety for a moment, shove it back down my throat, and then go about my day again. A few hours later, another alert (I could practically hear the classic iPhone text notification tone playing in my head): What are you going to eat? What is there to eat? What if you’re uncomfortable with the food?
Again, linger, shove back down. It would happen like this, over and over again, addressing every possible concern that could arise. What if we lost our wallets or passports? What if the hotel lost my reservation? What if it was too far away from home and I got homesick? What if I drowned in the ocean? What if I got food poisoning? What if I had a panic attack while we were there?
That’s another thing: when you have anxiety, you literally get anxiety about your anxiety. Sounds fun, right?
But I kept my cool, and when July 6th came, I drove to the airport at 4:00AM, shuffled through security, and made my way onto the plane. I was distracted enough by the logistics of transferring flights and navigating to the hotel that my anxiety stayed shoved down for the majority of the day, until that night when we lay, completely exhausted, on the bed in our hotel room. Finally, I rolled over and said to Ryan, “I’m tired of being scared every day.”
Because that’s what anxiety feels like. It feels like fearing the whole world- the reality, the perception, the inevitable, and the completely unrealistic. It feels like being scared all day long, at least to some degree, about something. And even when you’ve been on a journey with it for years, the fear never completely goes away. You just get better at ignoring it or telling it to shut up.
That first night, Ryan and I decided our mantra would be “fuck fear.”
This mantra is so much more than a flippant way to excuse your emotions. Just by its nature, fear will always be present in some capacity or form. It’s a natural part of a life, a way that our body has tried to keep us alive since the caveman days when we needed help avoiding sabertooth tigers and the like. And in a world like the one we live in today, where we basically tease death for fun with things that are innately dangerous but made safe by our futuristic innovations (things like cramming a ton of humans in a metal tube with wings and shooting it across the sky to get places faster) sometimes we have to tell the fear that bubbles off to fuck right off.
So the mantra stuck. Fuck fear.
The first full day of the trip, I zip lined through a rainforest, repelled down a waterfall, slid down the longest water slide in Mexico, and jumped off a boat fully clothed to swim in a sea of fish. It was liberating. It was exhilarating. It was unlike anything I had ever done before. There is absolutely nothing like shooting through the sky over the tops of the trees of a rainforest calling out, “Fuck fear!”
None of these are very Maris-the-anxiety-ridden-ball-of-stress things to do.
Four years ago, this trip could not have happened: I don’t think I could have even stepped on the plane. There was too much unknown, too much to be conquered. And none of this is even to mention the role an eating disorder plays in travel.
You see, eating disorders can make travel seem impossible. Strange foods. Lack of control. Different agendas. Bathing suits (and lots of pictures in them). Sporadic and different exercise. All of these things made travel seem far too scary and stressful to ever be worth it for so many years. But this trip was a huge “eff you” to my eating disorder.
Everything I feared, whether it be within the confines of my mind or out in nature, was conquerable. It took the initial step of showing up, feeling the fear, and then telling it to eff off, but after that I did it.
That’s where the power lies: not in escaping or eliminating fear, but in feeling it and doing it anyway.
This trip made me want to travel back in time to 14-year-old Maris and say, “It’s possible, that whole healing thing. You’re going to see the world some day, it’s going to become possible.” If you’re in the midst of an eating disorder, know that you can change. Things that seem impossible (things that your DISORDER TELL you are impossible) are within your reach.
It takes time, and patience, and a hell of a lot of work. But it is so worth it.
One of the days of our trip, when we were snorkeling and kayaking around the Marietas Islands, our tour guide kept saying, “Hoy es el día- today is the day,” whenever members of our group expressed nervousness at trying new things.
Throughout the rest of the trip, I kept finding myself coming back to this phrase in my mind, and Ryan and I kept saying it to one another throughout our travels. Hoy es el día. Today is the day. Because why not? Why can’t today be the first day you swim through a school of fish? Why can’t today be the day you face your fear of heights? Why can’t today be the day you say “no” to your doubts, worries, and insecurities? Why can’t today be the day you say YES?
So fuck fear, because hoy es el día: if you allow it to be.