I arrived in Austin and had a panic attack on the street. Alone and hungry, sleep deprived from flying overnight from Portland, I had gone out in search of food because the hostel I was staying at wouldn’t let me check in early. It was hot and my body found it tough to adjust to the temperature difference. When the maps on my phone started malfunctioning, I called Aninda on the brink of tears. It wasn’t the first time. I had a panic attack on my third night in Gangtok and I wasn’t even travelling alone. My aunt and I had spent a beautiful day hiking to Enchey Monastery and gorging on plump chicken momos but later that night, something triggered me. I slept through most of my first day in Bangalore because the anxiety wouldn’t let me embrace the newness.
I tend to panic in unfamiliar situations. Over the years, I have found out that I do not enjoy the first few days in a new place. Far from faces and streets I am accustomed to, far from my established routine, my brain goes into non-compliance mode and instead of savouring the unknown, I stumble into intense longing for familiarity. It’s a strange homesickness but more for an idea of home than for a real, physical home. I attribute my panic attacks to a generalised fear of the unknown. The first few days in a new place are distressing. It is more intense when I am travelling alone. I also suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder which means I have difficulty interacting in a social setting. As a traveller, it is an experience I seek but pushing the limits and striking up conversations with people I do not know can be both debilitating and rewarding.