I logged onto my instant messenger account, recalling the numerous occasions I’d spoken with my ex-boyfriend when we were together. Our connection vanished, but that afternoon, I wanted to say hello. We never said hello anymore.
When we broke up, a part of my life was deleted, like the words we used to write to each other. His girlfriend didn’t want us to have contact or peace in the wake of our end. I wasn’t attempting to tear apart what they built or embark on a romantic pursuit.
I was merely seeking acknowledgement of existence; that we, as two people, once existed in the same space.
At 2 AM, I woke up in a London hotel room, my body aching from pure exhaustion. It was my first night abroad on a 12 day college trip to three European cities, and while attempting to bury the jetlag, a bout of hypochondria manifested. Slight physiological discomfort caused my imagination to stir, to run away with logical thought. I suppose that when you’re miles upon miles away from home, irrationality may occur.
“There must be something medically wrong”, I thought. My heart pounded, lightheadedness ensued, and a sense of weakness permeated through me. I managed to shake the spell and close my eyes; but come sunrise, I still didn’t feel quite right. I called my mom in New York, and she pegged it as anxiety — I felt better with the label. I tried to accept uncertainty, the unknown, but it didn’t necessarily thwart certain fears from inching their way to the surface.
During the next two days, this anxiety shadowed me behind the Tower of London, inside eloquent museums with jewels and signs of royalty, and at the local pub, where I stared into my drink, trying to obtain a semblance of ease.
His silence cut like a knife. We came into each other’s lives when we needed love the most. His heart was bruised and broken; I had battled a serious medical illness the previous year. I needed to feel deeply; I needed to be pulled into his orbit.
When my hypochondriac tendencies inevitably developed, he was my armor. The love we shared was real and meaningful and earnest, but that relationship was a distraction — an opportunity to run away from my unresolved pain. He was the sweetest dream after a nightmare, but dreams are ephemeral. Fleeting. When I opened my eyes, I no longer had a Band-Aid to cover the wound.
In Paris, I blocked out these unpleasant sensations; after all, it was Paris, and I’m a lover of all things French. I had no choice but to only focus on where I was walking, what I was eating, and what I was seeing.
My stress alleviated as I strolled through quaint, charming streets, ogling gourmet cheese shops, profound history, and eccentric graffiti art. I succumbed to fresh baguettes, Salade Niçoise, crepes oozing with Nutella, and dinners complemented by red wine and 20 something banter. When we toured the Eiffel Tower in the sun, observed the blankets of green nearby, later passing its golden beauty as it shimmered in the dark on a cruise along the Seine, I felt like I belonged in those moments.
Rome was captivating in every way — a serene fragility within a city surrounded by cypress and palm trees — but due to sleepless nights and constant activity, my throat gave way to a cold virus on the last day of the trip. While everyone feasted on heaping bowls of pasta and an assortment of Italian meats and delicacies, I tried to keep anxious thoughts at bay.
On the plane back to Heathrow, nervous energy swirled through my veins; both of my legs began to shake, syncing with the rhythm of light turbulence.
On the flight to New York, I found pertinent distraction in Nicholas Sparks. I watched Dear John on the small screen in front of me and wanted to cry when John and Savannah saw each other after several years of silence, of absence. The music, a beautiful, classical theme, echoed the pivotal moment of reconnection. Despite the backlash that Nicholas Sparks-based films receive, I can’t help but fixate on these kinds of scenes. I always find it interesting when the past resurfaces. How do you deal? How do you move forward? Let’s see if unfinished business can find closure. Or not.
When I arrived in New York, I realized I didn’t leave my anxiety overseas; it came home with me.
In various circumstances, I wholeheartedly got out of my head — I went to friends’ summery parties; I danced to poppy music; I indulged in barbecues; I swam in chlorine and rested in a Jacuzzi, the warm, bubbly water shielding inner tension.
Could everyone tell that underneath it all, my sense of balance was off? I couldn’t either. It wasn’t exactly a facade, but a genuine endeavor to believe that everything, at least right then and there, was okay.
I took long walks in the sweltering July heat. I thought of my ex-boyfriend, who still wasn’t around to talk to anymore. It was official — my safety net vanished; a rug was pulled out from underneath me when he said it was over.
Anxiety can reflect feeling unsafe. As the summer pressed on, it became evident that I did.
Europe was a catalyst that smacked me awake, that encouraged introspection and forced me to confront certain facets of my past that needed to be addressed.
When the past resurfaces, we have to find a way to move forward.
And now, if I do ever find myself in the midst of heightened anxiety, uncomfortable manifestations of stressors, I breathe. I acknowledge that, thankfully, I am healthy. I remind myself that anxiety isn’t always rational — it’s a current of energy coursing through us, it’s a self-imposed state. With that realization, I remain present. I no longer need another body to feel safe. To feel whole.