Friday, 16 October 2015

Travelling = Anxiety

About a year ago I was on the train on the first leg of a trip to a conference. I was so miserable I started writing the following piece.
Interior, night, bedside lights on. Camera starts on large tv screen. Clock on tv says 3.25am. 
TV is showing Chaplin's "The Kid", the scene with Chaplin hugging the kid.  
Camera pulls back and we see it's a well appointed hotel room.  Pans over windows. It's dark outside and through the windows we can see the lights of a big city 
Text appears on screen saying ... "Toronto, September 2004". 
Camera moves round to bed. 
On the bed a 40 year old man is sobbing uncontrollably.
I never finished the piece.

Spoiler alert: the 40 year old man was me. I was thinking about the time 10 years previously I had gone to a conference and found myself not sleeping and at the same time missing my children terribly.

Not long after I started going to conferences as an academic, I started hating flying. Basically because I was scared and thought I was going to die. I usually enjoyed conferences but I hated getting to them.  In 1996 for example I simply decided to go to no conferences because I hated the travelling so much.

About a month after I sat  on the train writing I went off sick from work with anxiety.

It was some months before I travelled again for work. When I did I felt horrible on the first train trip again. And it was only then that it dawned on me:

Travelling = Anxiety

It's true that I used to be scared of flying, every bump and thump on the flight would make me think we were going down, no matter how calm everybody else on the flight was.

But now I look back that wasn't the problem. It was the gnawing stress of the anxiety.

The last few weeks I've been doing quite a lot of travelling. That is, quite a lot by my standards, which is low by the standards of travelling academics.

But it was when I was on my first trip that I suddenly realised the truth.

Travelling = Anxiety

I can worry about anything and everything, and they make me viscerally anxious. I can't explain it.

Like for example, the machine at the train station might not have recognised my credentials correctly and I might not get my ticket I've prepaid for. I've left plenty of time to get the ticket but let's get anxious about this. The worst that can happen is my whole trip is ruined... oh wait ... the worst that can happen is that I buy an extra ticket and sort out the mess later.  Which would be irritating but fine.

I can worry about anything and everything at any time. But on the trip I do, and worse than that, I just feel anxious which is a very draining feeling. I don't need to be worrying about anything.

Travelling = Anxiety


  1. I agree that travelling = anxiety. Actually it was a much-wanted trip (to Venice) that saw me get so extremely anxious and pull out hours before our flight that caused Martin to drag me to the GP to get help. Clearly I had a big problem - by then it was a breakdown - and needed professional help. And pulling out of that trip was the final straw.

    I wonder if your anxiety isn't adequately controlled yet. If you are still getting this bad when travelling perhaps you need more help, maybe a higher dose of SSRI, or more counselling. It's certainly worth talking to your GP about.

    As for me I still have anxiety issues when going to academic conferences. It never goes away, but I try to manage it, or at least keep it bearable, by always knowing each step of the way in advance. Because I have to travel, usually, with a wheelchair, travelling for conferences becomes quite a logistical challenge, and very prone to problems. Including my coming trip to Paris next year. But I've planned in advance how I will get from airport to hotel (not the normal way), and have picked a hotel with all the facilities I need to try to reduce my freaking out. Fingers crossed it works!

    As for train tickets and machines, I have a train trip to Oxford and back in December. I would have worried too much about getting the prebought tickets out of the machines, so had them posted to me by Trainline. Or you can collect your tickets from the machine ahead of time. Better than leaving it to the end and worrying.

    The alternative is to avoid travelling unless you have to. Or don't travel at all. But I prefer to be able to get to places. Each new trip that works is another positive result in my kitty. But I still have to plan like nobody's business.

    Good luck!

  2. I can wholeheartedly agree with this post. My depression makes me think the worst in every situation and the anxiety that this causes, especially with travelling, can be numbing!


Comment policy:
We reserve the right to edit all comments. In particular, we will not tolerate phobic content (race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, mental health status, etc.) nor personal attacks or threats toward another commenter, significantly off-topic, or is an obvious trolling attempt.