I’d like to say that I am sorry for that terrible pun in the title, but… I’m just not 🤷♀️. So, the best thing about secretly keeping up your blog even though you haven’t written anything in two years is when you have one of those experiences that you just cannot wait to get write about, you have a place to do it. So in other words….I’m baaaaack! Again. At least for now. I miss writing and I miss having a creative outlet, so what that means is YOU are now invited back inside my weird little mind. I know, I know, don’t everyone get too excited. My main impetus for blogging right now is to discuss my AWESOME and amazing trip to Italia! But this is not just a humblebrag, “look at allllll my vacation pics”, post (although you can do that over on my IG @dammitsuzanne – be sure to check it out, and give us a follow while you are at it!), it’s more of a post about my first true trip abroad and out of my comfort zone, and what it taught me about myself.
Most of you know that this was partially a work trip, and I am forever grateful for the experience I had with the faculty and students I was with whilst traveling about in the most amazingly beautiful country, but other than to say I had an amazing time with an amazing group of students that I won’t soon forget, what I want to focus on in this post is the ALONE TIME I spent for a few days in Cinque Terre. Alone time. SHUDDER. To some of you this short phrase probably sounds like a dream come true. You think, “if I just had some alone time, I could get X, Y, and Z done”, but instead you have work, and side gigs, and kids, and a spouse, and all these other things that prevent you from really having that pure unadulterated time to yourself. And I know that you are all grateful for those distractions, but I also have enough friends who if given the chance for 4 days alone in a country where they don’t speak the language would sign up yesterday. BUT, alone time for me is sort of terrifying. I always think it’s what I want until I get it, and then my little mind starts whirring and instead of thinking about how relaxed I am, I’m replaying a conversation I had with a friend I fell out of touch with 14 years ago and wondering why she didn’t invite me to her wedding. I think the word on the tip of all our tongues is “ANXIETY.” I have the type of anxiety that likes to wake me up in the middle of the night to worry about retirement and global warming. I have the type of anxiety that when I hear “nothing is impossible” I think about zombies coming through my window. My anxiety is the type that if someone says “we need to talk” I think they are firing/breaking up with/planning on murdering me (but giving me a heads up). Or my favorite, my constant worry about slipping in the shower and dying alone in my apartment and then my cats eat my face off and I have to have a closed-casket funeral, which would mean that at the service no one could gaze adoringly at my face before breaking into sobs and screaming “WHY GOD, WHY?” with their fists in the air. It’s often not rational, and it even more often borders on ludicrous, but my mind is all about it. Look, I even included a cute lil’ info-graphic for you.My anxiety is the BEST of the BEST. It got tops marks in anxiety school, like a little worry laden, hand-wringing Hermione Granger. I mean I have anxiety about writing a blog post about anxiety, tbh. The bottom line is, when given 4 days to myself with nothing but my THOUGHTS, shit got kind of real.
I am also an extrovert (ENFP, FTW) so I really need to be around people, but like, also alone, but like, you know alone around people, so solo trips can be kind of a challenge for ENFPers, especially in a country where you don’t speak the local language so you can’t just run around the corner to a local bar and make a friend. A friend on Facebook posted this article about the ENFP personality the other day and it pretty much hits the nail on the head. The ENFP personality (if you buy into Myers Briggs/Jungian Theory of Psychological Types) is kind of the hot mess of the personality types – in a good way. Like your hot mess friend, Charlene, although maybe with better intentions. (But YES to videos of baby goats, amiright?? Also, that little girl is basically my child if I were to ever have one.) The ENFP always has about a thousand things going on inside their head and we just want to talk to you about all of them all at once. Until we are bored with those things and then we want to move on and talk about 500 other things. And we can go from being perfectly content recharging on our own to being unbearably lonely in about 30 seconds. So I was really excited about this little solo excursion until about 5 minutes after I got to my first hotel.
