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'I Was Diagnosed with BPD and Anxiety Disorder. So, I Went On A Two-Month Solo Trip To Europe To Combat It'

This brave Malaysian challenged herself to go out of her comfort zone for an adventure of a lifetime.


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'I Was Diagnosed with BPD and Anxiety Disorder. So, I Went On A Two-Month Solo Trip To Europe To Combat It'
Image: Arlina Banana
Are you the type of person who checks your door lock twice, thrice, or maybe a couple more times before leaving? Or you suddenly start panicking at the thought of not turning off the stove or the iron, or maybe, you left something unattended that will cause grave consequences? 

Gif: Giphy
Don't worry, all of us will go through this at some point in our lives. Plus, it’s good to have a little anxiety in all of us sometimes, because after all, that's what makes us human.

But for a certain group of people, the meaning of anxiety may bear a different definition. That's because those who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders experience anxiety on a different level compared to other people.

WHAT IS ANXIETY DISORDER?

According to the Malaysian Psychiatric Association (MPA), anxiety disorders are “a group of neurotic disorders where the main focus of the problem is excessive or uncontrolled worry.” In other words, those with anxiety disorders tend to worry a lot about things, even in the absence of stressful conditions. This form of mental illness can also lead to depression.

If you think this is something uncommon in Malaysia, think again. A study conducted by the MPA shows a 50% increase in depressed patients from 2011 to 2015. Not only that, a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health revealed that 30% of Malaysian adults suffer from mental health issues.

Gif: Giphy
So, how do these people live out their lives? The treatment may vary according to the patient’s case and subjected to their psychiatrist’s discretion, but for one person, she chose to combat it by moving out of her comfort zone.

How, you ask? Here’s her story.

Meet Arlina Arshad, or better known as Arlina Banana. She’s a 26-year-old Malaysian lass who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and anxiety disorder. Arlina is an author, an entrepreneur, and also a social media influencer.

She’s been battling with her mental illness for a few years now, and this year, she’s decided to take control – by going on a solo backpacking trip across Europe for two months (with her psychiatrist's permission, of course).

Image: Arlina Banana Instagram
What started off as a planned one-month journey to six countries eventually turned into a two-month trip to 10 countries!

So far, Arlina has travelled to London, Manchester, Liverpool (United Kingdom), Timisoara (Romania), Budapest (Hungary), Berlin (Germany), Prague (Czech Republic), Rome (Italy), Vatican City, Paris (France), Gent (Belgium), and Amsterdam (Netherlands).

She hasn’t returned to Malaysia at the time of posting, so there’s a probability she’ll add more places to her list.

THE TURNING POINT

As we churn out her story behind our office cubicles, we can’t help but feel jealous of her solo trip. However, we do feel very proud of her for taking this leap of faith into a voyage of uncharted territories.

Image: Arlina Banana
 So, how, what, and when did she actually decide to do this?

“Last December, I had so many things going on in my life and that exacerbated my symptoms so I decided to travel to clear my mind.”

“It was really ironic because I was reading my own book and stumbled across one of the pages which says “If things didn't go well in the future, don't kill yourself. Go travel instead.” – and at that point, I decided to listen to my own advice,” Arlina tells Rojak Daily.

She started devising her trip and was scheduled to fly in December. However, her psychiatrist advised her to delay her trip by another month until her mood is more stable.

“Honestly that’s a really good advice because when you travel alone, you need to have a focused mind.”

COPING WITH ANXIETY ABROAD

Imagine being alone in a foreign country half the world away from your family and friends. That does sound kind of frightening, doesn't it? Which brings us to the question: did Arlina experience any anxiety or panic attacks during her trip?

“Yes. Once, I nearly broke down and cried in public because I nearly missed my bus. I couldn't find the bus station and there was no internet connection. I tried to ask the locals but NO ONE could speak English, so that was quite stressful.”

“Apart from that, I would always feel anxious before I travel to another country.”

Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
So, what does she do to prevent panic attacks or to reduce her aggravated anxiety levels?

Usually her rituals consist of taking deep breaths and listening to calm music. When she feels like everything’s beginning to feel very overwhelming, she starts listening to Zikir Terapi (incantations of Holy verses in Islam).

Apart from that, she tries to reassure herself that whatever’s happening in reality isn’t as bad as what she’s envisioning in her mind.

Arlina also stresses the importance of bringing your medication prescribed by your psychiatrist and making sure it’s enough to last your entire trip. Not only that, it's also important to have your own support system.

