*This is chapter 2 of the series of posts called “How Africa Changed Me”, a book about my experiences for 2 weeks in South Africa.*
My Chest is on Fire
I’ll try to be less morbid from now on – I’m lying – as the story starts. I had known about the Africa trip for about 7 months before we went. At the time, I was working part time in a store, so I was grateful for the decent amount of time I was given to save up. Making less than £500 a month kind of makes it hard to just buy a ticket to Africa, never mind survive there for 14 days.
During the build up to go, I was given a lot of mixed information:
“It’ll be winter there, but it’ll feel like our summers here in UK.”
“It won’t be that bad.”
“Don’t worry about Shona or religion, you’re overthinking.”
“You’ll like the food.”
“You’ll only need £200.”
Most of these things turned out to be the wrong advice. I guess one of the first lessons I learned in Africa was not to listen to other people when they say “don’t worry”. I’ll worry all I like, sir, because it’s frickin’ warranted.
Anyway, despite the struggles, I managed to buy the £500 ticket, give towards our accommodation, and pack our suitcase. Myself, my boyfriend, his younger sister and his mom were taking the train to London Gatwick airport, while his dad drove down with his friend and our suitcases – because we had 6 of those bad boys, plus hand luggage. I was grateful for this because there was no way my anxiety would have stayed semi-in-check if we had to lug them on two trains and a tube on the way down there.
My mom dropped us at the train station, but perhaps she shouldn’t have. It was so hard to say goodbye. My dad died when I was a kid and my mom has always felt like a best friend. It was only for 2 weeks, I know, but it felt like such a long time to be away from my bestie – and so many miles away, too. And what would happen when the inevitable anxiety attacks came and my mom wasn’t there to help me? It was sweet, though, apparently my mom gave Patrick some tips on how to calm me down. Even when she’s not around, she still protects me.
There’s a picture on my phone that I still stare at sometimes. In it, I’m stood there crying in my mother’s arms at the train station before we left. I look at the picture and I still remember exactly how I felt in that moment. I was terrified. Perfectly petrified. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t think I could handle it. In fact, I knew I couldn’t handle it. You may think it’s dramatic and crazy because it was only two weeks and I was with my boyfriend and I was going travelling like I always wanted…how could that be so terrifying? Well, I can’t explain it. Anxiety or me or what, I don’t know. All I know is that the picture still has the ability to make my chest feel tight and my eyes teary because I feel how that girl felt, and I feel angry that she felt it. That I felt it. Because you’re kind of right – it was an unnecessary fear. A fear that could have, and almost did, prevent me from going. The fear could have taken that chance of an amazing, eye-opening trip away from me.
And it makes me so sad to know that there are so many others like me out there who won’t go on trips because their heads tell them that they can’t do something that they are perfectly capable of doing – and doing well. What a f*cking joke?
We arrived in good time but his dad was running quite late. Hungry and tired already, we felt irritated waiting around because there’s only so many airport selfies a person can take. Finally, his dad came, we checked-in with a girl who barely understood what she was doing, and through security it was. For some probably crazy reason, getting through security at an airport is the least scary, anxiety-inducing part for me – my head works in mysterious ways. Patrick’s sister on the other hand, had some funny security experiences during our travels. At Gatwick, the metal detector went off as she went through and she threw her hands in the air, shouting “I didn’t do anything!” It was frickin’ hilarious and naturally, myself and my boyfriend didn’t let it go all trip.
“Who took the last sweet?”
“Well, we all know Diana didn’t do it!”
This was the last moment that I felt semi-calm. From then on, the fire of anxiety only grew bigger in my chest.
You know how people say all you need to do is take a deep breath and you’ll be fine? Yeah, well, that doesn’t really work. It may calm you for a second, but as soon as you think of the impending doom around the corner, the fire ignites again. Once the loudspeaker announced our flight and said we could begin boarding, I started to shake, I turned pale and I cried. I cried frantically, like a child who had lost her mother – which I suppose wasn’t far from the truth. I texted all my family saying goodbye, unsure of when I’d next speak to them, and stood up. I thought those anxiety drops that I’d taken were supposed to calm me down but pft, that didn’t work – or perhaps they did, because I got on the plane…
Tears streaming down my face, breathing about a trillion times a minute and clutching my boyfriend’s hand so tight that it looked like I’d float off if I didn’t, but I boarded that god damn plane for the 8-hour flight. And I’m fricking proud of myself because it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done. To hear the terrifying, anxious thoughts; to feel the fear suppressing and suffocating you, but to take that step anyway – now that’s a real hero.