Megan Gallagher, of Los Angeles, traveled with Rustic Pathways to New Orleans and Fiji when she was in high school. Travel helped Megan overcome her anxiety. Read her story below.
By the time I turned 16, I had already experienced countless days filled with anxiety and panic attacks. I always felt out of control, especially when it came to my thoughts. My panic attacks became so routine that I started wondering how I’d ever become a functioning adult with a job, house, bills, and social life. How would I accomplish my goals if I could barely get through one school day?
I felt like I was being controlled by some force greater than myself and couldn’t get excited about life. I was slowly becoming a victim of my own mind’s power. Someone could invite me to an event and I would immediately start thinking about the worst-case scenario. Every day felt so predictable and I was always in survival mode. I was experiencing what every other teen goes through: hormones, body changes, and coming into your own—feeling that intimidating sense of being in limbo between childhood and adulthood.
On top of that, I was having more than 10 panic attacks every day—in which I would do my best to keep a poker face, while feeling like I was dying on the inside. It’s really hard to put into words the physical feeling of having that many panic attacks while trying to pay attention in class, having a social life, etc. Teenage years are such a vulnerable and pivotal time in one’s life.
In February 2012, during my sophomore year, I was on my computer after school one day and stumbled across Rustic Pathways. It looked so intriguing with the exotic destinations and pictures of smiling teens. After looking at the website for only 30 seconds, I could feel the negative thoughts start to trickle in.
“Would if I get sick and can’t get to a hospital? I can’t travel across the world—what if I get homesick? What if I didn’t make any friends?”
I Immediately stopped thinking about it and turned off my computer. A few days went by and I couldn’t get Rustic off my mind. Something about it felt right.
I was startled by this part of me that actually wanted to go. I hadn’t felt that before. I decided to tell my mom about it and get her opinion. She immediately got super excited and went on the website. She knew right away this would be a really fun experience for me. I could tell she was thinking about how much it would benefit me and my personal growth.
“Why not Megan?” she asked. “This will only bring you something positive and new.”
I so badly wanted to have the same mindset as her, but why couldn’t I see the amazing opportunity in this trip?
After a few days of going back and forth with it, I decided I was going to sign up for the Rebuilding New Orleans (which has since been changed to Rebuilding the American Dream) community service trip that August. The moment I enrolled, I felt a huge wave of excitement and nerves. As the trip date got closer, my anxiety got worse. It started becoming so real. I had never flown anywhere alone, and now I was about to fly across the country!
The night before, I had the worst panic attack of my life. I truly thought my whole body was shutting down. I didn’t know what to do, but I trusted my parent’s decision to encourage me to go. When we signed up for it, a few months prior, it was a mutual decision-so they could tell when it was the anxiety talking vs. the real Megan.
My mom woke me at 6:00am the next morning. I took some deep breaths, cried a little, grabbed my suitcases, and headed for the door.
The next two weeks were a blur of rebuilding houses in the 9th Ward, laughing, learning about Southern culture, eating Cajun food, and exploring the French Quarter. The group I was with could not have been more amazing! I was too busy having fun to be anxious.
I learned so much about myself. Life really starts when you push yourself outside your comfort zone. For me, to travel to another state at 16 years old was a big deal. I constantly felt anxious, but it was a major breakthrough moment for me. The other teens and I bonded so much over painting houses, planting flowers in the school’s garden, and telling stories when we got home. I was forever changed. The experience sparked a love of traveling in me. There is something so priceless about traveling; you always gain something new.
I am forever thankful for what I learned on that trip to New Orleans.
Megan is 23 and works as an inspirational speaker and author. Visit her website to learn more.
Interested in a transformative travel experience like Megan’s? Request a copy of our free spring break and summer programs catalog today!
Jack has spent his professional career as a writer and editor. Before joining Rustic, he worked as a journalist in Kansas and Colorado, taught English in Swaziland, and transitioned to marketing roles in the Boston and New York startup worlds. Jack is excited to channel his love of storytelling and his appreciation for education as Rustic’s Content Production Manager. When not working, Jack is either watching baseball or planning his next adventure. Jack and his wife, Blythe, live in Brooklyn.