'Change Me' by Rebecca Travalja



It was time for a change.


Dublin’s charms eluded me at first. It is hard to enjoy a city when stumbling around with the flu. The Irish accent I had once considered charming caused me to break down in tears in a pharmacy when I could not for the life of me understand the helpful pharmacist’s instructions. The next day, the Irish miracle flu pills had worked their magic. I wandered museums and ate boxty. I took a picture of Oscar Wilde’s statue. But as night drew closer, my brain grew restless.


It was time for a change.


I had planned this two week solo trip through Ireland and Great Britain as a sight-seeing

tour only. I would see museums, look at the pretty scenery, and do it all by myself. When I told my friend Sasha about my trip, he started talking excitedly about all the people I would meet on my travels by striking up conversations with strangers. I snapped at him, “People like me don’t just meet people.”


By “people like me,” I meant anxious people. People like me whose brains sabotaged

them at every turn. People whose brains were professionals at turning mountains into molehills. People for whom crowded rooms and introductions were as frightening as a walk straight into hell.


Now that I was here, beginning my longest solo trip ever, I was kicking myself for even

trying. Who was I to think I could do this? Who was I to think people like me could travel? Who was I to think my anxious brain would let me enjoy strange places surrounded by strangers?


It was time for a change.


I went out that night, partially because the hostel I had chosen was fairly depressing, partially so I could have a miserable time and prove Sasha wrong. I fantasized about gloating over text. The music bar the hostel concierge had recommended, Whelan’s, was packed. I didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t see where the bar or the stage was over the mass of preternaturally tall Irish people. I imagined they were all looking at me, judging this person who was so socially inept she got lost in a bar, of all places.


It was time for a change.


I felt my old friend, panic, rising in me. I knew he was there as he constricted my throat. I felt his clammy fingers trace sweat down my spine. I knew what he would give me next — the heaving breaths, the tears, the shame.


It was time for a change.


I did not want to be the girl people stared at with too-short hair and too large men’s jacket, eyeliner smeared with tears. I wanted to be the girl who could strike up conversations with strangers and be charming. I knew I would never, I could never, be that girl, but I so, so wanted to be.


It was time for a change.


I was sick of letting panic ruin my life. I was sick of panic stealing my love of live music from me. I was sick of panic stealing my time in cities I had longed to visit from me. I was sick of panic stealing potential friends from me.


It was time for a change.


In front of me I saw two trips. One in which I wandered around museums alone and withdrew to my hostel with the setting sun, and all I had to remember were pretty buildings. Another in which my ramblings were marked by friends made in bars and at hostels and conversations I would remember for years. What I did at Whelan’s would decide my trip for me.


It was time for a change.


In front of me I saw two lives. One in which I grew to have peace with myself and my place in the world. One in which my anxiety medication was no longer my crutch. One in which I stopped letting panic hold me back from the experiences I wanted. Another in which I remained afraid of the world and all its experiences and remain afraid of myself. What I did at Whelan’s would decide my life for me.


It was time for a change.


I chose to evade panic’s grip. I chose to be the girl who talked to strangers, at least for one night.


It was time for a change.


I turned to a young man standing near me. “Excuse me, is this show sold out?”





Rebecca Travalja is a college senior that splits her time between New York City and Vermont. She is passionate about mental health, feminism, and works of literature that bite.



Photograph by Rebecca Travalja, taken in Dublin, Ireland.

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