I thought I was just afraid to fly. I thought I was really afraid to fly. I had a talisman to hold onto from my friend, a bottle of Xanax from my doctor, and even then I wasn’t sure if I’d get on the plane or not. I’m wasn’t worried (and still not for the most part) about the plane crash landing, but the enclosed spaces get me. I want an aisle seat every time, and that doesn’t really help. It gives the illusion that I have an escape route.
Psychology. It’s mind-boggling.
I didn’t find out until about three years later, but that fear of flying wasn’t a fear – it was anxiety in the form of disorder. It was diagnosed when I was diagnosed with depression, but at the time of this transatlantic holiday, I thought I was afraid to fly.
I drove on this trip as well. I must have been insane. One week in Wales, seeing things, taking pictures, writing in my journal, mapping it out precisely so I knew where the turns were without having to read the bilingual signs or rely on the bi-polar sat nav that continually told me to turn the wrong way down one way streets. I got used to driving on the wrong side of the road for the most part pretty quick; it took me weeks, probably two months to get used to driving here in the States again. Roundabouts made me cringe, both here and overseas. I became a flincher in the passenger seat even in the benign roundabout of a Long Island Outlet Mall.
In Wales, my knuckles were white from clutching the steering wheel so tightly. The roads are so narrow. Winding mountain roads; the highway from Manchester to Caernarfon traveled in one direction with mountain on the left and water on the right. I could see palm trees and wind turbines, but I also had to keep my eyes on the road. When I returned, I liked to say that I now understood why there was a church and a pub in every UK town: Driving there either led you to drink or to find G-d. Or both.
Manchester was a special kind of hell. That was where I finally broke down in an emotional mess. After hours, as dusk was merely one more hour away, I couldn’t take it anymore. I stopped at a petrol station to ask directions to the hostel. They had no idea where it was. The GPS was useless.
At the edge of tears, willing myself not to shake, I finally approached a van for hire man. He couldn’t help me, but I think he cold see the nervous breakdown as it boiled up. I nearly hugged him and held him, both in despair and gratitude. As it was I begged him to help me. Luckily for me, he did take pity on me. Everyone there was so nice. I don’t know that I would have made it without the Welsh people and the English in Manchester.
The van for hire man could not explain to me how to get to the hostel. He tried, but once he told me to get back on the ring road, I couldn’t take anymore. He offered to let me follow him. He would tell me where to turn – he’d be going straight, but I’d turn left when he signaled me.
He put his left blinker and tooted his horn. I waved and turned down a tree-lined street. I took that all the way downtown, towards their Piccadilly and the University. The buildings grew closer together and taller. The streets were grimier – not terrible, just the way a city gets after several years of wear and tear. It was also a series of one way streets. I pulled off into a parking space. I could only park there for about ten minutes. I could see the hostel, but right where the hostel was situated was a change in the direction of the street.
I could see the hostel, but I could not get there from here.
I drove in circles; I almost got into a car accident. Guy was quite nice considering I was in the wrong. I finally settled on a space just before dark. I was not moving the car before morning, so I had to be able to carry everything the two blocks back and forth to the hostel. I could park in this spot all night but after six. I couldn’t carry my suitcase down the street. Luckily, I realized this because when I arrived at check in I discovered that the hostel had no elevator.
The bathroom was shared, and with a new way to flush the toilet. The private room I had to sleep in was the size of a cell with a metal bed and a window that overlooked a lower roof and the air/heat unit. All in all, it would have been better without my anxiety.
It rained. Relatively hard and my umbrella was back at the car. It’s England. It’s not cliche or a stereotype. Never forget your umbrella. You’ve been warned. I wandered to Tesco for a soda and a snack so I didn’t have to leave my room after dinner. I didn’t want hamburgers or pizza. While their hamburgers in Wales were superior, I just wanted something different. I settled on a chicken kebab served by a man who looked like Wayne Brady from Whose Line. A food adventure that was well worth it.
Daylight savings time also ended without telling me.
And I got lost going to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. I was saved by a man waiting on the bus stop who chased after my car when I went the wrong way after asking him directions. “No. That’s the way to Leeds. No one goes to Leeds.”
Getting through security was another misadventure, but a tale for another time. Once through, I sat and sat, catching my breath, swearing I’d never come to Manchester again, and already missing what I was leaving behind.