Forgive me the delay in posting this. As you’ll see I actually wrote it last week but due to problems with my phone I only just managed to get it onto my laptop now! But, as I am still struggling with the after effects I think it worth posting :)
So here I relax on a Sunday morning, cuppa in one hand and enjoying the quiet serenity of the early hours. It’s a special time for me and sometimes the only chance I have to catch up with myself before the bustle of the day begins. Sometimes the dog will join me, curled up by my side or on my lap and sometimes he will prefer to remain snuggled under the duvet, where my husband and my daughter are also still tucked in (the little minx already knows at the grand age of nine months how to twist her daddy round her very little finger!). Sundays tend to be the days where I have my rest, along with a lie in. So why am I up so early rather than cuddling with my family in bed?
One word – holiday.
For most people, the word holiday generates feelings of excitement, relaxation, fun and wellbeing. A chance to experience new places, feel the sun on your skin or just enjoy revisiting old haunts and exploring new ones. Absorbing culture, history or pushing new frontiers, physical or psychological. Then one returns feeling at peace with the world, ready to return to daily life and saunter merrily into the office bronzed and feeling a million dollars. Or filled with a sense of accomplishment, eager to take that determination and drive forward umm, things, in the office. Well, that’s what we are sold anyway.
For many of us though, the idea of travelling induces feelings of panic and stress. It creates the opposite effect of health and wellbeing a couple of weeks in the sun (or snow) can bring to most. It is in short, a worst nightmare to be away from familiar things and comfort zone. I don’t think this is unique to people with a mental health condition of course, but it can exacerbate pre-existing problems and create unnecessary anxiety.
I’m one of the latter. I never used to be. I grew up in a foreign country and travelled long distances regularly. As a young woman I loved the escape that visiting new places bought me, seeing new cultures was inspirational and it gave me a sense of freedom and purpose to be buzzing all round the world. I sa so many incredible places and met many wonderful people.
Of course with hindsight now that desire to travel so regularly was bought on by my bipolar. I ran up tens of thousands in debt travelling, whipped on by this relentless need to escape and living in an alternate reality where money grew on trees and no corner of the world was too far flung for me to discover. It was also a product of the abuse I experienced as a child, with those BPD traits rearing their head as every situation that could be translated as awkward or difficult resulted in flight mode. I’d retreat in my head, planning my next move, my next escape. I had to permanently be on the move, running away.
These days, I am the opposite. The idea of leaving my safe space nauseates me. Even going to see friends in the next town along is a big deal. The only time it isn’t is if DH is with me. Then I look forward to it. But we don’t get away much and often I travel on my own. And I get so scared. And angry that something is taking me away from my safe place. I like my safe place, it keeps me alive. When I leave it takes me ages to settle again. A few nights of disruption and nightmares. Anxiety and general panic at the thought of having to leave the house again. Having to fly somewhere. I never used to be a nervous flyer. Now the mere bump of turbulence makes me want to vomit and run screaming off the plane with my parachute on. Or trying to get luggage. Will it appear on the carousel? Will I need to spend my precious pennies on new clothes? Even going through passport control is scary. I am super paranoid about the uniforms behind the desk, convinced they will march me off and declare my passport invalid.
But I do it. I force myself to do it. It would be all to easy to retreat into my own private world, but I can’t.
I am now a mother. And that is the only reason why. How do I want my daughter to grow up? Scared of her own shadow? What example do I want to set?
Now, the above statement is worthy of many blog posts alone so I will go into it another time. But I need to get out and about for my daughter’s sake. I want her to be used to travel, to going different places, to experiencing new cultures, so she can make more informed decisions as an adult. If I had my way I would live like a hermit with just DH, her and the dog for company and never see another human ever again, living in a beautiful wilderness by the sea somewhere.
But I can’t do that to my daughter. So I have to force myself outside.
Just to interject, I know I am not the only person who finds holidays stressful and it of course is not limited to people with bipolar. One of the mothers on Sister Wives
yes I am a stay at home mum who watches rather too much TLC today talked about how stressful she was finding preparing for a 4 day road trip to Missouri. Which I can well imagine must be a logistical nightmare, not to mention trying to keep however many children entertained on such a long road trip!
I think the difference is that all the stresses we undergo living with bipolar are then amplified So for me it’s anxiety around travel, paranoia and so on. You know. So it blows everything out of all proportion.
