If someone had told me that as a severely anxious person with tendencies toward OCD I would travel to England alone, I would have laughed in their face. If they had told me that I would travel to England alone and love it, I would have seriously considered punching them in the face. But that is exactly what happened.
As anyone dealing with anxiety knows, the severe worry, the obsession with routine, and all the body symptoms that go along with panic become a debilitating presence in a sufferer’s life. This debilitation can reach such an extreme level that it seems to control the person’s whole life without any possible relief or respite in sight, where the sufferer desperately longs for contentment, a break from the fear, but never finds it. Consequently, life becomes a stuck cycle of never escaping comfort zones and never pursuing dreams, even heart-wrenchingly intense ones, an extremely accurate description of my life for 23 years. I had desires and goals, may of them, and I think I pushed myself to pursue some of them more than a lot of people with my level of anxiety ever would, but the major ones still felt impossibly out of reach. Then, my senior year of college at UT, I walked into an informational meeting for a study abroad trip geared towards English majors, which I was.
As an English major, I had read many novels set in England, and as a hopeless bibliophile, I had been fascinated with Oxford, with its rich history and awe-inspiring Bodleian Library (consisting of miles and miles of bookstacks). However, I never considered going there because of, well, irrational fear. Fear of a long flight. Fear of being so far from anything comforting. Fear of anything and everything that could go wrong but probably never would. Yet, something made me stay on campus later than usual and go to that meeting. Something made me listen to others experiences. And something made me fill out an application and turn it in as soon as I left the room, well, that might be because there were only 39 spots and priority was given to the first to turn in forms, but still.
However, something also kept me from telling anyone that I was set to spend 6 weeks in Oxford for my last summer session of college. I bottled my excitement up like a packet of Pillsbury biscuits and won’t pop and didn’t even tell my parents. Ok, not entirely the truth. I eventually had to tell my dad in order to receive financial help. But, seeing as how my parents are divorced, the word never got back around to my mom. Now, I have come to understand that I chose not to tell her until the last minute because, until that moment, I still didn’t believe I would be able to handle the trip, and I didn’t want to see confirmation of that or concern on her face. That would make the fear too real.
Yet, I did it. I eventually told everyone, completed all the forms and necessities of traveling to a foreign country, and, on July 3rd 2012, got on a plane in San Antonio. And, yes, things did go wrong. The flight lasted all night, during which time I did not sleep for more that a five minute stretch, therefore, I was incredibly jet lagged, cue heightened levels of anxiety. Also, my bags were put on the wrong flight, and I had to wait hours for them to be brought to me, hours I spent panicking like an insane person regardless of any reassurances that the airline gave me. But, I will also say, I wouldn’t trade that trip for the world. Once a few weeks passed, and I had made friends with some amazing people, I began to experience the comfort and ease that I had always desperately wanted for my life. The weeks became an amazing blur intellectual and cultural enjoyment. Then a weekend came where everyone I was friends with was going to a weekend trip to Wales that had been booked before the trip and of which I had known nothing about.
My first thought went straight back to my typical anxiety mode, panic at the thought of being alone for a weekend in a foreign city where I knew hardly anyone. Of course, these thoughts plagued me for the whole week before they left. But then the actual weekend came, and a slight miracle might have occurred, a moment where the universe tried to reassure me. I was walking along Parks Road, trying to fill my mind with sights and sounds to ignore any budding loneliness, and I eventually made it to Catte Street, the walkway that Parks Road becomes in the center of the city. Up ahead, I saw the tower of St. Mary’s, a tower that rises from the church of the same name that is part of the Oxford college of the same name. The tower was under some construction, but people could still climb to the top through a mixture of scaffolding and tiny stairwells. Some of the other students on the trip had done this trek and expressed that they view of Oxford was the best that they had seen.
I decided to give it a try. Screw it. Who cared if I was alone? So, I went to the line, paid about 5 pounds, and began the climb, first on scaffolding, an experience that slightly ruined the ambiance. Then, I made it to the stairwell. The process of maneuvering up these stairs while others were climbing back down was daunting, and there wasn’t much room on the outside balcony that encircled the tower either, but I made it. My reward came in the form of this spectacular view of All Souls College, the only invitation only, fellows only college in Oxford that is rumored to have the the best wine cellar in England and that visitors are not even allowed to tour.
And this view of Radcliffe Camera, a section of the famous Bodleian Library.
I was mesmerized, in awe, amazing, even though I was being jostled by others to move around the circumference of the ledge. A perfect breeze whipped around the intricate carvings of the tower and lent a refreshing air to the cramped surroundings. All of this began to soothe me. And then, it happened. Wafting along on that breeze, the first strains of Hedwig’s Theme from the Harry Potter movies reached my ears. Now, anyone who knows me knows that Harry Potter is my obsession. Those books saved me as I navigated from childhood to adolescence amid family strife and severe anxiety. Also, Harry Potter was my secret reason for wanted to go to England in the first place, plus many of the scenes of the first movies were filmed in Oxford. Therefore, to my mind, that song was a sign, a sign from the universe saying, “this is exactly where you are supposed to be at this exact moment.” Every worry fell away. In that moment, I felt the contentment that I had longed for since the age of 6, and I experienced it alone, in a foreign control, a small miracle for the life-long anxiety sufferer. Contentment is obtainable, it just might occur in the last place you would ever expect, and you may have to fight your hardest for it and bust out of your comfort zone, but it’s there, waiting.