“Always keep in touch with people back home and update your whereabouts," she points out.

And of course, when you have the chance, get to know more people.

“You should also try to make new friends. A good company will make your travel easier, fun and meaningful.”

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO TRAVEL WITH ANXIETY DISORDER?

Everyone experiences anxiety once in a while, especially when travelling to an unknown destination, but what about those who actually have the disorder?

Arlina explains that her worries are amplified and heightened, and she overthinks all the time.

“I always have terrible 'what ifs' in my head. Terrible scenarios are always playing in my head. I would have an irrational fear like 'what if the ferry sunk and I’m stuck and I died underwater?' There’s a lot of disturbing thoughts, sometimes to a point where I can’t enjoy my trip.”

Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
Arlina tells us that she nearly cancelled her trip to Amsterdam because she had an instinct that “bad things” are going to happen. On some days, she had to stay in and avoid any form of communication with anyone because it gets overwhelming.

And because of that, not everyone understands her.

“People say to me, 'What do you mean you’re not happy? You’re travelling. A lot of people want to be in your place right now', because they don’t get it.”

“When this happens, I try not to be hard on them and say, 'It’s okay to not feel wonderful when you're visiting the wonders of the world'.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Travelling alone can be stressful, especially when you have an illness. Because of this, some people have reservations when it comes to travelling.

For Arlina though, this journey has taught her a valuable lesson; good things happen when you get out of your comfort zone.

“We often underestimate ourselves. We don't know our own capabilities unless we go all out and challenge ourselves. Life really begins outside of your comfort zone. The more scared you are to do something; the bigger the reward is!”

Image: Arlina Banana
By leaving her comfort zone, she got to meet new faces and make new friends from different cultures and background.

Which is why she tells us that she’s really surprised by the amount of kind souls she’s met along the way.

The world is not as cruel as I thought. Sometimes when we read news or tweets, it’s easy to lose faith in humanity. There are still kind people out there.”

Lessons can not only be learned from your own experiences, it can be learned through others too, she adds.

“I’ve met a lot of people with interesting stories. It felt like my own version of Humans of New York. It also gave me a new perspective on how I see the world.”

Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
“From a lawyer who used to be a homeless in Budapest to a descendent of famous aristocrat in Paris, it was mind-opening to meet new people from various backgrounds.”

“I even met an Israeli and we joked about how we can’t go to each other’s country.”

As for which country she recommends the most out of her trip so far, she picks the city of love, Paris.

She initially wanted to skip Paris after hearing so many negative stories about it – rude people, language barrier, pickpockets, expensive cost, smelly, dirty - but she decided to take the plunge.

Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
Image: Arlina Banana
“Some of the stories may be true, but Paris is a beautiful city. I got the chance to have lunch with the locals and they were wonderful," she gushes.

In fact, she tells us that by visiting Paris, she learned a valuable life lesson. 

"My trip to Paris taught me to be less prejudiced towards people and always keep an open mind. Sometimes what you hear is not entirely true. You should see it for yourself and then make your own judgement.”

As for those who are feeling a little more adventurous and would like to go off the beaten track, she recommends Timisoara, Romania.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR NEWBIES

If you’re feeling inspired right now after reading Arlina's story, and you feel motivated to kick off your own solo backpacking journey, you might want to take a seat and do some research first.

Here are a few tips from Arlina herself:

• Always join a free walking tour in every city you go! It’s the easiest way to learn about the place and meet new people. 
• Stay at a backpackers’ hostel or retreat and hang out at the common area and try to make new friends.
• Don’t be afraid to talk to locals to discover hidden gems in the city!

Image: Arlina Banana
And for those who are still on the fence…

“This is going to sound so cliché but seriously, don't let fear stop you from doing what you love. Consider fear as a platform for you to be brave and courageous. Honestly, travelling on your own can be scary, but it will be really worth it in the end.”

Arlina hopes that her tale will help inspire those who are on the same boat as her. Whether you’re dealing with depression, BPD, anxiety disorder, or any form of mental illness, perhaps it’s time you step out of your comfort zone and start crossing things off your bucket list.

Image: Arlina Banana
Now ask yourself, when was the last time you did something for the first time?

If you’d like to see how Arlina is doing on her adventurous solo trip around the world, follow her Instagram account, @arlinabanana or her Twitter account, @arlinabanana for more updates. 

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