On the morning of my bus ride to Pai I woke up very anxious. The ride from Chiang Mai consists of 762 curves and I had heard that many people get sick, both because of the curves and the fast driving of the minibus drivers. Now, being sick is not something that worries me, but getting sick in front of other people was a terrifying and humiliating thought.
An unfortunate part of my anxiety is that it often mimics what I'm afraid of, so, naturally, I spent the morning feeling queasy. My nerves motivated me to be well prepared, though. The night before I purchased motion sickness meds, which I made sure to take half an hour before I left. I woke up nice and early so I could eat a good breakfast as I decided to skip lunch and bring a plastic bag, you know, just in case. I also chugged a bunch of water in the morning, as I anticipated rationing my water intake in the hours before my departure in order to avoid another deep fear: having to pee mid-ride.
I was told to arrive 30 minutes early, so naturally I was 50 minutes early. Anxiously I sat and read, which meant I read the same paragraph over and over. I waited until the last minute and went to the bathroom one last time and finally felt ready. The minibus showed up and I thanked my lucky stars there was a seat left next to a window.
As we started out I immediately felt nauseous, which I knew was nerves because the roads were still straight. The first part of the journey stayed straight like that and, oddly enough, that was the hardest part for me. I continued my inner struggle as I tried to figure out if I was actually sick or not and obsessing over where I should look. Maybe I should look out the front window and stare straight ahead, or maybe it's better if I look out the side window and keep finding a focus point, or it might help if I stare at something in the bus... nope that feels weird. I definitely shouldn't read. Don't look at your phone, don't look at your phone, don't do it! After about 45 minutes, I put in my earbuds and began to calm down (and decided that I almost certainly probably wasn't sick, I thought).
Then we began to get into the curvy hills. Up until this point our driver was going pretty fast and the curves didn't seem to slow him down much. Surprisingly, I got very giddy and thought, "weeeeee." Anytime he began to slow down, I thought, "faster, faster." Instantly all my fears of getting sick were replaced by peer joy. Every curve was a welcomed challenge as I braced myself to stay in my seat. It was exhilarating! I spent the next 3 hours blasting music, hanging on, and hoping the ride would never end.
The whole experience had me thinking about this constant duality that I experience: I'm one part anxious wreck and one part adventurous daredevil. Unfortunately, my anxious side seems to over shadow my badassery, at least in terms of how I see myself. I find myself admiring adventurous people and longing to be them, forgetting that I already am one. So, when adventure and excitement melts away my anxiety I feel surprised. I tend to beat myself up a lot for feeling anxious all the time and resent how difficult it can make life at times. Which got me thinking about my inner dialog knowing that it could use some improvement.
I think anxiety makes it extra challenging to feel secure. Anxiety, in general, is over analyzing, worrying, and nitpicking things that probably are mundane to someone else. Lots of times what we worry about is ourselves and how we're perceived, so it's hard to have a positive self-image. Anxiety makes you critical to a fault and I think it makes it hard to see yourself clearly.
So, when I was talking to people about this trip and people would call me brave, it was easy for me to laugh that off. Brave, HA! I was scared shitless. But on the bus, as I gleefully took each curve, I began to see the truth in that. It'd be easy for me to just talk about the fun ride, but it wouldn't acknowledge what it took me to get there. And, to be honest, what I went through that morning is a common process for me, even with a night out in Marquette and, frankly, even just to get out of bed some days. I have to constantly override my anxiety and force myself to do things, even things I enjoy. Realizing this, I've decided to give myself more credit. Instead of being hard on myself for the number of anxious thoughts that I have, I should celebrate my willingness and ability to recognize and accept my fears without letting them deter me.
I said it before and I'll say it again, those who struggle with anxiety are warriors quietly fighting a daily battle just to live. We shouldn't be ashamed of our struggles, but we should wear them like a badge of honor and celebrate our victories.
I should also note that the day after this bus ride, I took a motor bike into those very same hills on the very same curves and had the time of my life. I probably scared the locals as I was singing 'Take Me Home Country Roads' by John Denver (felt appropriate) at the top of my lungs. Sometimes it takes celebrating small victories to give me the confidence to do something truly daring. After a life changing few days in Pai, I'm heading back to Chiang Mai and am so excited for the bus ride! Lots of love! And to my anxious brothers and sisters, hang on tight and celebrate how amazing you are!