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Conquering The World: One Panic Attack at a Time

If you know me, you're well aware that anxiety is a constant companion in my life. However, its presence takes on an entirely new level of inner turmoil whenever I embark on a journey or face significant changes. It's as if anxiety decides to unleash its full energy, screaming inside me, transforming each travel experience or period of change into an intense and challenging endeavor.

Curiosity may arise as to why the hell I keep embarking on these solo adventures despite the continuous battle with my anxiety. However, I emphasize the significance of proving to myself and my anxiety that I can conquer it. The initial few days of my travels are a relentless rollercoaster where I struggle to eat, endure bouts of throwing up, and face intense panic attacks. Once beyond this agonizing hurdle, I gradually establish a routine and chip away at the anxious grip that once consumed me.

Let's get into the peculiar, and dare I say, amusing memories my anxiety has bestowed upon me throughout my journey. Despite the challenges, I've discovered that humor becomes a great coping mechanism in the face of anxiety's antics. Join me as we find relief in the absurdity, reminding ourselves that it's okay to laugh amidst the chaos.

For as long as I can remember this pattern has been a part of my life, starting from when I was just a kid. My first trip abroad was with an adventure program to Costa Rica with Travel for Teens. Predictably, nausea, panicked calls to my mother, and pleas for rescue from the depths of the jungle, ensued. The following summer I embarked on my first Moondance trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos, not a familiar face in sight. Those initial days were a struggle of empty stomachs and panic— attempts to make connections with the group who most likely thought I was a freak at first. And what did I decide to do the next summer? Embark on another Moondance adventure, this time to Thailand. Cue the pattern: no food, bouts of nausea, and desperate phone calls to my mother from an airport in South Korea, pleading to abandon the journey and head home immediately. Why did I subject myself to this three summers in a row? I still can't say for certain, but even at a young age my thirst for exploration trumped the challenging internal battles I faced each time.

Let's go into some more recent events that triggered my anxiety. Freshman year move-in day at a smaller out-of-state college was a battle between my soul's desire for new horizons and my anxiety's attempts to hold me back. I found myself throwing up nine times and laying on the bathroom floor—a moment that made me question my decision to transfer immediately. My head was full of thoughts that no one will like me, I will make no friends, I will fail out of school, I am not smart enough to be here, I have made the wrong decision, and this feeling of nausea will never leave me. Little did I know that this unfamiliar place would soon transform into a second home— a place I would find a family within its student body. The next triggering change was my semester abroad in Prague, where, even though I was accompanied by a close friend, my anxiety still reared its head. Initial panic attacks and bouts of nausea fueled self-doubt and negative thoughts. Yet, after the first couple of days, the thrill of exploring a new city and embracing endless possibilities overpowered anxiety's grip, allowing me to thrive in the adventure I once thought I couldn't handle.

Now, I find myself in the midst of a true solo adventure, far removed from my comfort zone and unlike anything I'd typically undertake. This summer, I made a complete turn from my usual aspirations of interning in New York City again, opting instead to volunteer as a social media volunteer for a conservation company on Isabela Island in the Galápagos. With little information about the company, the presence of other volunteers, or the daily tasks and accommodations awaiting me, I proceeded, knowing that this experience would transform me.

The journey proved mentally and physically draining, with moments of panic and vulnerability. Tears streamed down my face as my breath escaped me, and I struggled to find peace amidst the overwhelming feelings of suffocation. Such intense panic attacks can leave you exhausted, feeling as though your body is waging a war against itself. As a sense of claustrophobia enveloped me, my mind mustered its strength to wage an internal battle. Fortunately, my therapist, who has been an unwavering presence for six years in my life, understood the depths of my soul's longing for this experience. With her steadfast guidance (and my stubbornness), I found the strength to confront the challenges that lay ahead and embark on the path my heart so desperately wanted. A heartfelt appreciation goes out to my family, whose unwavering encouragement has been a pillar of strength during my travels. And as I navigate each day, I find happiness in the captivating beauty of this island, forging deep connections with fellow volunteers and immersing myself in the wonders of the local community and spectacular wildlife. My days are now filled with peaceful moments on the beach, crafting social media content, taking long walks, engaging with locals therefore improving my Spanish skills, and exploring the depths of the ocean alongside my newfound sea companions.

Overcoming this powerful anxious feeling can sometimes feel like waiting out a hangover, but there are certainly more effective ways to cope, haha! Personally, I've found that redirecting my energy towards activities that are beneficial for my well-being has made a significant difference. Whether it's going for a walk, engaging in conversations with loved ones, or simply enjoying my favorite show or pursuing a creative endeavor; these distractions have proven to be powerful antidotes. Of course, the approach may vary depending on the intensity of the moment. During those moments when anxiety becomes debilitating and my body feels weak, allowing myself to rest and sleep can be the only recourse. However, during more manageable bouts when anxiety lingers in the back of my mind, I find alternating activities to be more effective in diverting my attention.

I take immense pride in my ability to persist despite the obstacles posed by my anxiety. It is with great determination that I strive to offer transparency and share my experiences with those who may believe they are incapable of overcoming their own challenges. Let me assure you that if I can conquer my greatest roadblock—myself—you too can summon the courage to take that leap of faith and pursue your dreams.

- Lily


Ann Griswold
Ann Griswold

Hey I think you’re awesome


I love how out of a place that felt overwhelming and probably too hard to share, you have grown this wonderful plant of courage and transparency. Can't wait to see the fruit it will bring in helping others do the same!


Just wow…. Lily you are amazing!

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