This Is How A Middle-Aged Couple With Anxiety Books A Holiday

There are certain undeniable factors when two people with anxiety get married. 1. There will be a lot of overthinking, and 2) We can talk ourselves out of pretty much anything.

Raising a cocktail toast in front of a beautiful beach.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Such has been the marital soap opera created by my decision that we go on a proper holiday this year – a decision that has at times felt like having teeth pulled without anaesthetic underneath the maskless face of a caffeine-addicted dentist.

Every possible destination was considered during our intense negotiations – including some of the great ones suggested by some of you – until eventually we managed to narrow the choice down to three – once terrorism, risk of gastro, length of flight and language had been taken into consideration.

New Zealand, Vietnam and Hawaii.

Uncharacteristically generously, I gave the old man the final choice, and after much shaking of his head and chewing on his lip, he opted for New Zealand. Too easy, I thought (misguidedly), as I launched myself into another week of unpaid work in the form of research – even procuring the services of a lovely local tour company who created the most perfect itinerary for us (that didn’t include Christchurch, due to its earthquake issues), and just about squeezed into the budget.

And somewhat foolishly, I truly believed that the holiday was done and dusted when I handed the itinerary over to my husband, chomping on the bit to get started on broadcasting the news to my fellow anxious travellers and friends on Facebook that I hate on a little bit more each time I see them downing Tequilas on another beach.

Then the old man decided that New Zealand is too cold in October.

‘Okay…’ I replied, through gritted teeth.

‘Let’s brave Vietnam,’ he said, three Whiskies into a Friday night.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked.

‘Absolutely. It’s time to push ourselves out of our comfort zone,’ he lied, in what I now recognise was a very clever delaying tactic.

And so another intense week of research followed during which I pulled together a fantastic holiday that encompassed several days in Hanoi, a brief sejour in Sapa, and a week in Halong Bay. Indeed, so confident was I that Vietnam was our final destination, I had already checked out cooking courses, markets and hotels. But then I dropped into the conversation that the trip included an overnight train journey to Sapa…

‘What overnight train?’ the old man asked, a worried look on his face.

‘Relax,’ I said. ‘You get your own cabin and it only takes seven hours,’ I started to bluster as I tried to convince myself at the same time. ‘AND it will save us the cost of a night in a hotel.’

‘And there’s an overnight stay on a boat in Halong Bay, as well?’ he asked.

‘Maybe…’

‘On a boat?’

Needless to say, Vietnam was also quietly put on hold until we have earned our travel stripes, which left us Hawaii. However, too exhausted by this stage to think about it or to cope with the inevitable disappointment when my husband changed his mind AGAIN, I threw the ball in his court.

‘You bloody organise it,’ I said, passing him the gauntlet.

I picked the gauntlet back up a few days later and gave him a deadline of last weekend to book – otherwise all sorts of shit was going to go down in our place, I promised him, that amongst other things involved a 60/40 split of our accumulated wealth once we reached the divorce courts.

And, dear friends, we have booked a holiday, with only three months in between now and then to worry about what can possibly go wrong – ie. being approved for our visas, being forced to sleep in the same bed, driving on the wrong side of the road, whether we’re allergic to the pollen in Leis and if the timing of happy hour will work with nap time. So very soon I will be pissing you all off with my very own Photoshopped holiday snaps on my social media accounts of us topping up our Valium sipping Pina Coladas around our pool.

Anxious, Middle-Aged Couple Seeks Ideas For Perfect Holiday

We’re in the early stages of marital negotiations about a possible holiday towards the end of the year. I’ve won the first round – as in the old man has finally agreed to leave Australia. However, where to go is proving more problematic.

Photo of The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour in Australia.

I am struggling to find that perfect holiday destination that offers an active, cultural experience, as well as decent resort facilities for the old man to hit a ball for most of the day. Good internet for easy access to golf and dog videos would also be a bonus.

