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Customs & Border Security

The flight was pretty short. Gate-to-gate, the flight was 10:19 AM – 12:16 PM. 


I had the great pleasure of learning that I also get motion sickness from airplanes as well. Yay for my first round of self-discovery? I don’t know, but it sucked. I was super nauseous the whole way, very uncomfortable, I was ready for the whole thing to be over. We were only in the air for less than an hour and a half, but as soon as it hit the ground, I couldn’t have been more pumped. 

This is where my super exciting vacation takes a sad downturn. I’d been doing pretty well up until this part, especially considering traveling internationally for the first time. I also have godawful anxiety that was creeping up throughout the day, but I’d been able to keep it managed.

But. Then came a new challenge. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I got inside and needed to go through customs. 

First, I made the mistake of going to the wrong floor because I followed two other people who looked like they knew were they were going. They did. Except they were going a different place than me (a connecting flight) so that was stressful, and it was a mad dash to run downstairs and try to follow someone else. 

I ended up just following signs and doing my best with that, but the amount of noise and stimulation had my processing capabilities pretty low, which was tough. I felt overwhelmed even trying to read signs. Because the signs were in English and French, I couldn’t process them because I was so anxious. It was like there was an extra step my brain needed to take sorting throug the language component, and it just couldn’t. I was so overstimulated. 

At this point, I hadn’t even really identified that things were not going so well, which I should have by the way my brain was processing. (But, it’s hard to process how your brain is processing when it’s having a hard time processing.) 

The next step I felt a little better about. I came into a huge area with three different sections: Nexus, US & Canadian passports, and all other passports. There was a nice employee who was directing people into the proper lines. And I found my way to a kiosk where I scanned my passport (incorrectly twice) and inserted my declaration of goods that I filled out on the plane. Then, I got super overwhelmed again and didn’t know where to go, but I asked, and she pointed me in the direction of border security. 


When I was next, I handed a copy of the declaration of goods to the officer along with my passport. I had packed pepper spray in my suitcase which is fine (I even checked TSA guidelines), but it’s not allowed entry into Canada, as it was considered a weapon and was marked as such on my declaration of goods form. So the officer was nice and calm and just asked me to stand off to the side. 

Then another office called me over and somewhat harshly said, “So why do you have a weapon?” Great. Way to set the anxious girl at ease. First of all, I never expected an ordeal. I bring pepper spray when I travel or am in cities (we can do another discussion later about that). It just seems like such a stupid thing to even spend time talking about, but that’s what happened. 

So, I told him that yes, I did have it in my suitcase. And he told me I had to surrender it, and it’s not allowed in. Okay. That’s fine. But. 

No. It’s not. I don’t know why. Just everything together. I am suddenly overwhelmed. I feel every muscle tighten. It feels impossible to pull in a breath. I take my hands and grab onto the counter while I choke on air and trip over words. 

“Ma’am, what’s wrong?” 

I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t talk. It was a terrifying feeling. I was completely encompassed in this fear. I felt tears welling up in my eyes, I was gasping for air, my heart pounding, it took me four or five attempts to utter a broken sentence while I pointed at the form: “I-I-I…where….what…now?” 

“It’s okay, you just need to surrender it to customs.” Then I go immensely overwhelmed. Wasn’t this customs? 

I hadn’t even gone to baggage claim yet. I can’t really remember the rest of my encounter with the border security to be honest. I was having a panic attack for 90% of it, and that doesn’t exactly help you remember things clearly. 

What I do remember is being terrified, overwhelmed, and not even knowing how to feel about having a panic attack right in front of a stranger, especially when I had been trying so hard to successfully get myself through this new experience. 

So what happened next. I found baggage claim. I found what I thought was customs (it may have been, I don’t know) and physically tried to surrender my items, but they rushed me away and only wanted my form, so that’s basically the end of that. 

Then I got lost inside the Toronto airport for over an hour. I literally couldn’t find an exit. Then when I did find an exit, my internet wasn’t working, I couldn’t find a way to get to my BNB, it was so much stress at once, and while coming down from a panic attack, it was so exhausting. 

So this really triggered some self-reflection that honestly I haven’t gone through yet. I have started thinking about it, though. What does this mean for me? Does this mean I can’t travel? Does this mean I can’t travel alone? No, I don’t think so. Actually, today was so great. I felt so wonderful being able to do it myself, even though there was some major bumps in the road. I just wanted to reflect and write about the actual situation so I can come back another time to reflect on what this means and what it’s like to have chronic anxiety and how that really affects your life. But for now, the situation is written down. 

I know words haven’t explained it. Mental disorders are about out-of-control feelings and so just discussing the circumstances and some instropsection isn’t really going to relay how it felt, but this is for me and that’s enough. More to come on this later. 

-L

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