Toronto Made me Brave

.2% of my cousins.

.2% of my cousins.

I grew up in a really large family. Just on my mom's side I have over 40 first cousins and 12 aunts and uncles. We all grew up pretty close. Our parents would work and our grandmother would take care of us. So I'm sure you won't find it hard to believe that I have never done anything alone. My entire life I've been surrounded by an incredible support system and lots of company. We had buddy systems, and of course, in typical Dominican household fashion, you don't go anywhere without a sibling or cousin because the world is crazy and when shit goes down two (or three or four or eight) is better than one. 

Being surrounded by so many supportive humans all the time created a very consistent comfort zone for me. I know it sounds like I'm complaining about being overly loved or something like that, but I promise it'll all make sense in a bit. I have NEVER had to do anything alone. Even when I've just messed stuff up because I was a dumb teenager, I've always had someone to bail me out. Need money? Call uncle so and so. Need a ride? Everyone in this town is related to me, not a problem! Don't want to go somewhere alone? Take your sister, or your cousin. Cousins love doing things together! My point is, this upbringing created an extremely dependent and fearful human when it came to doing the unfamiliar. 

My birthday in 1990 something via @thugnanny_

My birthday in 1990 something via @thugnanny_

Over the past year, I've grown my business by almost 90%. I made a life-altering decision, went on so many new adventures (with my sister, or Melissa, or Mer), and it's been one hell of a ride. Different situations and opportunities have allowed me to discover a lot about myself. Recently I learned that I suffer from anxiety. It affects many parts of my life, but this year, I've had to face the way it affects my ability to travel.

Porter Airlines via @thugnanny_

Porter Airlines via @thugnanny_

So when I was asked by a client and friend to fly out to Toronto for a weekend of exploring the city, I immediately went into a full-on, very private, and very real mental breakdown. I hadn't been on a plane in almost 10 years when my sister and I were fortunate enough to spend three months in Barcelona with my dad's family. I was so excited but incredibly afraid at the same time. What if I get lost? Or what if I (it is nearly impossible, but do not put it past me) get on the wrong plane, fly somewhere crazy and get stranded there forever? This seems silly and juvenile, but when you have anxiety, these are VERY REAL thoughts that go through your mind.

For those that don't know, travel anxiety (for me) is basically just freaking out 99.9% of the traveling experience and needing to know where you're going at all times. Getting lost? Hell no. Out of the question. You memorize directions, take screen shots, memorize instructions and you have a detailed, borderline-scary plan. 

Porter Airline's holy grail lounge via @thugnanny_

Porter Airline's holy grail lounge via @thugnanny_

Naturally, I asked friends for traveling tips, read some blog posts, and discovered there are actually lots of people who are just as anxious and obsessive as I am, they just don't talk about it. This really motivated me to get my shit together,  get on AN HOUR-LONG flight (I know, right?), go to Toronto and slay everything. I wish this was the part of the story where I was on the plane and I had some life-changing epiphany, but it isn't. I was mostly so fixated on being in the right place, that I didn't have room for anxiety about being on a plane and possibly dying or something. 

The life-changing part was actually being in Toronto. I learned so many things, met so many amazing people, AND ATE SO MUCH GOOD FOOD! I got to spend time with a friend and mentor who inspired me and shifted my perspective on many things. I got to see parts of the world I'd never see had I not been brave enough to say yes to the invitation (the CN tower is incredible and everyone in Toronto loves Drake). I didn't have my sister, or a cousin, or my mom. I was in a different country, with new friends and a new experience that was very much my own. That's the part that really set me free. I had an experience that was mine. 

Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

What I meant by, "Toronto Made Me Brave," isn't that I discovered the fountain of truth in an alley downtown (although our friend took us to a restaurant where I discovered I love ox tail, which probably tastes like whatever is in the fountain of truth). Toronto made me brave because I had to say yes to a lot of things I'd normally never say yes to. I had to accept a new personal challenge and opportunity that a year ago I would've shot down immediately. Now I can't wait for the next adventure, and I realized, I really LOVE doing things alone. Traveling alone is actually pretty exciting, and during my wait for my flight to Toronto, I made a friend who's super into what we believe here at Lady Hustle, and was so so helpful and comforting while I was on the verge of an internal panic attack. She doesn't know that, but she is the real MVP. Thanks, Amy! 

I'm sharing my experience because hearing people's stories truthfully helps me feel less abnormal and because mental health is something we should talk about more often and more freely. I have anxiety, and I have controlling, obsessive habits, but so do millions of other people. (According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety — roughly 18 percent of the nation’s population). I'm consciously choosing to do things that better my mental health, and that has opened up doors to a world that I'd never experience otherwise.

#TurbanUP in Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

#TurbanUP in Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

Downtown Toronto via @thugnanny_

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do one thing that scares you every day." For me, that's mostly sitting at my desk and answering emails. My inbox is like Jurassic Park meets the mall on Christmas Eve. Scary as hell. I'm sure Eleanor meant more than sit at your desk and do your job when she said, "something that scares you," but scary looks different for different people. I'm Shonda Rhimes-ing this and saying yes to things I'd normally shut down. I'm saying yes to new experiences and accepting that the journey of self-discovery as an adult is a bitch, but it's necessary and liberating.

"Do one thing that scares you every day." No matter how big or how small. The choices we make to live a better and more fulfilling life are the choices that make us brave. 

"Do one thing that scares you every day." Just make sure it's legal.