I have anxiety. It’s taken me a long time to be able to admit it, but in some small and undiagnosed form anxiety is always with me, nibbling away at my thoughts in the background. In Vietnam I found something that made me extremely anxious, it grew into fear, and started to impact my experience in a negative way.
When I arrived in Vietnam I had a few bad experiences on the back of motorbikes. If you haven’t been to Vietnam then you need to know that motorbikes (mainly mopeds and automatic scooters) are the easiest, cheapest, quickest, and coolest way to get around, therefore literally everyone has one. You also need to know that road rules are pretty much nonexistent there, you have to be prepared for everything. As with any vehicle, there are drivers who become over confident and end up driving dangerously. Unfortunately, and out of necessity I ended up on the back of a few of these people’s bikes. After a few incidences I was on the back of a bike through a busy round about, my driver drove straight at a car at full speed whilst looking the other way, he didn’t notice until we were a metre from crashing and luckily managed to swerve. That was the cherry on the cake, every time I got on the back of a bike I was convinced we were going to crash and I couldn’t take the anxiety anymore. I vowed never to get on a motorbike again.
For a few weeks I was content in my safe little bubble, and the other volunteers at the English centre I was working at completely understood my point of view. However, this did not stop them from going out and having amazing cultural experiences in places they reached by motorbike. I started missing out on things I may never experience for the rest of my life, and I started to realise that something had to change.
If this massive fear had sparked from something so small and I was unable to overcome it, what other fears would I develop in my lifetime and just how would they spiral and limit my life if I failed to conquer them. One of my friends at the project managed to convince me of her safe driving skills and track record, she had this amazing outlook on life where nothing was impossible and if she wanted to do something she did it, no thinking, no reservations, no fear. The first time she drove me on her bike I cried. There was so much pent up emotion from all the time I had obsessed over crashing that I couldn’t stop myself. I got through the life changing journey by trusting, breathing, reminding myself to relax, and thinking what’s the worst that could happen? Most people have had crashes there, and the city traffic means you can only drive slowly, and so most people just come away with a few scrapes. For that seemingly endless journey I just kept thinking: “What’s the worst that could happen if we do crash? A few scrapes”, and that really soothed me.
After that successful experience my confidence started growing daily, and I was able to go out to do and see some phenomenal things that would have been impossible before. I was even asking people to take me out and just drive around when I was bored. I was enjoying it.
Then we met a lovely couple from Texas who were planning a week long motorbike trip to Vietnams most northern province, which also happens to be extremely mountainous. They invited us along, the catch was that because of the dangerous terrain it was only possible (or safe) to have one person on each bike – I would have to drive. I was feeling adventurous, I was feeling confident, and I agreed. Me, the girl who a month previously had a crippling fear of even riding on the back of a motorbike. Then I read about the trip online, I spoke to the local people about the province, and the anxiety started to creep in. The language I was hearing struck fear into my heart: dangerous conditions, rough patches of road, uneven ground, sheer drops, roads carved out of the sides of mountains, hairpin bends, and steep inclines and declines. I had never driven a motorbike (or even a car) before, I was scared. The first time my endlessly patient boyfriend attempted to teach me, and the first time I drove, I knocked every bit of confidence I had out of myself. I couldn’t get the hang of it, I just wasn’t a natural, I couldn’t control the bike properly and it was frightening. I was on the verge of cancelling my trip. But for some reason, some reason that I still cannot pinpoint, I didn’t. Maybe it was because of my extreme inability to let people down, or a little bit of fight inside my soul that would not allow me to go back to an emotional place that I had just struggled so hard to get out of. A week later, I tried to drive again. This time was better but still not good enough, I practised every day until I was confident, I wouldn’t let it beat me – not again.
We got to the mountains, we rented the bikes, we set off. It was everything I had read about, but it was also so much more. The most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life, ever. The most amazing, humbling, thrilling experience of my life. I can’t imagine feeling better than I felt on that trip: strong, independent and overwhelmed by nature. Yes it was dangerous, but wow it was worth it. As the days went on I became a better driver, I got more confident, I even drove up to 50 kilometres per hour!
About halfway through the trip, I was parking and I lost control of the bike, I panicked and I crashed. I was thrown from the bike and landed face first in a pile of rocks, my half visor saved my face. The whole thing was over in a second, my boyfriend maintains that was the longest second of his life. He thought I was dead when I didn’t move, but I just needed a second to breathe. Ritchie was still on his bike when it happened and so he had to park it safely before he could reach me, therefore he wasn’t the first one to get to me. I just remember what felt like hundreds of hands pulling me up in an awkward backwards position, the Vietnamese people were so lovely and helpful (they see this a lot) but Ritchie pushed them all away and became The Flash. I pride myself on how well prepared I am and boy did it pay off on that day, in my pack there were baby wipes, tissues and antiseptic cream. Ritchie (or The Flash) had them out before I even thought of it. He was like a tornado around me, checking, cleaning, putting pressure on wounds, and patching me up. I never had to say a word or tell him what I needed because he knows me better than I know myself, and I am so grateful for our bond. My chin, shoulder and hand took the worst of it and they took a long time to heal, but at the end of the day it was just a few scrapes and bruises over my body – although for the rest of the journey I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Now, at this point it would have been easy for me to succumb to the fear and to quit. But after I crashed I got back on that bike an hour later not just because we were in the middle of nowhere and there was no other way to retrieve the bike, but because if I didn’t then history would repeat itself, if I didn’t my anxiety would grow and I would inhibit myself from ever riding again. So I got back on the bike, and that is one of the proudest moments of my life. I conquered my fear.