The only real bummer about frequent world travel is that it can serve as a pretty major anxiety inducer for some – one that’s on par with contracting a rapidly spreading staff infection during a seemingly innocuous post work pedicure, OR dying alone as a spinster – unloved, old and ugly — OR getting an uneven dye job in Miami during an impulsive decision to go blonde (the kind that leaves you with three grey/green stripes on the left side of your head and exactly one a half and a half on the right) OR — well, you know, the traditional repertoire of concerns that fall within all of our zones of terror.
When the prospect of visiting Malaysia initially presents itself to me in the form of a friend’s wedding invitation (with a five day pit-stop in Dubai!), I’m decidedly elated by the idea of exploring somewhere that’s utterly foreign to me; I swoon at the chance to photo document both desert land and plush, lush, unchartered territory, understanding that I’m being spoon fed a once in a lifetime opportunity to share something that’s truly unique with my readership base.
Ideas of resplendent greenery and culture dating back to, like, 500 AD in Kuala Lumpur (my little sister is the Ivy League history major here – NOT ME, although I can tell you exactly how to achieve the perfect J-LO glow upon application of your Edward Bess tinted moisturizer in the morning, ladies) juxtaposed against the modern lines of Dubai immediately come to mind, but they’re accompanied by awful pangs of dread concerning eighteen hour long flights and the debilitating jet lag that I’m certain is an inevitability, a lurking absolute that’s just waiting to take a severe toll on my general well-being and, eventually, to ruin my life altogether.
It would be SO MUCH EASIER if I could tell you that like 82.6 percent of Americans, I, too, have a generalized fear of flying because that would roll of the tongue in one conventional declarative sentence, failing to elicit a sideways stare from virtually anyone. But, in truth, flying itself is perhaps the only thing IN LIFE that doesn’t insight the fear of God in me. All of my concerns about long distance travel – and everything else in existence — are “free-floating anxieties” (shrink term) that are ultimately tantamount to a lack of maintaining complete control. My new psychiatrist matter-of-factly refers to me as a “closeted control freak.”
So, I live in fear of jet lag. I’m terrified of the possibility that it could catalyze a battle with chronic insomnia, which is, of course, something that I won’t be able to micro-manage on my own. Not only will such a diagnosis assuredly derail my ability to live an independent, productive life, but it will also disable me from maintaining any measure of real happiness whatsoever. While everyone else on the planet is fast asleep, I’ll be stewing alone in bed each night, tortured by bouts of debilitating worry. No longer will I be able to maintain a successful career, hold a witty conversation with my loved ones, or even appear to be physically healthy; my chic couture disguise will be forcefully removed, replaced instead with the spotted blue and white polka doted hospital gown that I’ll receive upon mandatory institutionalization.
I’m eight years old and I’m swaddled inside of my pink canopy bed. Everything is fine until I start to think about the history exam that I’ll have to take at the end of the fourth grade, and although it’s nearly two years away, I imagine it as a monster of a thing and break into an aggressively cold sweat while obsessing over the possibility of receiving a failing grade. I sneak on over to the phone in my bedroom and call my Grandmother at midnight. She has a strong sense of empathy, and an eye for detecting my psychosis without blithely letting me know that my thoughts are completely fucking insane.
It’s the beginning of high school, and I have approximately two friends (and by two, I actually mean zero). In an effort to keep me occupied when I’m done with my studies — I’m trying to get into an Ivy League college, although my efforts ultimately prove to be futile — my mother drops me off at the nail salon in the next town over on Sundays. She knows that I have a penchant for manicures and a social life that rivals only that of J.D. Salinger’s, so she indulges my requests to stay engaged in something beyond my mathematics textbook. While cutting my cuticles during this particular Sunday mani, the technician accidentally pushes down on my nail bed a little bit too harshly, and a thin line of blood seeps out of my skin.
“Oops,” she says. “Sow wee. Hehe. I put this on. It make stop,” and she dabs a blue serum directly upon the freshly OPENED WOUND.
For a moment, when she giggles and shrugs it off LIKE IT’S NOTHING (It is, in fact, nothing), I want to reach across the table and choke her. Doesn’t she know what she’s done to me?!
Instantly, I become convinced that I’ve been inadvertently infected with HIV via a bottle of blue nail salon solution. Throughout what is supposed to be a relaxing hand massage, I imagine a life chock full of doctor’s appointments and begin to obsess over the way in which I’ll have to carefully explain to people that I’ve contracted the disease over a Sunday afternoon beauty treatment at Barbie’s Nails in Babylon. After my mother stops indulging my requests for reassurances that I am, in fact, AIDS free, I wander upstairs to the attic of our old house and call the National AIDS Center hotline with the utmost seriousness. I need to get the facts for myself.
In varying degrees, I’ve experienced continued terror at the thought of living with a debilitating sleep disorder despite the fact that I probably qualify as an iron-deficient anemic narcoleptic, scared myself into believing that I’ll eventually be falsely accused of committing a heinous crime and then incarcerated for life, (although, the closest thing to criminal behavior that I’ve ever engaged in involves the consumption of exactly one caramel candy out of a display container at the supermarket at age four upon the behest of my Grandfather), obsessed over the aging process, which I’m convinced will leave me to die haggard and alone, and then determined that there’s a distinct possibility that I have Parkinson’s Disease.
It’s not always easy to live inside of my head, but anxiety comprises only one faction of the experience. And maybe it’s because of Him, or him, or a slightly increased dosage of clonopin, but even that seems to be lessening a little bit every day.
And I’ll tell you this: even in the midst of the worst panic attack known to man, I will never miss a good photo opp, so I boarded that eighteen hour long flight like I was hopping on a bicycle to ride down the street to my local Starbucks for an iced grande coffee.
The only thing I really worried about this time was being without a proper adapter, one that will allow for me to plug in my curling iron and coif my hair to perfection. Most importantly, who wants to be frizzy during global travel?
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: