The birthday present that my dad expected was a new Apple Watch or maybe a Denver Broncos jersey, never would he imagine that his perfect oldest daughter, me, would give him the news of my social anxiety diagnosis the day before I left for a two-week trip in Europe. Surprises are fun, right? Maybe if they’re a surprise puppy or flowers, but a surprise anxiety diagnosis didn’t seem as appealing.
It was scary for everyone. My parents began to worry if I’d be okay or not. The day I left, my mom took me to the store and bought me sour candy, spicy chips, and rocks that always stay cold. All of these were tools that I could use to help myself get in touch with my senses and feel in control as advised by my therapist.
The diagnosis shook me up. I knew the facts, and I knew how nervous I’d get in social situations – it wasn’t okay. Now, it wasn’t me being an anti-social jerk sitting alone in my room; there was a reason I needed to be alone. Having a “condition” made me feel like a mix between a basket case and a special snowflake, but at least now my life made a lot more sense.
Big social activities have never been my thing; social interaction in big groups makes my little introverted self want to curl into a fetal position. I was never a party girl; I mean, why party, when I could cuddle with my dogs and binge, watch “Law & Order: SVU?” If someone would have told me that 10 days after my social anxiety diagnosis I’d be jamming on a charter bus to John Denver in Europe with a bunch of people I’d only known for five days, I’d probably think they were off their rocker. However, to quote Oscar Wilde, “Expect the Unexpected.”
Our last night in Munich included dinner at the famous Hofbrauhaus. Earlier in the day, we had visited a museum and my teacher Miss Berry could tell my mind was somewhere else. After the trip, I had to handle my 16th birthday and then a journalism camp, I guess she could tell I had a lot on my mind but didn’t know how to help me. I walked into the gigantic dining hall and I was feeling better than I had the entire trip. If I was being honest, up until that point, I’d been having a hard time. There were several moments where I wished I could just escape from all of the people.
Surprisingly, my escape from the stressful situation was my new friend Brandon. He was with a group of kids from Ohio that the girls from my school, Natalie, Amelia, Aly and I had gotten close to. Brandon comforted me when things got uneasy, and for some reason, he reminded me of my dad which made me feel much more relaxed.
Dinner was tough though, I got separated from Brandon, the rest of Ohioans and my teacher, Miss Berry, due to lack of space at the table. This was the first time we’d eaten without Berry and our whole group was feeling pretty uncomfortable. So, my girls and I had to sit at the end of the table with some creeps we didn’t know and they kept looking at us strangely. I was glad I had my girls, and it wasn’t like I didn’t want to sit with them, I just felt like a kid who lost their security blanket. In all honesty, things weren’t even that bad, so I don’t know what made me so anxious but things felt wrong and I was not here for it. I couldn’t help count down the minutes until we’d get to go back to the bus.
Finally, it was time! We climbed back on the bus and walked to our seats in the middle of the vehicle. I was finally reunited with Brandon, and we were jamming to Travis Scott and the Beastie Boys on his half-broken but still useable AirPods. Of course, I got the pleasure of using the barely audible right AirPod while Brandon’s jams were simply light background music on what I thought would be just another bus ride to the new hotel that night.
Our tour guide, Heather, got the idea to show us a popular song for German children; she lived in Germany so she knew all about the culture. Like any catchy child anthem, this song had cheesy hand motions. I was pretty annoyed with it at first, as I had barely calmed down from my stressful dinner. When everyone started singing and dancing though, it was really hard to drown it out. I saw other people videoing the fun and I knew I didn’t want to be that one depressed girl in the background. I’d made the decision – it was time to embrace the fun and throw my fears out the window.
We all did the hand motions wrong and didn’t care. Bye, bye fear and judgment. It was a blast. Next, someone brought up John Denver and it just felt right. The bus uproared with requests and soon we were all chanting “Country Roads! Country Roads! Country Roads!” DJ Heather, after what seemed to be hours of consideration, finally played our song. We heard the warm strumming of the guitar and got that feeling inside your heart that makes you feel like home sweet home.
The songs seemed to match the weather, the sun had a warm amber glow that hit our faces to create the perfect golden hour. The sky was blue and clear, almost like my mind. I’m so used to dealing with cloudy thoughts filled with worries and “what if’s”, but at this moment, I felt clear and serene.
Our bus choir serenaded Heather as we sang “ West Virginia, mountain mama take me home.” I’ve never been a big John Denver gal, but that night you would’ve thought I’d been his biggest fan. There was a pulsing sway from side to side coming from the bodies on the bus. We all were in sync with each other.
After our mini-vacation to the country road, everyone started yelling their requests.
“Fergalicious!” Someone said.
“Don’t stop believing!”
Heather cued up our next song and when we all heard the electric guitar and piano come in playing eighth notes we knew that she’d chosen to take us on a journey. We all screamed, “JUST A SMALL TOWN GIRL,” we all sang, “SHE TOOK THE MIDNIGHT TRAIN GOING ANYWHERE.”
After our “journey” karaoke night continued with jams like “Fergalicious” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The whole thing was so organic, no one suggested a karaoke night – it was just how things worked in Lady King Heather’s kingdom.
I knew that I’d remember this night forever when it was done. I have never felt so loved and happy and accepted and safe in my life. My heart was at a calm rate, my mind was as clear as the night sky, I felt warm and fuzzy inside like how you feel when your least favorite teacher tells you they’re proud of you. It felt like the feeling you get when someone compliments you on one of your worst days.
Anxiety has always been terrifying – those are just facts. It’s different to everyone it affects, and for me, it made me feel like every challenge I face is impossible and that I’ll never live up to my expectations. On that bus though, I felt like a champion. I finally felt like I lived up to the anticipation I had at that moment. The entire trip, I’d been preparing for how much it would change my life and how I’d remember it forever. However, things didn’t change in the way I thought prior. I thought I’d cry a lot at the sights, better myself in journalism and meet one of my biggest idols, David Hogg. I don’t think overcoming anxiety is ever going to be possible, but I learned that you have to take care of yourself and part of that is letting people take care of you.
Embracing joy and happiness is a choice every day; sometimes you just have to choose joy and toss your worries out the window.