Let’s start from the beginning. Cinque Terre is about 4 train rides away from where I was originally staying in Arezzo. After extensive research and freaking out and booking 6 different hotels online (decisions, UGH!) I decided to stay the first two nights in Vernazza, and the second two in Monterosso. I took the train first to Florence and spent about 3 hours walking around, then took 3 more trains to Vernazza to check in to my hotel. I am not a travel blogger but if you ever want to know where I stayed and ate and what I did in detail, let me know and I will happily set up a slide show at my house and go into excruciating detail about it. The advice I will give now is that if you are a solo traveler, it’s best to make a reservation in person for the first dinner seating at some of the more popular restaurants. Because the villages have become pretty touristy, a lot of the restaurants seemed to view seating only one person as a waste of a table. And it was hard to explain in my broken Italian that I would probably eat and drink enough for two people. I was already starting to get a little lonely and homesick for the face-eaters, so the next morning I knew I needed to keep myself busy. I got up and grabbed a croissant and espresso and decided to go for a hike from Vernazza to Corniglia and back. I thought because I had been working out and walking all over Italy that I was ready for this hike. I. WAS. NOT. It was hard, and beautiful and humbling. My legs and lungs were on fire for a good part of 6 hours. But I met a lot of really nice and interesting people along the way, including a few who asked me if I was going to be okay in what I think may have been German. I arrived back to my hotel exhausted but invigorated and decided to go for a dip in the Ligurian sea off a hidden rock beach close to my hotel. Again, I thought I was a pretty good swimmer. I. AM. NOT. But when I got into the water, I realized pretty quickly I was out of my depth (HA), so I didn’t swim out too far from the rocky beach. Regardless, by the time I tried to swim to shore, the tide was coming in and I was getting slammed around pretty good. I saw a woman cautiously watching me from the beach, but I waved her off with a little, “I got this don’t worry” wave and then I finally pulled myself out of the water. I stood up, proud that I did it, and that’s when I looked down and realized that my swimsuit had come down, and I had popped out a boob. I covered up and said “mi dispiace” as loud as I could to all the onlookers, but since it’s Italy, everyone kind of looked at me like, “meh.” Only now that I look back on that moment, I realize it was a bit of an insult.The next day I took the train to Monterroso to stay at this little refurbished bed and breakfast tucked way up in the hills. This was going to be “The Time That I Reconnected to Myself Like All Those Wellness Blogs Say To Do.” I checked in, grabbed my book, found a lawn-chair looking out into the woods, and promptly had a minor panic attack. It was only noon. I was suddenly so lonely and homesick and had no idea what I was going to do with myself until I met back up with my group in Rome a few days later. If you have ever dealt with anxiety, you know the symptoms – restlessness, tightness in your chess, an uptick in your heart rate, the impending feeling of doom, etc. I can describe it best as feeling like you are a can of soda pop that’s been shaken up, and someone is about to crack it open, but if you crack it open the world ends. It’s a real gas, let me tell you.
Fortunately, after dealing with anxiety for many years I am well versed in self-care and knowing the things I need to do in order to get out of my head and back on track, like exercising, eating a good meal, and reaching out to loved ones, but I have to admit that despite being surround by the most beautiful scenery I’d ever encountered, there was one day I kind of just wanted to hide in bed. I guess my point in saying this is that anxiety can hit you no matter who/where you are and at the most unreasonable times, even when you should be happy and relaxed. And maybe sometimes it even hits you harder because you SHOULD be happy and relaxed, and then your mind is all “UGH just be happy and relaxed already!!!”
It was still too early in the day to
call text home, so I chucked the book, and made plans for another hike . This time I took the train to Riomaggiore and hiked to Manarola. Again, the fresh air, endorphins, and shocking realization that my heart may give out at any minute were enough to ground me. I came home that afternoon, took a hot shower and made plans for the rest of my evening. I decided that while in Italy I was not going to take any cabs or shuttles unless I absolutely had too, so I walked all the way down to the “New Town” in Monterosso for dinner. By the time I got there, I looked like a hot sweaty mess so much so that another couple sent me over a glass of their sparkling water. It may have been the same German couple who were concerned about me on the hike, but I couldn’t tell for the sweat in my eyes. Post dinner I walked home, and then had a rousing conversation about gun control with some Australians that were staying at my B&B (because of course I did) and went to bed, feeling stronger and more emotionally connected to myself than I had in weeks. The rest of the trip sailed by with more of the same, hiking, eating and talking to Australians – seriously there were tons there, and then I left Cinque Terre and headed back to Rome to meet up again with my group, excited to see them, but also thankful for the time I spent alone, even though it was scary and a little lonely.
I like to very importantly note that this is a pretty minor interaction with anxiety – and I have worked HARD in my life to get to the point where I can handle little panic attacks in this way. This is by no means a complete description of anxiety, nor should it be taken as a prescription for what will help YOU with anxiety. This was just an experience I had that I felt like sharing because people are so afraid to talk about anxiety and depression and mental illness and I just think it should be talked about, even in my silly blog. Because it can happen to anyone at any time in any location, even off the coast of Italy. Also, I don’t mention medication here because I could write another ENTIRE blog post about that and this one is already too long, but let me just say, one day you will have to pry the Prozac out of my cold, dead hands. And if you ever WANT to talk to me about this stuff, I am all ears. I think mental health is no different from physical health and it should be treated with the same importance. Okay, okay, off my soapbox. #mentalhealthisphysicalhealth and #physicalhealthismentalhealth.
Moral of the story – Italy is amazing, anxiety is real, and I’M BACK PEOPLE!!!by