Being a Cancer, his absolute favourite place in the whole world is obviously home – an insularity that appears to have deepened since he entered middle age – which means that I can almost see his balls shrivel up each time I bring up the idea of “new experiences”.

For him, a “new experience” is not picking the burger in a restaurant in this new, middle-aged stage of hyper-male grumpiness.

Both of us suffer from anxiety, hence the idea of simply hopping on a plane and going on an adventure is never going to happen. We need to overthink the fuck out of every minute of the two weeks that we will be away. We need to fill one suitcase with every legal medication we may need. We need to read hotel reviews and access world seismology reports to do a full risk assessment of where is safe.

Negotiating a foreign country and culture is a scary prospect, when you’re scared of your own shadow.

But whereas I refuse to give into my fear, the old man is quite comfortable to say no. And he has a point: this is the time in your life when you can and you should dig your heels in, if you feel that strongly about it.

The problem is, (as I keep reminding him), he is a married man, and our union comes with certain responsibilities – as in “in sickness and on holiday”. And since I have made two major trips back to the homeland by myself over the past couple of years, I think it’s time he took one for the team.

So, this is our brief. Ten days to two weeks in October to somewhere that won’t dent a massive hole in our dwindling savings and involves no more than a twelve-hour flight. We need the option to relax, as well as places to explore. Somewhere not too cold – because we’re pretty wussy when it comes to the cold after almost fourteen years in Oz – and it goes without saying that there can be no risk of coups, tsunamis, earthquakes or even food poisoning.

I have done my research, and come close to booking The Big Banana again!

Any ideas?

The Secret To Surviving Long-Haul Flights With Anxiety

colton-jones-561163-unsplashIt wasn’t quite the Love Actually airport moment that I had anticipated when I spotted the old man waiting for me at the wrong exit of Sydney airport after my latest grueling long-haul flight, and I wasn’t amused. 

It seems appropriate to compare the torture of such flights to being forced to a Republican Thanksgiving family gathering with an (as yet) undeclared same-sex partner and a cold sore. Jet-lag aside, perhaps the most daunting aspect of the ordeal is being forced to share one’s personal habits in a very small space with potentially four to five hundred strangers, any one of whom may:

  • Be carrying a potentially lethal virus.
  • Be a terrorist.
  • Have children.
  • Smell.

Small children are perhaps the biggest crime. I mean…WHY? Small children do not fare well when restrained for long periods of time – least of all by sleep-deprived parents that lose all lucidity and any sense of responsibility after the first eight hours – and they have a natural tendency to cry all the time when they are tired, when they can’t do or eat what they want, or when they don’t feel safe – a perhaps understandable reaction when every other passenger on the plane is eyeballing them with unsuppressed hatred.

A similar sense of helplessness is experienced by those of an anxious disposition; those who catastrophize every aspect of their life, but particularly the daunting unpredictability of being locked in an aircraft over a long period of time. It has been found that poor control in connection with the obvious threat of crashing, certain death, and becoming the main course for the posse of tiger sharks waiting in the waters beneath them is typically the trigger for such anxiety, although there are several others associated with traveling in such a non-sensical mode of transport.

These are:

Will they make their connection?

Will there be space directly above their seat for their carry-on luggage, or will they be forced to ask a stranger to lift it down for them in that panic of disembarkation when it is imperative for everyone to get off the plane immediately?

Will their cabin stewards hate them and lie about there only being the fish left when they want chicken?

Will the passenger next to them have Spanish influenza or Bird flu?

Will they talk, snore or dribble in their sleep?

Will they be able to work out the door handle to the toilet or be forced to test their bladder control in the most public of places?

Should they eat the bean and pasta starter and risk embarrassing wind issues that have nothing to do with the Gulf stream?

And if they do succumb to diarrhoea, what are their strategies for minimal embarrassment. Do they, a) push their way to the front of the toilet queue? b) Stew quietly in their own poo? or c) kill themselves?

