It’s not uncommon and I’m not throwing a pity party here but I’ve been suffering from anxiety for about a year, I think writing about it might help, it’s just getting boring now. I thought I’d weave this catharsis into my first travel log at the beginning of my solo month away in Europe.
The anxiety probably started after that chasm opened up at the end of University. It was compounded by a deep sense of regret and a fear of perpetual loneliness and failure that felt very real. Despite having a good job and loving family, my default position was that it was all going to end awfully anyway because I was useless, I felt like a trainwreck in slow motion. I had only confided this to a couple of my closest friends, but five or so days into my trip I found myself speaking outwardly to relative strangers in a field in France. I was telling them about one anxiety attack in particular – how I had recently stayed up all night, convinced that I had knocked someone over in my car. I contemplated phoning the hospital and the police, I waited nervously the following day picturing my future in prison, of course I hadn’t done anything of the sort, it was madness.
That night in France we had reconvened to another campsite after the music festival with tents and supplies plundered in the aftermath from those that had fled the festival site. Here we spoke through the darkness and the skins of our stolen tents until late. My new friends listened and responded in earnest. But it seemed to me that here on the continent, these kindred spirits I’d found didn’t care too much about my tiresome islander insecurities, I mean that in the best possible sense. Everyone just wants to help you along the way, to give you a leg up on to your next stop, there’s always a new end goal, a train to catch and a destination to make it to which is a comforting distraction.
Once I had gathered my mind and my newly cleaned clothes I parted ways with the two celestial Swiss girls who had taken me to Amsterdam without a second thought, determined to make it on my own this time. The physicality of travelling alone has become a very visceral experience. Two mornings since arriving in Berlin I have woken up in a strange state of mind, like being stoned on silence. The monologue whirring around my empty head on long journeys alone got me into such a funk I could barely stand to think. All this waiting around at train stations certainly put me in mind of the times I’d have had someone waiting for me at the other end, someone who isn’t a dodgy Spaniard in a gaudy dorm room.
When I get going on my feet though, and I’ve always felt this, it’s as if I can actually walk off the malaise. With each step I am eking out more happiness from the pavements through the soles of my feet. So it was as I walked alone around Friedrichstraße, I turned a corner into the markets beneath the station selling records and books and into warm sunshine. I was suddenly overwhelmed with peace. Stepping down by the river an old gramophone played as people read and drank beer in deckchairs with the Museuminsel as a grand backdrop.
That’s when I decided to sit on the grass and write this in my notebook, a guitarist is playing a folk song I love and I’m reminded of an intense joy, for now the anxiety has drifted off down the river.
There is nothing about Berlin that doesn’t appeal to me. Later on I am dumbstruck by two beautiful grey haired women dancing the waltz together on an open air stage. I can even forgive the Segway riders, the cosplay odd bods and the hen parties in the park. Everything else is sincere, even the boat party full of transvestites that passed looked like art to me. The line between the sublime and the ridiculous is so blurred here, the rules are bent and the primary aim seems to be pleasure – not empty seaside postcard pleasure, the real thing.
I was drinking wine under a red striped parasol as the bells tolled six, a strange uncanny sound – like a warped version of the cheerful English bells – thinking about how strange it is that a geographical location can change the tone of a place, right down to its bells. Berlin has a rich but dark past, the memorials I often passed made me think that the city is always conscious of the fact, but of everything else it is still rightly proud. I think I would do well to find an affinity with this attitude and so I’ve extended my stay.
I am reading Tropic of Cancer thanks to reputable recommendations and it being gifted to me from ‘my only ally’, John. It’s proving to be the best travel companion. The writing is insightful in the extreme, in comparison – reading Henry Miller isn’t like being stoned in silence – it’s like riding a high in your head space. One phrase I made a note of amongst the bawdy prose stood out because of it’s relative pragmatism “above all, never despair . Il ne faut jamais désespérer.”