I am not a great traveler. Although I’m fine once I get to a destination, I am often filled with anxiety several days ahead of time. Menopause has only made it worse. Packing, unpacking, what should I bring? It all contributes to a stew of emotions that keeps me on edge.
I used to travel for business fairly regularly, and even then, traveling was something I dreaded. Of course I’m going to miss the plane unless I get there three days ahead of time.
What if I forget my passport? Did I bring my dental floss?
The snake of lines at the security checkpoint threatens to engulf me as I scramble to hoist my suitcase onto the conveyor belt (who wants to do that?), take off my shoes, and enjoy that mechanical pat down.
It all contributes to a distasteful experience that I have to endure. On top of everything, is that fear of impending doom. Something bad is going to happen, I just know it.
A 15-day river cruise through Europe was on the horizon. I was filled with dread. Even though it was a monumental birthday for me, doom was prominent in my mind.
I managed to survive the crushed coach seats, the poorly circulating air and that thick jet lag. We got into Amsterdam about 12 hours later, thrown into unpredictable weather, with howling winds and rain. Where were the promised temperatures in the low 70s?
I was in a sour mood, but I couldn’t just hole up in the hotel. The trip was expensive. I could either stare out the window and pout, or face the elements. Counting the streaming tears dripping down the window, I put on my down jacket and my friend and I headed for dinner.
A few glasses of wine managed to dilute my lousy mood, and I began to feel hopeful about the cruise. There would be no rocking waves, screaming kids barreling down water slides, or drunken husbands doing karaoke. Perhaps there was hope.
The following day, our river cruise began. We were ushered onto the boat, but the weather was still nasty, hanging around like an angry parent. My buoyancy from the night before had dissipated as I looked at the itinerary, imagining wet excursions on slippery cobblestones.
My pessimistic fears created visions of pneumonia, or being abandoned in some small town in the middle of nowhere. I had already broken my leg in Switzerland years ago, which only exacerbated my fears.
That evening, insomnia was once again my faithful companion. It comes to me almost every night, my moods and fears suspecting the worst. As I wonder “what if,” I ponder all the unlikely things that could happen. Even counting the pretty sheep rarely seems to help.
As I was dozing off, I felt something depress my side of the bed.
My friend Erika was snoring on the other side of the room. It wasn’t her. The boat wasn’t rocking. I wasn’t dreaming. I was fully awake. Someone or something had settled beside me.
Erika has had several paranormal experiences with relatives who have passed. I suspect she is some sort of a conduit between the afterlife and this life. This was the first time it had happened to me.
“Are you awake?“ I asked.
“I am now,” she began sleepily.
“Someone just sat down on the edge of the bed.”
I waited a few moments and Erika didn’t say anything. But I knew that she was no stranger to these types of experiences.
Erika came over and grabbed my hand, as I lay there wide-awake. I wasn’t afraid, just alert. I waited. Were the sheets going to suddenly start creeping down my body? Would the lights begin to flicker on and off? I’d seen too many Stephen King movies to think that this was the extent of my paranormal adventure.
The room got quiet. I felt the depression on the bed again, like someone had sat down to comfort me.
“Do you think it could my mom or my sister?” I asked.
Several relatives including her father, and her brother who died suddenly from a gunshot wound, had visited Erika.
“Could be,” she added, squeezing my hand for reassurance.
I tried to go back to sleep, but I wasn’t having any luck. I turned to Erika.
“I just got a message.”
“She told me that there’s nothing to worry about.”
Erika knows that I’m prone to worrying about a myriad of things that never happen. I could tell she was relieved by the message I received. Half of our travel battles have centered on my paranoia about things that could go wrong.
As I laid there thinking about what had just transpired, everything seemed so clear. There really was nothing to worry about. The moment was all that mattered.
I took a deep breath and rolled on my side. I went back to sleep feeling lighter, renewed and ready to face the following day.
And that was that. It was if the tornado had switched directions, and the weather became forgiving. All of my inner concerns suddenly seemed incidental. I realized that many things that I worry about cannot be addressed until they actually happen; that you really have no control over the future, only your reaction to it.
Over the next 15 days, the weather was still brutal, but I embraced the adventure with renewed bravery. It was pouring. It was cold. The wind was blowing umbrellas inside out, but I bundled up, and faced the elements. I decided not to worry.
Passengers in their 80s and 90s were facing these challenges, some of them in wheelchairs, and many sporting canes. I can do this. And I embraced each wet excursion with confidence that I hadn’t felt in years.
I don’t know who came to sit on the bed, whether one of my relatives, a guardian angel or a spirit guide, but it was a welcomed experience for me.
Now when I feeling anxiety coming on, I just try to remember that there’s nothing to worry about. I just try to stay in the present and address things as they arise. That was the message I received, a balm from the other side.
Mary McGrath is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in a number of publications including:Chicken Soup for the Soul (Jan. 2019), Newsweek, Wall St. Journal, Betterafter50.com, Purpleclover.com, LANG Newspaper Group, and Good Housekeeping, Please find her work at www.marymcgrathphotography.com