Fortunately for you, I have survived this type of trip more times than I care to remember, and so, as the holiday season looms, I share with you my curated list of tips for getting through what can only be described as a hell greater than eating a dodgy oyster:

  1. Wet wipes – Never underestimate the multi-faceted powers of the wet wipe. If you thought their sole purpose was to wipe spag bol off the faces of kids, you’ve never been on a long-haul flight. From spilled food and make-up removal to VERY personal hygiene – are you with me, menopausal women? – these handy little towels have saved my life more times that I can remember.
  2. Jumper – Don’t make the mistake of boarding a plane in a hot country and assuming that you will stay warm. Airplanes are colder than Westeros in winter and airline blankets are thinner than the new Apple MacBook Air. Survival rule number 1: locate all air con nozzles directed at your seat and disarm immediately.
  3. Select your seat carefully – because…children and toilets. When flying solo, I like to pick an aisle seat in a three-seat row, leaving a space next to me.  If the plane is fairly empty, sniff out the terrain for rows of empty seats as soon as all passengers have embarked. But be quick, Australians are as nifty as Germans and sun beds when it comes to seat appropriation.
  4. Headphones – Forget the ones provided by the airline, which wouldn’t block out a silent fart from the pilot. Invest in a decent pair of noise cancellers so that you can hear every word of that Middle Eastern film you selected by mistake before your touch screen stopped working.
  5. Drink wine with every meal, even breakfast. A long-haul flight is an excuse to get pissed at any time of the day because no one knows what the fuck the real time is anyway.
  6. Avoid all eye contact. You do not want to make friends with anyone who is going to see the state of your sorry arse after fifteen hours of sleep deprivation and an excess of cheap Sav Blanc.
  7. Medication – take whatever works for you. Nothing so strong that it incapacitates you in an emergency – meaning that mothers and kids get off first – but strong enough to ensure it sends you to sleep singing The White Cliffs of Dover.

You’re welcome!

 

 

How To Show Restraint At The Inclusive Hotel Buffet Breakfast

fried-1789962_1920I’d never noticed before that skinny women only eat fruit at the hotel buffet breakfast, but since NC kindly (?) gave me my FitBit for Mothers Day, I’ve become much more conscious of the number of calories going into my body versus calories being burned.

 

Due to medical reasons pertaining to my mental health, I have to allocate a large percentage of my daily intake of calories to wine each day, so I need to watch carefully how much and what type of food I put into my mouth – especially with the added complications of middle-aged hormone fuckery. And possessing that level of control is not always easy on holiday where the ‘fuck it’ attitude kicks in the minute you step off the plane and all traces of accountability disappear.

 

The old man and I haven’t stayed in a hotel with inclusive breakfast for years (because…children), so this holiday has provided me with the biggest test on the food frontline since my last working lunch, when our boss used to provide enormous catered trays of sandwiches and cakes and I had to physically pinch the skin on my thighs to stop eating.

 

Since the early days of our marriage, the old man and I have maintained the same strategy when it comes to the hotel buffet breakfast – which is to eat as much as we can so we don’t have to pay for lunch. In hindsight, a strategy that rarely actually works.

 

It took me the first three days of this holiday to work out my buffet breakfast plan for the rest of the week, after a few false starts where all my self-coaching on the plane fell apart as soon as I approached the breakfast area and my natural mindset of Labrador set in. Most women will recognize that it is almost impossible to resist a line of FREE food that you haven’t had to either plan, cook or shop for – particularly one which offers a smorgasbord of food you normally deny yourself, the morning after that first night of holiday drinking – another of those traps you swear you won’t fall into until Happy Hour swings around at 4pm and the lure of half-price cocktails proves impossible to ignore.

 

I’m being hard on myself. I did show some self-control in my choice of fruit as my starter, (rather than the huge bowl of Coco Pops I would normally berate Kurt for), before I headed for the full, cholesterol breakfast, finished off by toast, no Nutella, and washed down with three cups of Earl Grey.

 

Only four mini chocolate croissants made their way back to our room.

