I started this blog almost four years ago when I first traveled to Nairobi for six weeks to do research for an internship
Since that trip I have been to Africa one other time (and two solo research related trips to Europe) so I am slowly starting to build up these travel experiences and find familiarity in the unfamiliar.
I am currently sitting at the airport and reading past posts I wrote for Nairobi. The last I went I wrote about how my pre-trip anxiety wasn’t as bad as expected and I even gave tips on why I thought that was. In preparation for this trip I didn’t even know the advice I needed to comfort myself was what I wrote years ago.
In advance of the trip I was getting upset at the confusing fact that I am both someone who chooses to take these adventures (and chose a career track that is conducive to it) and someone who has anxiety before adventures. At first I thought I was a masochist and constantly wanted to test myself. Part of that might be true – adventures are rewarding because you have to overcome something. More importantly I realized that these are two pieces of my personality. I do have the anxious side and while I can do therapy and read self-help books to cope with it that will always be part of me. I also have the adventurous side – the wanderlust side, the one who enjoys defying expectations, and who wants to live a more exciting life. For some people taking a trip to Nairobi would be no big deal and I wonder what that kind of freedom feels like. But this is who I am and it is not use wishing I was someone else. For others taking a trip to Nairobi might be too outside their comfort zone they wouldn’t be at all drawn to the option. I think sometimes I forget that extreme – I might be nervous before an adventure, but I am not so nervous to not go.
I had hoped that with each trip I am building up my repertoire and the leaving will become easier because I have gotten used to it. However this time a pre-trip freak out happened at an inconvenient moment in the J-Crew Factory Store dressing room (where all good breakdowns happen). Because yes in addition to being anxious and adventurous I am also the type of person who buys new clothes before a trip to Africa. I was trying on clothes and joked “what screams, don’t mug or kill me?” Shaun told me it wasn’t funny and I got some stares from the employee in charge of the dressing room. I have found more recently that to cope with my fear I say the thing I am scared of in a joking way, as if to show I am thinking about it nonchalantly when really it is anything but casual. I don’t know where this tool comes from, but I don’t think it helps me and my jokes aren’t funny and only scare my husband. As I was trying on clothes and trying to figure out what to wear I felt overwhelmed and scared. I couldn’t articulate it to Shaun because I think there was a part of me that knew it was irrational. I also decided that since I am making this choice to do this kind of work and go on these trips, I wanted to resist asking Shaun to comfort me. He didn’t make this choice and it would probably be easier on him if I wasn’t leaving. I needed to learn to comfort and soothe myself, but I couldn’t find the comforting side of me in that dressing room.
Since that breakdown I felt much better. That is not to say the leaving got easier, but I realized that I had a lot of fear of being afraid. In my mind I make such a big deal of the leaving and prepare myself for it to be this horrible anxiety-filled process, when it is possible that it doesn’t have to be. Maybe I can just let an emotion be an emotion and tolerate it without reading deeply into it. While the repertoire of past trips I am trying to build didn’t prevent the dressing room incident of 2017 it did later remind me of an amazing track record of past trips despite anxiety. I also have learned that the second I am on my way I am always fine. I find that comforting side of myself and the adventurous spirit kicks in once I am off and running.
I was tempted to end this blog post by saying that maybe I will get better at leaving, but maybe I won’t. I think the real challenge is going to be okay with emotions that happen either way and not being afraid of them. To trust my judgement and to remember that the two sides of me work together to plan smart trips and fun adventures. In the meantime will find adventurer Phoebe and be the most present I can in my current adventure. I am excited to be back and sharing adventures from Nairobi again. I shared some of my happiest memories on this blog and I am so glad I have a record of my first experiences of Nairobi to relive and remember.