At the end of August, I took a side trip to Greece between my months in Bulgaria and Serbia. I had made the decision to take this trip back in June when some of my fellow Veritas tramily members booked flight deviations for our transition weekend. Greece had been a country near the top of my list of places that I really wanted to visit, so I figured no time like the present to check that one of the list. August quickly approached and the only logistics I had coordinated was my flight from Sofia to Athens and Athens to Belgrade. With only two weeks left before my departure, I found myself exhausted and regretting my decision to deviate. Stress had pushed me to a point where I just wanted to take the simplest route from one city to the next and not have to stress about booking, planning or luggage. Despite the lack of desire to put any effort into planning, I was also hesitant to jump in on the plans of my friends that were taking the same trip. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tag along with them but I also realized that I didn’t want to keep depending on other people to make all of my plans for me. I also felt that given my current emotional state, I needed some time to reflect and regroup.
With that in mind, I opted to book my own itinerary. I would still be near my friends throughout the trip for the times I was ready to be social but this would give me an opportunity to branch out and do a small amount of travel on my own. Although I have traveled on my own in the past, it almost always was for short portions of the journey where I would meet someone or a group at my planned destination. Doing my own thing in Greece felt like an opportunity to depend on myself for getting from one place to the other, venture out on my own and allow myself a chance to grow comfortable in my own company.
On the day I flew from Athens to Santorini, I debated back and forth on how I wanted to get myself to the airport. Bus, metro, taxi, Uber? I weighed the options as to what was fastest, cheapest and most convenient. In the end I decided to go with the metro. It should have been really simple and it did start that way. Then one sign confused me and instead of asking for help, I took a guess and didn’t pay much attention to what I was doing. For anyone that knows me quite well, this is not like me. I over think everything. I constantly check and recheck everything. I panic over every mistake, misstep or anything that I deem to be less than perfect. And when it comes to travel, I usually opt for something more expensive just for the convenience and ease of the process. I get overly anxious and I often allow extra time to lighten the weight of my nerves. So on this day, when the sign confused me and despite the little voice in the back of my head questioning what I was doing, I got on the wrong train.
I would say that not paying attention is what caused me to make the mistake, however paying attention in my obsessive compulsive kind of way is what made me realize I was wrong in time to figure out how to fix it. I didn’t panic. I refused to allow my emotional state to go there this time. When I started feeling anxious, I reminded myself that I had other options on how to solve the problem. I could get off and get on the train going back the way I came or I could get off and call an Uber. Plus, the fact that I gave myself ample time so I could do some writing at the airport before my flight, left me with plenty of time to correct my missteps.
I quickly figured out what stop I needed to get off at in order to correct my route and transfer to a train that would take me to the airport. I managed to get off at the correct place, but again the signs confused me. Just like before, instead of asking any of the many people around me for help, I got on a train that ended up being the one going in the wrong direction. I had a 50/50 shot and I got it wrong.
With my third attempt of getting to the airport, I wanted to still try my best to get there by train and not resort to a back up plan. I found the one person around and asked if she spoke English. She shook her head no and I started to turn away when I thought to myself, well she still may know the English word for airport. I turned back around and simply asked, “airport?” She pointed to the opposite track from which I had just disembarked. I thanked her and sat down to try one more time. I took the time to read the sign. I looked long enough to see that the digital schedule switched between Greek and English and the Greek word I couldn’t read did indeed translate to airport in English. Google maps matched the arrival time as the sign so I knew that this time, if I was wrong, the signs were wrong too. I got on the train and at last arrived at the airport departure terminal. I made it and despite the misdirection, I still managed to get checked in, through security and have time to do some writing before boarding my flight.
So in the end, I made a mistake. I messed up while traveling. And what happened? I figured it out. I found a way to correct my missteps. What should have been one train turned into three but in the end I still succeeded. All of this made me realize that those obsessive qualities of mine, the anxiety that causes restrictions in my chest, the doubts that make me second guess, double, triple and quadruple check everything, the very ones that people tease me for or I feel self-conscious about, all of them are the exact qualities that not only made me realize my mistake early enough to fix it but they helped me to figure out how to solve the problem.
The point of this story is that on my side trip to Greece, I learned to accept the qualities about myself that drive me insane. I felt what it was like to make a mistake and not get upset about it. I discovered that messing up does not make me a failure. And I realized that the internal anxieties that I’ve hated so much about myself have taught me to pay attention, be resourceful and to problem solve on the fly when things go wrong.
From this experience, I can see ways in which my anxiety isn’t necessarily a negative thing after all. It teaches me to plan ahead, to be diligent and to be aware of my surroundings and situations. It has also taught me to be aware and anticipate problems, think on my feet and logically asses the situations to fix things with not only one solution but with alternatives should the first plan still end in another mistake. It seems like such a little thing but it is what the whole point of this year is all about for me. To grow, to learn and mostly to become more self-accepting. Had I done this trip with the rest of my group, I never would have learned this. Instead I am now seeing positive examples as to how me being the way I am is a good thing and I would likely have yet to understand this if I had not allowed myself to fail.