 

I’m not sure why we live this lie each hotel holiday that the buffet breakfast will suffice until dinner, because inevitably the ‘FEED ME!’ belly grumbles always kick in around 1pm as those first wafts of lunch make their way around the pool.

 

But today I demonstrated REAL restraint. I accepted that after three hours of hard work lying on a sunbed, I have a right to feel a little peckish around lunchtime, and I refuse to beat myself up about it. I am aware that lifestyle changes – particularly in regard to diets – need to be permanent, rather than half-hearted efforts here and there. And so I became a responsible eater this morning – mature enough to look beyond the sausages and potato croquettes, to think about the bigger picture of my health and weight beyond this week of testing temptation. And frankly, the bacon and eggs were enough.

 

 

Conquering Fears and Discovering Bush In Australia

IMG_5133I conquered a few long-held fears during my holiday last week with the old man – the fear of whether we can actually spend time alone together without me wanting to kill him, because I’m aware that I won’t be able to use the PMT card as a defence in our retirement, as well as some rational, innate fears about the Australian wildlife.

Statistically, our adoptive country is proud to record that it has ten of the deadliest creatures in the world, and that’s only touching the surface because those figures don’t account for the deadly plants, animals, and insects lurking in every corner of its landscape that can make you seriously sick.

Basically, everything is out to get you.

It is my belief that the average native Australian is brainwashed as a child with the adage that ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, so when they see dinner-plate-sized hairy spiders such as the Huntsman spider, they are able to look at them in a different light to the rest of us and appreciate them as the spiders that eat mosquitoes, unlike other arachnids such as the Redback, (and even ants), that can put them in hospital.

The less said about the Funnel Web, the better.

What I’m getting to, is that bush walking – note my ability to say the word “bush” in this context without laughing to myself like a five-year-old the first time she hears the word “penis” – is not for the faint-hearted, and completely at odds to the relaxing walks of my past in the pretty forests of the UK where my biggest worries were being stampeded by Bambi and the distance to the next pub.

We did a lot of walking this holiday, in part to witness the truly wonderful landscape that the south coast of Sydney has to offer – having reached that sad stage in our lives where we share lengthy discussions about trees and birds without boring the tits off each other or feeling like pretentious old fools – but mainly to combat the weight gain caused by a liberalness in wine consumption necessary to keep aforementioned inane conversations going, and the horrific calorie count of all the gastronomic delights we partook of (because we were on holiday).  That transitory film of dementia that descends upon the brain on holiday in regard to how easy it is to gain weight at our age really is quite wonderful.

IMG_5134In Australia, even an innocent walk to some of the whitest sand outside of Whitehaven Beach in Queensland (one of the world’s top ten beaches) has its mindfuck challenges. Where else in the world do you find “How to resuscitate” boards at each entry point to the beach? Because if the rips and sharks don’t get you, there are killer octopi, snakes and poisonous plant life, all waiting. Apparently, Jervis Bay, the last stop on our journey, is renowned for the Diamond Python, a wildlife fact the old man chose to keep to himself while I used the council “bush” toilets. Option two, of peeing behind a bush, wasn’t much better. 

IMG_5131The photo to the left represents your typical Australian bush mushroom –  hardly the type you rustle up a veg Risotto with  – and the one below is the type of daunting shape that stops you in your tracks for a second look, provoking the relaxation of your Sphincter muscle and your heart rate to increase to a dangerous level. Generally, you only remember that you’re in the middle of fucking nowhere around the same time that you discover that you only have one bar left on your phone. IMG_5132

In the bush it can feel like there are eyes on you from every direction, which is why I let the old man lead on our jaunts, indeed, the only time I allow him to assume full patriarchal, cave-man superiority before we get home and I am forced to remind him that men are to be seen but never heard.

Why Do Hangovers Have To Be So Much Worse In Middle Age?

I farewelled my drinking legs in style this weekend.

