What if, for once, you didn’t let the fear stop you?
My mother used to tell me, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” However, usually, she was referring to me going in for a job interview at Target or hanging out with a boy.
I don’t think she ever would have predicted just how much weight that sentence would hold in my life.
I have lived my life with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and have spent countless moments panicking over the smallest things. My mother was constantly reassuring me and reminding me that nothing bad would happen.
As I got older, I discovered a passion for travel and adventure. I found thrill in jumping off cliffs in Hawaii or hiking eight miles to a lake in the middle of the Washington mountains.
I craved adventure and adrenaline constantly. For some reason, I never felt much fear when it came to things like that.
Talking to a teacher to get help on homework: absolutely terrified and shaking. Standing under a 97-foot waterfall in Oregon with pressure strong enough to pull me under the current: Completely content.
Of course, I’m not stupid. I think through my actions and evaluate the safety of a situation before doing anything. I am probably one of the most conscientious travelers my age.
Yet, as long as the situation is relatively safe, I hear the words “do it anyways” run through my mind. I do not let the fear overcome me and I live with no regrets.
So, when I couldn’t get this agonizing weight off my chest for the entire week, I wasn’t quite sure why. My two month long backpacking excursion across Europe was creeping up quickly, but I was more prepared than I ever knew possible. I had done all my research and evaluated the safety of all my situations.
When I woke up this morning feeling like I couldn’t breathe, I knew the familiar feeling of panic and anxiety.
With tears in my eyes and the nausea growing stronger, I packed my bags with the last remaining items and crawled into the car with my father and one-hundred-pound Great Pyrenees. Even the nudges from the wet nose in the backseat couldn’t ease the panic. I was utterly terrified.
This was a moment that would mark a massive change in my life. This was the moment I would look back on someday and know that everything began there.
Back in February, one of my friends moved away from home to be a forestry firefighter. He never once showed any amount of fear when he left. He just seemed to know that it was what he needed to do.
I looked down at my phone through blurry tears and sent him a text.
“Were you scared? Like, when you left, were you terrified?”
Even though it was seven in the morning, I got an immediate text back.
“Eh. Definitely not terrified,” he said.
A few seconds passed when I felt another buzz.
“Just kept moving forward,” the text read.
He was right. That was my only option. What was I supposed to do? Panic and cancel hundreds of dollars' worth of hostels, train rides, and flights? No.
The words: “DO IT ANYWAYS” flashed in my mind.
If you are scared, terrified even, do it anyway.
So, as I sit and wait for my flight to board to Prague, Czech Republic, the starting place of my backpacking trip, I am scared.
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I am scared, but I’m letting myself feel that fear course through my body. I’m feeling it all, but I am doing it anyway.
In two months, when the wheels touch back down in Chicago, who knows what will happen? All I know is I will not exit the plane with regrets. Maybe I will be scared for a different reason. Maybe I will be scared to return to normal life or how little money remains in my bank account, but I will not regret a second of the next seven weeks. I am promising myself that right now.
My mother's words run through my head again, even now. This is all I have ever wanted.
Gentry Keener (she/her) is a junior studying journalism and political science.