One month into our travels, my absolute worst nightmare came true. After a 13-hour journey from Indonesia to New Zealand, we were the last people waiting at the luggage belt. That sinking feeling surged deeper and deeper into my stomach until airport staff told us all the bags had been unloaded. Mine wasn’t on the flight.
I can imagine this would be pretty upsetting for most people. Inconvenient at the very least. But for someone with OCD, who constantly fears the worst, it is absolute hell on Earth to have your fearful thoughts come to life. The gates of possibility to all the other terrible things that could happen are suddenly flung open. It is basically a horrible confirmation that you were right to worry, which is problematic when worrying doesn’t solve a thing. My mind went into overdrive trying to remember all the remain-calm techniques I’d learned in therapy, as I raced to the baggage claim desk.
‘Sue’ from Jet Star (don’t ever fly with Jet Star) was the most miserable cow in the whole of New Zealand. The conversation went something like this.
‘Do you know where my bag might be? Here’s the tag and flight number.’
‘No. Maybe it missed the connection. Leave your details and we’ll contact you tomorrow.’
‘I’m not leaving until you’ve traced my bag. That bag is my whole life right now.’
‘I’m calling security.’
And she called security on me, whilst I was having a panic attack. Fortunately the policeman got the wrong end of the stick and thought she had called him to help me. We eventually convinced her to contact Sydney airport some 3 hours later, who claimed my bag had got stuck on the luggage belt and should be with me in 24 hours. 24 hours of wearing Joe’s vests and pants was unappealing but do-able, so I forced myself to put the whole thing to one side.
The next day the airport called to say they hadn’t received confirmation from Sydney the bag had been found. It was dubbed ‘lost’. I felt numb, but I refused to panic. I calmly made a list of everything that was lost, had a little cry and carried on with the day. We drank bottles of beer in the sunshine and wandered up and down Queen Street buying a few bits. Later in the afternoon, Joe managed to track my bag online. The status had changed from ‘tracing’ to ‘arrived at airport’ and the relief of waking up from a bad dream swept through me. They had got it wrong. My bag was couriered to our hostel at 10pm that evening.
What struck me most about losing my bag was how quickly I accepted losing the clothes. It was the sentimental things that really upset me. The letters and photographs, the tickets I’d kept, the shells I’d collected, the notes I’d written. I was grief-stricken at the thought of losing those. But the clothes, which a month ago I would have held just as closely, I was ok with. And weirdly enough, the experience has made me feel less anxious in general. Because, basically, bad stuff is going to happen, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. If you want to be ok with it, you will be. Life goes on. And, of course, most of the time it could be a whole lot worse. Sometimes it’s important to give ourselves a shake and recognise just how fortunate we are that fairly trivial matters can seem so significant.
One of my aims of travelling is to feel less dependent on material things. And, although I still have quite a long way to go, this experience has brought me one step closer to where I want to be mentally. So actually, it turned out to be a positive thing. You never really know what’s good or bad until you allow time to take its course. It’s hard to put that into practice but it’s so important to remember.
I hope reading this encourages you to be patient if things aren’t going your way at the moment. If you are learning and growing, you are winning. It’s as simple as that.