IMG_2447

 

But there are worst places than the Hunter Valley to find out that you’re a pussy.

 

Not even the enticement of membership to my favourite winery, Scarborough Wines, a life-long ambition of mine, along with the purchase of twelve bottles of my favourite Chardonnay (now safely stashed away from Kurt in the boot of my car), can change the fact that my body refuses to play ball when it comes to alcohol. 

IMG_2443
There are worst places than the Hunter Valley to admit defeat.

 

I know we’ve had a good run, and unlike all my previous, very silly, failed promises when I said that I would give up drinking because I was worried I might have a problem (!), I won’t be giving up anytime soon, however I might concede that I need to push down a tad more gently on the throttle.

 

It just proves that life’s a bitch, because first it takes our looks, then our bodies, our tolerance to wine and finally our brains. Phone number for the Euthanasia society handy, anyone?

 

Like those first grey hairs in your pubes, it’s got to be one of the most debilitating side effects of middle age when you notice those first signs of your alcoholic tolerance slippage, forcing you to approach old age with dementia as the only viable means of forgetting. It’s your body’s way of reminding you that you have lots of confused, bad-assed hormones and a predisposition to premature death unless you listen to it and cut the fuck down.

 

And for those who care…

 

According to Science Of Us and Cari Romm, ‘one of the major reasons for a hangover is that you simply become less efficient at processing your drinks. Each drink you force on your poor body takes about an hour to break down. Doing so is a multi-step process: First, a liver enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase transforms the alcohol you’ve ingested into a compound called acetaldehyde. Next, another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase breaks that down into acetate, which then becomes carbon dioxide and water. When you’re 21, this process acts as a fairly well-oiled machine. But over time, our levels of the necessary enzymes decrease, meaning acetaldehyde — which is a highly toxic, nasty chemical — spends more time hanging out in your system, causing headaches, mouth dryness, nausea, and a host of other symptoms. ‘

What this means in practise is that we’re too fucking old to be having fun.

Also, ‘As they grow older, people may also build up more body fat, which leaves them more susceptible to alcohol’s effects. Fat doesn’t absorb alcohol, meaning someone who has more of it will have less space for booze to dilute — it’s the reason women, who generally have more body fat than men, also tend to have lower tolerance. The body also loses water with age — you have more water in you at 20 than you do at 40 — which, again, means the booze stays more concentrated in your system. ‘

 

IMG_2509As you’ll be aware from my past moans of frustration here on this blog, this pussy-liver condition of mine has been looming for a while, but being the stalwart that I am, I’ve chosen to ignore it thus far, in much the same way I’ve ignored advice about being too old to wear leggings and keeping my hair long.

 

For those of you still in denial, the symptoms start with noticeably worse headaches and flu-like symptoms the morning after, even after you’ve resorted to finer wines in desperation or an attempt at other drinks in search of that perfect elixir to provide a comparable buzz without the dire consequences.

 

The delightful young cellar hottie at Keith Tulloch Wines told me that hangovers are due to the amount of sulphur in cheaper wines, but I’ve tried expensive and organic wines and they’re just as unforgiving and generally the latter taste as gross AF.

 

Which is why I suspected that last weekend’s trip to the Hunter Wine Valley would be a test. Sobriety is not exactly a viable option on a two-day wine tour, accompanied by a man about to turn fifty and still searching for the secret to his life, and three young adults, excited as puppies about getting shit-faced with their parents, at their parents expense.

 

Remember those halcyon days when you too possessed the superpower to drink all night, get up in the morning and start all over again?

 

I was uncharacteristically careful. I volunteered as the responsible driver to some of the cellars (the ones I knew made shit Chardonnay), sipped at tastings and tried to pretend that I didn’t hate everyone. Although it nearly killed me to spit away the majority of each glass in the spittoons.

IMG_2465
Seriously grainy photo because it was dusk and I was as pissed AF, but they were bonafide kangaroos which meant they were off the menu that night.

