Do the symptoms of anxiety often stop you from living a fulfilled and happy life? This was also the case for blogger Charli Moore. Now an intrepid traveler who has spent the last seven years exploring the world, she charts her journey from scared teen to travel queen.
I was 15 when I had my first panic attack.
Sitting in a crowded exam room reading through a mathematics equation I couldn’t quite make sense of, I remember that all of a sudden I became acutely aware of my heart beating. It was beginning to race and I couldn’t work out why.
As I sat there, trying to breathe deeply and quash the lump that was forming in my throat, I began to lose my peripheral vision and my palms became sweaty. I was totally freaking out.
Fast forward two years and these symptoms of anxiety had become a constant feature in my day-to-day life. I struggled to relax in crowded environments, I’d developed a fear of new experiences, and I actively avoided putting myself in a situation where I couldn’t “escape” if my symptoms presented without warning, which they often did.
I wouldn’t travel on trains or planes, and I hated going to the cinema or out to dinner with my friends unless I knew I could drink; I seemed to be better able to cope with anxiety when I’d had a glass of wine. I’d become withdrawn from family life and my parents didn’t know why because I didn’t talk to them. I thought I was alone in felling the way I did, and that everyone would think I was crazy.
That was my reality for almost five years.
Looking back on that period of my life, I wish I had opened up to someone, spoken to a counselor, or even just talked everything through with my parents. Coping with anxiety alone took all of my strength and resolve and left me with little energy for what could have been some amazing years as a young adult. Instead, I retreated into a world of boundaries and declined invitations, convincing myself that I was content to live within the safety of the limiting life I’d created for myself.
Then, at age 23, I boarded a plane bound for Costa Rica.
The story behind what lead me to that moment is pretty long-winded, but the headline theme is love. I fell in love with a boy who wasn’t content to limit his life experience to those you could find in our hometown, so he had planned a round-the-world adventure and invited me to be his travel buddy.
Throughout the planning process my anxiety reared its ugly head at every turn and I almost didn’t find the strength to board the plane. However the thought of letting that guy leave me behind was worse than any sense of self-doubt, and so I started to alter the way I managed my anxiety.
Love was the catalyst that allowed me to change the negative pattern of behavior that was limiting my happiness. Instead of succumbing to the power of my mind and withdrawing from the situation that caused me stress, I stuck it out battling with the voices in my head that were telling me to run and hide.
I downloaded a free self-help app that totally changed the way I viewed my symptoms and began to look at my anxiety as a natural response to stress, viewing the way my body responds as something that I could control. Not as something involuntary that had to define my life.
This led me toward a path that would ultimately allow me to sustain a life whereby new experiences became part of my every day, and something that I actually needed to fuel my recovery.
Sitting here, writing these words, I’ve gained over seven years of world travel under my belt. I’ve trained as a PADI Divemaster in Central America, sailed the waters of the Caribbean, circumnavigated Australia in a campervan, and explored Finish Lapland. Sadly, the wanderlust who kick started my adventure is no longer my travel buddy, but it's thanks to the catalyst for travel that he ignited inside me, I’ve changed my attitude towards managing my mental health.
Although anxiety still plays a part in my life, I’m now in a position where I can manage my symptoms, and overcome the negative effects they have on my state of mind. Instead of retreating from the unknown, I now embrace the chance to see new places and try new things.
Anxiety no longer defines who I am, it simply encourages me to be a stronger, more positive version of myself every single day.
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