I promised myself I wouldn’t sugarcoat any part of my trip, that I would record it exactly the way I experienced it every single day.
I wish I could say my first day in London was magical. That I saw all the buildings and structures that makes London unique. That I was laughing and chatting happily with my amazing group as we made our way to our dorms. That I felt such an incredible gratitude and wonder at being outside of the United States for the first time.
I’m going to be brutally honest. So far, this day has been overwhelmingly awful.
Yesterday was a blur of dragging luggage to the Metro in the hot sun and waiting for my planes at the airports (both in D.C. and Chicago). And then I entered this weird, hazy plane ride to London during which I could not really be awake nor be asleep.
It was an eight-hour flight. I could barely eat anything while I was on it out of nerves and excitement. The guy in front of me, whom I christened RAH (Royal Ass-Hat), put his seat down practically into my lap for literally the entire time we were in the air so that I had no leg room. When I finally got off the plane I was overwhelmed by the signs, the new, strange feel of things. It took me a few seconds to realize that “lifts” meant “elevators”. I got laughed at by a small group of people that didn’t speak English because I waited behind them in front of the bathrooms for a few minutes, thinking they were in line, when they were just gathered to talk. I was so out of my element. I still am.
I had to wait in a long, long line to get my passport stamped, during which I silently willed myself over and over to not pass out due to lack of food. I had to hunt for my checked bag. I had to figure out where the foreign currency exchange counter was. I had to figure out how to get to Terminal 4 to meet the rest of the group (i.e. figure out where the train was that would take me there). All of this on my own and on about twenty minutes of sleep.
I fell asleep almost at once when we all boarded our bus, but woke up halfway through our journey feeling like I was going to be sick + pass out. The entire bus ride, as we entered Central London and the bus wove around hoards of people and tight corners, I felt sick and weak and more anxious about everything I was seeing than I had ever felt about anything else in my life. I wanted to enjoy it and just take it all in. But I couldn’t. I mean, really. Whoever thought of the nervous/sensitive stomach and hypoglycemia combo was a genius. How To Kill An Easily Stressed Person In Less Than Three Days. Make it so that they desperately need to eat but they are so nervous that they can’t eat without vomiting.
And that’s exactly what I did when we all got to the dorms. As everyone stood in line to get their keys, I went to the bathroom (the “toilets”, as they are referred to here) and threw up everything on my stomach then kept going through the notions of throwing up even though there was nothing left to throw up. I tried to eat between dry heaving in the hopes that having something on my stomach would settle it, but no luck. I just had to wait until it was over.
I was able to stumble out into the hallway eventually to get my keys to my room. I walked up with another girl in the group, Ashley, since we were sharing (we both get our separate bedrooms but have a small walkway area and bathroom that we share). I dropped my stuff, sat on my bed, and took a look out the window at the ugly gray sky. The death grip on my stomach grew even tighter.
I went over to Ashley’s room to see if she knew where Hayfa, our TA, was staying. I wanted out. I was done. I was fully ready to catch the next bus to the airport and go home. Back home to my desert, my kitty, my boyfriend, my family… I got to experience D.C. That was enough for me. London could wait. I was absolutely miserable.
Ashley didn’t know where Hayfa was, but she looked concerned and followed me into my room. “Is everything okay?” she asked. “You can talk to me.”
For the briefest of seconds I thought about attempting to smile and waving my drama away. And then I started sobbing uncontrollably.
“I was so stupid to think I could do this!” I said, and I meant it. What was I thinking? I, with the world’s most sensitive stomach, going across the Atlantic Ocean into another continent? I couldn’t do this. There was no way.
How lucky am I that Ashley is so, so sweet and said exactly what I needed to hear. She comforted me so much by telling me how far I’d come, but she also did something that I needed even more: she didn’t let me give up.
“You’ve come all this way,” she said. “Most kids at ASU wouldn’t have the guts to do this. You did.”
Hayfa helped a lot, too. She is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and she came in to talk to me before she and the group left for orientation to talk me through my anxiety.
“What was your inspiration for the trip? What made you fill out the paperwork?” she asked. “Focus on that. There’s a reason you did this.”
I thought about it briefly after she left, but I was too miserable to care.
And now, here I am, curled up into a ball on my bed, afraid to even venture outside the building. Everyone else went to orientation. I couldn’t even stand up without getting dizzy due to lack of food. I still can’t eat that much. I’m still crying.
I’ve tried so hard. I’ve tried so hard to make this trip work. I’ve cursed, soothed, praised, hated, and put up with my stomach for a week now. Well, actually, I’ve done all that for it ever since I was 14 and these problems began. Maybe I did break my no-sugarcoating promise a little bit, because I haven’t been mentioning how it’s been bothering me in the mornings. And the hardest part? I know it’s all me. It’s allnerves that make it so upset. And I feel so powerless and helpless when I can’t make myself better.
I’ve never felt this overwhelmed before in my life. I’ve never felt so lost or so lonely. I know I’ll get over that quickly as my nerves go away and I get to explore London with my group, but right now I can’t bear this. Less than an hour’s worth of sleep probably isn’t making things easier, either. I just want to go home.
I finished writing that blogpost several hours ago. Hayfa came in to talk with me again after the group got back from orientation, and since her talk (and a good two and a half hour nap), I did some thinking.
I tried to do what Hayfa suggested, which was to think about why I even signed up for this trip in the first place. It took a few minutes for my sleep-deprived mind to arrive at a conclusion.
I signed up for this trip because I was so, so tired of living in such a fearful state of mind.
I signed up for this trip because I wanted to embrace the adventurer in me that I had long forgotten.
I signed up for this trip because I wanted to have an out-of-country experience.
I signed up for this trip because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone.
At Hayfa’s convincing, I ventured outside the dorm into the streets of Central London with some of my group for food. I ate food. I willed myself not to get sick from food. I felt better. I feel better now, now that I’m not focusing so much on my nerves and my sore, thoroughly beaten up stomach.
I’m writing this from the one place we get wifi in this dorms, which is our “common room” downstairs. It’s nothing like the common rooms in Harry Potter, though, with cushy chairs and warm fireplaces. But there’s wifi.
I’m going to push myself through this. Why? Because I don’t take the easy way out of things. Because my spirit is far stronger than outside forces that try to break it. It’s going to be hard. I realized that today. I’m so homesick and still pretty worried about how I’m going to be eating this next week.
But I caught a glimpse of the London Eye as we were walking about today. And in that glimpse, I saw this trip for what it really is: an incredible opportunity, and not just to learn about sustainability and government. This trip is an opportunity for me to grow and develop as a person.
And as I spend this next week mentally settling my nerves and soaking in London for the amazing city that it is, I have to keep reminding myself that deep down, I am so, so grateful for that opportunity.