Blogging friends, I told you the funny stories last time, but here’s where I confess that the past three weeks have also seen me having to confront a lot of limitations. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been able to do the difficult things in life – show me a tough intellectual challenge, and I’m your woman – but I struggle to accomplish the easy things. So, to take an example of that, I find it very difficult to travel. I’ve mentioned here before that I suffer from claustrophobia, and never more so than in a moving vehicle of any kind. On the whole, cars are better than planes or buses or, god forbid, coaches. I’d rather never get on a ferry again, if I have that option, but trains are okay so long as the journey is brief. Before we went on holiday, it had been quite a while since I’d undertaken a lengthy car journey, so long in fact, that I had quite forgotten how the claustrophobia felt. Having removed so many stresses from my life, and having reaccustomed myself to a life that doesn’t include daily challenges to my anxiety levels, I was taken wholly by surprise by the old, old feelings of panic and horror that started to creep over me as we undertook the first leg of our journey. We did three hours in the car, not particularly long, but my goodness, was I thankful to break the journey in Bath and have a day to recover. But getting back in the car for the next stretch down to Cornwall was tougher than I imagined. One’s lizard brain takes over, and the purely instinctual animal side was wailing ‘Get back in the tin crate again! Oh but I can’t!’.
Well, of course, I did. That’s the problem with journeys. You can stop, but you’ve got to get going again. So off we went, while I focused on my breathing and put both feet on the floor and my hands on my knees and concentrated on those mindless extremities, and generally did all I could to find a place of meditative calm. We made relatively good time for the majority of the journey, but you can’t travel in the UK without hitting road problems – our roads are just too congested and in need of repair – but I fear them most of all. About two in the afternoon we hit a trail of crawling vehicles and inched our way forwards with no obvious sign of greater flow in the traffic up ahead. I always follow the map and, having kicked myself for failing to direct us off onto smaller roads at a previous junction, noted a thin white line of track that bypassed what I assumed was the problem – the road narrowing from a dual to a single carriageway quite three miles up ahead. My husband and son were ready to go off-roading, and so we turned off onto what was really a goat superhighway on the side of Bodmin Moor, which, running at a higher gradient than the road we’d left behind, allowed us to watch the poor folk stuck in the jam as we whizzed by them. Well, we weren’t exactly whizzing over the cattle grids, but it felt marvelously spacious for a moment there. We rejoined the road as a single carriageway where the traffic was flowing, even if slowly, and cheered at the best short cut we’d ever made. We entered dual carriageway again, calculated we’d reach our destination in half an hour, rounded the corner and…. stopped. Oh yes, we hit yet another wall of traffic and this one was completely stationary. People eventually turned their engines off and, despite the rain that was now falling, got out of their cars. You might say to me, why not get out myself and ease the claustrophobia? Alas, in my book we were still trapped. As trapped as tin cans on a production line. After about forty minutes, we began to crawl. We crawled for another fifteen minutes or so, eventually passing the wreck of a burnt out vehicle on the side of the road, and after that we were moving normally again. I hadn’t lost it, hadn’t got out of the car and knelt on the tarmac and cried for deliverance, because a) I would hate to embarrass my menfolk and b) it wouldn’t have done any good. There was absolutely nothing I could do until the traffic began moving again. You see? That’s what I mean by trapped.
Well, it took me a couple of days of holiday to get over the after effects of the journey. I seem to effortlessly convert extreme stress into physical symptoms. And much as it was lovely to spend time with my boys, and the place was cute, it did rain an awful lot and I began to be homesick. I turn out, oddly enough, to be more deeply attached to places than to people. I’m a hopeless homebody. And I suppose deep down, I was trying not to think (and therefore endlessly thinking) about that return journey. My husband is very kind to me, and was happy to arrange it however I saw fit. So we decided to travel at the quietest times we could imagine – Friday evening and early Saturday morning, breaking our journey again at a travel lodge this time.
My apprehension levels were through the roof before I even got in the car. I was giving myself constant pep talks, trying to reassure myself we’d be fine traveling at that time of the day, and that I would be able to contain my anxiety. Well, in actual fact I didn’t do too bad. As the hours passed, and we made good time, and the roads were indeed clear and fast moving, I kept up my meditation practice and got as good a hold on my fears as I could. Darkness fell, but I knew that we were only twenty minutes or so from our stop for the night. At around a quarter past ten we arrived at the travel lodge and I was cautiously congratulating myself for having made it this far. Only do you think the travel gods were going to let me off the hook like that? Oh no. We went to book in only to find that a mistake had been made, and we did indeed have a room registered at the lodge – only in two day’s time. And of course that night they were fully booked.
Well, what were we to do? The reservation clerk my husband was talking to was trying to persuade us to stay in a different travel lodge about 25 miles south of Reading, but I felt if I was going to have to get back in that car, I wanted at least to be heading in the right direction. The obvious thing to do was to keep going and to finish driving home that night. We had a good two hours’ or so of journey ahead of us, and my husband insisted that he was fine to drive it, and my son was stoically good-natured, and I completely agreed it was the right thing to do. But as we made our sorry procession back through the car park, my heart was hammering in my chest and I started to shake from head to toe. I have a deal with the chronic fatigue that if I can be peaceful from about nine in the evening and in bed from about 10.30, it leaves me alone. Well, that one was broken. But worse was the deal with my anxiety about car travel. Something felt utterly betrayed inside me that I hadn’t kept to the plan and was clearly about to let me know it. I arranged to swap places with my son on the grounds I could sleep in the back of the car, and I did indeed pretend to sleep. The boys had enough on their plates getting us home without having to worry about me and, well, I just didn’t want to let on how awful I felt because there was once again absolutely nothing that anyone could do. So I kept quiet in the back of the car, and how I got through that journey (that included a nightmarish trip around a heavily roadworked M25) without throwing up or having a full-blown panic attack, I really don’t know. But the time passed, and the car ate up the miles and eventually we reached home. On the following day I felt like a butterfly must feel as it breaks out of its chrysalis – my body was rigid with the tension I’d been carrying since we left home ten days previously. And then the day after that I fell ill with a terrible headache and dizziness and nausea that I thought was part bug, but part also the long period of tension and strain I’d just been through. The worst thing about it was that I couldn’t read because my head hurt so – can you imagine! It’s enough to make me want to become a recluse and to say, that’s it. No more traveling for me, not ever.
Except of course there’s my husband and son to consider, and nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. Still, I plan on as quiet a few weeks now as I can manage, because my anxiety is rather like the Kraken, in that it slumbers but never seems to die. Having awoken it, it troubles me at the moment over every little thing. But if I stay peaceful and empty and quiet enough, it may be lulled into a false sense of security and encouraged to nap once again. I find it all so frustrating, because there’s a world of people out there who seem to travel all the time and barely notice it, who enjoy visiting lovely parts of the world and who even find it restful and relaxing to do so. It’s difficult to feel so limited, so eccentric and strange. But I cling to my fallback position, which is that I’ll go anywhere in my head, and my imagination has no boundaries. At least there, I have no sense of constraint.