Sometimes, I am able to do semi-solo travel when I’m with Tim for his work trips. But often, due to my GAD and C-PTSD, it is very limited. In places like Edinburgh, a small big city, I am very comfortable. But when it comes to traveling alone in a new large city, I like to feel it out with Tim, my emotional support husband, first. So we did just that on Sunday when we arrived in Milan for the week. We are staying at the airport Sheraton (thanks work!) so it’s very easy to get to the train station as it’s literally connected to the hotel. I was excited about this prospect and as we headed out to the city I felt completely at ease. “I’ve got this!” I kept saying to myself.
But an hour later, as we arrived in Milan Centrale, I felt the nag of self doubt begin. As I stepped off the train into a massive bustling train station as large as Kings Cross and even more confusing. The metro in Milan only has three lines, but finding it was difficult. It involved several escalators and then going outside and then back inside. As we wandered looking for the elusive metro, I became increasingly unnerved by the commotion and my lack of knowledge about where I was. We finally arrived in the Duomo center but instead of feeling more at ease in a tourist part (my usual go to), it made me want to hide. Bustling with Italians and tourists alike, the Duomo piazza was preparing for Milan Fashion Week (I assume) and a large stage was constructed in the center of the plaza. I watched as fashionable women strolled effortlessly through the streets. Heads high, not seeming to sweat a drop from anxiety or perspiration in the Italian summer heat, I longed to be like them. Instead, sweat dripped down my back as I fought the desire to disappear.
With anxiety rising by the minute, we paused on a quiet corner to look for a nice restaurant to eat dinner. In Italy, 1830 is REALLY early for dinner, but we found a nice restaurant (founded in 1939!) that was open and ready to serve us. The quiet restaurant, with it’s wonderful staff, was exactly what I needed. After some wine, gnocchi and spaghetti carbonara, we were ready to brave the streets of Milan again and this time I felt much more comfortable.
Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the fact that less people were out as the evening waned, but I felt much more at ease when we emerged from dinner. Tim found us a train station that was a bit of a walk, but much less crowded and confusing than centrale. It was also a shorter ride to the hotel, so it was a win-win situation for me. And as we strolled through the evening light on the fairly quiet streets of Milan, I almost felt at ease.
It’s been two days now, and I don’t feel comfortable enough to go into the city alone yet. I know I have to on Thursday when Tim works at the consulate and I need to meet him there after work, but until then, I am trying to be okay with my limitations. I’m working on me and my anxiety. Every trip is an experiment as to what keeps an attack at bay and what makes for an enjoyable trip. I learn more every time I head to a new location and I’m grateful for that.
My fellow anxious travelers, don’t let your anxiety hinder you from traveling and exploring, but don’t let trips cause you attacks either. I’m working to find that balance, and I hope you can too.