Here’s another fun contradiction I’ve come across since living with anxiety and depression: I need to be in control to feel safe, but I’m less capable than ever of being in control.
I’m incapable of delegating tasks related to planning a holiday, because I would just feel out-of-control and useless. I have to do the research, plan the travel, pack the bags. I have to know the timeframes and organise the taxis, buy the guidebook and scan TripAdvisor for bad hotel reviews.
I can’t blame the Welshman for taking advantage of the neurosis-fuelled travel agent living in his house. He lets me organise, and basks in the relaxation of it. When I decide I resent him for his chill, he’s baffled. At what point was he supposed to step in? Did I expect him to navigate my 10,000 open browser windows or speed-read the Lonely Planet guide I’ve already got memorised?
Travelling with mental illness is particularly challenging for a couple of reasons, including:
- You’re away from your coping mechanisms
- You’re walking a lot, and likely to get exhausted
- You have to talk with your travelling companion, even if you’re feeling grumpy or stressed
- You can get hungry or dehydrated more easily
- Tourist-confusion and cognitive issues are, in my experience, upsettingly similar and hard to tell apart
- Maps are super stressful
- On any holiday, you need to be prepared for some kind of crisis management
That said, you deserve a holiday. You deserve to take a break from familiar triggers and familiar exhaustion. You deserve to eat waffles, swim in the sea and get as pleasantly drunk as your medication will safely allow. I meant what I said a few posts back – you deserve a chance to hit the hard reset button.
Here are my top 5 tips for travelling when you’re anxious or depressed
- Talk to your travelling companion ahead of time. Don’t take all the burden on yourself – talk to your companion, and figure out who is handling what. Another thing to tackle in this conversation is long silences. Explain what they likely already know: you’re going to need lots of quiet, lots of breaks, and some extended periods of quiet. Whoever you’re travelling with wants you to be safe and happy – let them help.
- ACF: Always Carry Food. I’ve lost track of the number of anxiety attacks that have been cut short by chocolate. If you’re out and about all day, every day, you need to have something on hand to pick up your blood sugar. I suggest wholefood cereal bars. Also, carry water. Don’t let a headache ruin your day when you’ve been working so hard to stay calm.
- Treat. Yo. Self. If you’re on a diet, it doesn’t count on holiday. You’re trying to balance enough – don’t try and stay too virtuous on holiday. If you fancy chocolate, eat the chocolate. If you’re craving ice cream, frites et moules (can you tell I just got back from Bruges??) or waffles, go for it. Break up your sightseeing with regular, extended periods of psychological detox-ing in cafes.
- Use your hotel room. If you have an accessible hotel room, take advantage of it as a basecamp for your holiday. If you need to come home and nap or watch odd Flemish TV, do that. If you need a shower to feel more human before heading out for dinner, do that too. I’ve never understood travelling companions who see heading back to the hotel as some kind of admittance of defeat – dude, I just need to rest my feet and take off my bra.
- Don’t forget the important routines. If you know you’re grumpy without breakfast, make time for it. Take your medication at the same time you always did, taking into account any time differences. If you need evening yoga to detox your brain or can’t get to sleep without listening to a podcast, plan to do those things. You might need to bend the rules, but your routines are important, and you should try to respect them.
It’s hard work, but you absolutely deserve to take a break from the world and have a wander. In the words of Rebecca Sugar: “Why don’t you just let yourself be somewhere different?”
Have fun, and send me some holiday selfies.
With love, always,