I was so sick, I've been thinking about cancelling our trip to Cuba, for which we're supposed to depart in less than a week. I tell you this not to win sympathy but to lead into the real issue: anxiety. People who have been reading me for a long time might remember that years ago I suffered debilitating panic and anxiety, which was mostly triggered by both acute and chronic gastrointestinal illness. To cope, I restricted my life to work and home. Even travelling out of town by car was too much for me to handle. I was terrified of getting sick to my stomach away from home.
Over the last few years, I thought I was pretty much past all that. I travelled to South Africa and mostly managed my fear of flying. I did have times when my stomach felt grumbly but I never let it panic me because I had years of it feeling grumbly from time to time without catastrophic consequences (i.e. vomiting).
But now my confidence is shaken. The only times I've felt slightly grumbly in the last few weeks have both led to nasty illness. The first time wasn't so bad because it'd been about four years since the last time I threw up, so I figured I had at least another year. I figured my dues were paid. But to get sick again in two weeks makes me think my system is weakened or fundamentally broken. Granted, I've been sicker (with an episode that was probably the real root of my panic), but what if I get sick again when I'm in Cuba? What if I'm gribbed by that intense abdominal pain when I'm on a plane or a bus? What if I have to vomit in a Cuban toilet? (I suspect the street would be more sanitary.) How will my system react to Cuba food?
I'm torn. On the one hand, if I'm constantly scared that every rumble or twinge means I'm about to be felled by illness, there's no way I'll enjoy Cuba the way I want to or make the images I want to. I know myself well enough to recognize that I could end up too scared to go to Havana and spend all our time on a sheltered resort. I'd feel very disappointed to come home without going to Havana, since that's really why we want to go to Cuba.
On the other hand, maybe this represents a great opportunity to really face my fears. Maybe it's easy to live without anxiety when you mostly feel ok, but quite another to keep exploring when you feel crappy.
Years and years ago, I fancied myself an intrepid world traveller who just hadn't had the chance to actually travel. After a year or two of not travelling, I realized that that's just not who I am. I like having a home and playing it safe, and that's ok. The last few months I've been looking at amazing photos from all corners of the world, thinking I want to do that, I want to make images like that. I've been imagining myself at a street photography workshop in Istanbul or portraiture workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maybe I was that intrepid world traveller after all and it had just taken me a while to discover it. I wouldn't want to be away from Swee'pea a lot and I wouldn't want to make him tag along everywhere, but maybe a couple trips a year would be nice.
Now, though, I'm back to the homebody. I guess I'll wait and see how I feel in a few days. We'll probably go. I'm guessing fear isn't covered by the trip insurance I bought anyways.
(And deep in the back of my mind is this article about judging the World Press Photo Awards.
"Flicking through the 81,000 images originally submitted a sense of deja vu is inevitable. Again and again similar images are repeated, with only the actors and settings changing. Grieving mothers, charred human remains, sun sets, women giving birth, children playing with toy guns, cock fights, bull fights, Havana street scenes, reflections in puddles, reflections in windows, football posts in unlikely locations, swaddled babies, portraits taken through mosquito nets, needles in junkies’ arms, derelict toilets, Palestinian boys throwing stones, contorted Chinese gymnasts, Karl Lagerfeld, models preparing for fashion shows backstage, painted faces, bodies covered in mud, monks smoking cigarettes, pigeons silhouetted against the sky, Indian Sardus, children leaping into rivers, pigs being slaughtered."
See that? Havana street scenes are already a cliché, and here I am dying to get in on the clichéd action. It's only a little niggle really, because by the end of the article, the winners are all of clichéd subject matter. But still...)
I think some of my readers have travelled quite a bit. So I ask you, how do you handle the risk/fear of illness when travelling?