 

And then we reached the afternoon, parked the car at our beautiful house and walked through the lush vineyards to our local cellars – (a tad of misrepresentation there as there are no leaves on the vines in the winter, but fortunately the cellars have plenty stashed away).

 

IMG_2477
Our quaint little cottage with the three Musketeers poised to show up the “olds”.

And no judgment, but by the time we walked back home that evening I was actually seeing kangaroos, NC was cuddling Kurt and the Astronaut had sneakily set up Twenty Questions on the dining table – he was that confident about winning. Which was very fortuitous as it turned out because it distracted the old man’s middle-aged whinging about the Liberals not winning.

 

Anyone else feeling a little vulnerable that we still don’t have a prime minister?

 

And as I tucked into a vat of cheese, bread and cold meat, I was having such a good time that I thought I’d got away with it.

 

Until the next morning when I woke up at dawn to balloons in the garden, and a humdinger of a hangover that not even our cholesterol-infused breakfast, several sneaky black coffees and gallons of water could alleviate.

IMG_2531
Seriously though, there were fucking balloons in the garden the next morning!

 

Was it worth it? Of course.

We’re Lucky Enough To Be Holidaying With Our Parents

It’s family holiday time and no, I never did manage to lose the three kilos I needed to semi-confidently wear my swimsuit in public. help-text-on-sand_Qysj5W

 

I wish I could savour this feeling of excitement and anticipation that I always experience in the weeks leading up to a holiday; that is, before we go. Before I remember the realities, memories of which tend to become distorted with time, rather like childbirth.

 

Can I seriously have forgotten about the arguments over which bedroom each of the kids want, which restaurant or beach to go to or why they have to wear sun screen? Or that the novelty of the beach wears off with my kids, usually after the first two hours?

 

Embarrassing first world problems, I know, but family holidays can be an endurance to match any test seen on those crazy Japanese shows when the modern family of privilege is forced to live amiably together without the luxuries and devices that make that sort of possible on home turf.

 

Kurt is obviously appalled that he has been forced to holiday with his parents when NONE of his friends have to. But obviously we couldn’t leave him at home; not if we wanted a home to come back to.

 

Getting Kurt to the beach is always the biggest trial. Not that I’m going to force the issue this year – I’m not that stoic. I know I should just let him wallow in his holiday room feeling sorry for himself in his translucent Twilight skin that hasn’t seen a ray of sunlight in the last three years; hating us.

 

Kurt cannot tolerate sand, freaks out if seaweed touches his skin and is terrified of sharks. He has a point, but none of those things are exactly optional on a beach holiday in Australia. He also hates sitting in wet swimmers for prolonged periods of time – something he has found problematic since he was a little boy. At least watching him change angrily behind a towel, rubbing furiously at every grain of sand that dares enter the orifices of his body, provides the family with some entertainment.

 

The Astronaut is accompanying NC to provide us with some additional light relief this year (!) NC’s boyfriend is the finest example of everything our son is not. Academic, responsible, he could be straight out of The Big Bang Theory, and he will no doubt have us knocking back nightly Heston Blumenthal-style experimental cocktails in between testing us on science trivia that the old man and I have zero hope of answering.

 

To be honest, with NC and The Astronaut in our group, the best part about this holiday is that we are actually going away with responsible people – our surrogate parents.

 

One of the few benefits of the circle of life is that ultimately the kids have to look after us.

 

NC and The Astronaut are far more responsible than either the old man or I could ever hope to be. NC is the kind of daughter you want to get dementia with just to test her, because you know she’ll take the responsibility seriously; whereas I’m seriously beginning to worry about how often the word ‘euthanasia’ comes up on Kurt’s search history.

 

Even more fortuitously, as NC is still a student and The Astronaut a newbie graduate employee, they are also very poor. Which means that unlike Kurt, they should be grateful that we continue to take them away on our precious family holiday. And to enable them to fully demonstrate their gratitude, we may bribe them to take on the role of Kurt’s parents on this trip, too.