Panicked in Paradise

“Relaxing” at our cabin

Our next to last day in Costa Rica was snorkeling day! We were staying in Puerto Viejo, and thanks to a certain adopted cat meowing at our bungalow door all night, I was wide awake at 5am. I decided to use this time alone wisely, and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise.

For some reason, I was extra anxious during my Costa Rican/Honeymoon/Family vacation. Sometimes, trying to relax causes me more anxiety. Growing up with an anxiety disorder I conditioned myself to always being on the go. Staying busy constantly was often the only way to not get lost in my panic-stricken thoughts.

I remember several occasions when my Mom would wake up me up at 6:30am, and I’d open my eyes confused and exhausted because I’d accidently fallen asleep on my Physics book with the lights on, and still wearing my complete ballet attire, shoes and everything. I would just go-go-go until I would eventually pass out, only to wake up a few hours later and do it all again.

During spring break my junior year, there was one night that I had no plans. My boyfriend was out of town, my friends were with their boyfriends, and I had nothing to do for the first time in a VERY long time. I helped my Mom cook dinner, took a walk around the neighborhood, and tried to watch TV. That night ended in a major panic attack. I remember running to my Mom, barely able to breathe, chest pounding, crying, and unable to explain to her what was wrong. I had no idea how to chill out and enjoy doing nothing. I was accustomed to being occupied; I could not handle being alone with my thoughts.

Over the years, this has gotten a lot better. Living in Albania last year was an enormous help. I HAD to relax in Albania, there was very often nothing to do except chill out and enjoy life…at which I got better.

This year, with all the wedding planning, I regressed. I was so busy with work, life in NYC, and wedding to-do’s. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was avoiding down time.

When I found myself laying in a hammock in Costa Rica, I was anything but relaxed. It was more like being in shock. I spent SO much time shaking, being nauseous, and desperately trying to enjoy a vacation that I had planned for months. For reasons only a therapist can explain, I was anxious about everything, convinced I was ill, and making myself pretty damn miserable. On top of the panic was guilt. I felt ungrateful for not enjoying this trip. I felt even worse for Husband. Why should he have to put up with this on our honeymoon? It wasn’t fair to either of us.

Keeping busy by zip-lining, hiking, and cuddling animals helped a lot. Practicing all my regular anti-anxiety practices, and breathing techniques also helped. Husband’s reassurance definitely helped. Reminding myself that it WILL pass and I WILL survive, was probably the most helpful.

Fast forward to “snorkeling day”, and I was finally beginning to wind down. I sat in the sand, dogs rolling around beside me, and was relieved that I was able to actually enjoy that moment, alone. I realized at this moment that my anxiety attacks are brutal, but also beneficial. It makes beautiful moments like that morning so much more memorable. My moments of tranquility are rare, but when it happens it’s appreciated so much more. Being calm and feeling relaxed is something I will never take for granted.

Thanks to my serene morning, I was more than ready for a day on the water. We went snorkeling off the coast of Cahuita at two different reefs for a couple hours in the Caribbean and were lucky enough to see giant sea turtles, stingrays, glowing fish, sea urchins, neon eels, starfish, and sharks!!!

Our friend Paul decked out in his scuba gear

Chasing a sting ray

Zoey and I trying to be sloth-like

Unfortunately, spending half the day with my face in the water and bum in the air led to one of the most painful sunburns of my life. My ass has never seen so much sun. I spent the night with my bare bum covered in aloe under the ceiling fan. Zoey, also very burnt, kept me company and we laid together watching Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Can you see just how red those cheeks are?

A blistering sunburn is actually much more pleasant than a panic attack, so it turned out to be a pretty good night.

Actually, it was a pretty great Honeymoon…”excited outbursts” and all.  It was positively panicked, which is actually pretty perfect.

Cheers!

2 Comment

  1. Ouch. Sunburns suck! I went on holidays once with my family when I was in my teens, and I decided to lay out in the sun like I saw everyone else doing. That night I couldn’t lay on my back – I’m fair skinned and it killed!
    Panic Attacks suck, but at least you went. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have even gotten that far so well done!

    1. Yes, they’re the worst! sunburns and panic! And, thanks, you’re right, I’m proud and thankful I am still able to travel. It may be a struggle, but it’s well worth it.

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