I also was worried about what to DO for the whole time I was there. I even have this with my parents coming to visit, or going to see my mum. What the eff am I going to say? How will I entertain them? What will I do to make the time go as fast as possible? I find dealing with people the most stressful thing ever, even those I am closest to (aside from DH and baby), and wish the time to fly as fast as possible.
We went to see my baby’s godmother, who has a daughter and a baby just a couple of months older than mine. Finances and other illness-related things meant that I hadn’t seen my closest friend for some years. Skype I find very difficult too and I communicate best by text. So we have had some long FB and WhatsApp messages over the years. I girded my loins, booked the plane tickets and braced myself for travel.
I fret and become very anxious about a week before I travel and then once underway I find it much easier. It’s also great having my daughter there as she is such a distraction, but hard on DH who has to put up with my extreme anxiety which is pretty much guaranteed to manifest in shouting and trying to control everything around me which is not controllable.
However, once underway it is normally ok. Except I didn’t realise at Schipol Airport they don’t let you take prams through security like they do at UK airports. Now, my strategy for coping with travel is to be super organised. But I am a bit lazy with stuff for the baby and load up the pram with blankets etc so it doesn’t all fit in the nappy bag. I had such a shock and ended up struggling through security with everything hanging out all over the place. I had the sling which we found useless from the moment we bought it but still I thought I would persevere with it and use it to no effect whatsoever and was practically in tears wishing I had packed her harness carrier thingy instead.
I was sweating and crying with me and a wailing baby on arrival at the gate. Also why do some people feel free to dispense completely USELESS advice to parents? In the baby change I was asked ‘oh don’t you have a baby carrier’ well yes thanks ever so for pointing that out to me when I have a wailing infant in one arm and four bags oozing baby paraphernalia out of the other!! Why don’t you go and put it over the tannoy for all the other parents who might just benefit from your pearls of wisdom?!
Then we made it to the gate and me and daughter calmed down and enjoyed watching the planes and people come and go. I felt a bit better, confidently waiting for them to announce the bit where infants and parents could get on first. Oh except in egalitarian Sweden that doesn’t seem to be the case and I was left struggling halfway down the corridor with everything trailing, baby literally under one arm at a funny angle trying not to bump her head on the seats as we tried to find our place. Kind passengers were picking up my stuff after me and helped put everything up, otherwise I would have been completely and utterly stuck. We collapsed into our seat eventually, both baby and me feeling somewhat traumatised by the last couple of hours.
The rest of the flight passed without incident, aside from the baby flinging across the plane the banana I had lovingly mashed for her in case she got hungry (another point of anxiety/paranoia) and narrowly missing some poor man’s trousers!
By the way, at Stockholm airport they kindly provide you with little prams for the wee ones whilst you wait for yours to be unceremoniously dumped somewhere in the vicinity of your carousel. But hey, at least I didn’t have to carry her round half the airport. Well I did, because no one told me I could get a pram until a bit later! Can you tell I am somewhat bitter?!
I sound like I am frothing at the mouth a bit with the whole plane thing but it demonstrates so well every agonising step in my brain. Looking back I was close to panic the whole time we were negotiating our way to and from the plane and the only thing that didn’t have me crumpled on the floor in tears was the fact that I can’t let myself go because of my baby being there. The situation was escalating so badly – before I even arrived at my nice holiday destination – that I was about to call DH to turn around and come pick us both up as I couldn’t do it any more.
As for the rest of the trip? Well, I never sleep well away from DH at the best of times and neither does our daughter. So I had about two hours of sleep the first night and five the second. The importance of sleep can’t be underestimated but I could barely talk by the end of the second night. It was truly wonderful to see my friend, and the baby in particular had a great time, but I also realised that actually, I can’t travel without DH again. It was a learning for me about how to manage this condition.
I have been unsettled ever since we returned. I had a huge panic attack yesterday whilst out with the baby in the centre of town. I haven’t slept properly. I had to take my anti anxiety medication which, to be frank, fucks me over big time so I try to avoid it and yep, today I was like a zombie.
I also realised that holidays for me are not the stress free adventures that most people have. I think if I went en famille with DH, daughter and dog then it might be different. My anxieties will travel no matter where I try and go. But I have to find a way through it as I don’t want my daughter to have any limitations or feel she can’t do something. If that makes sense. So I have to find a way through it so she doesn’t miss out. I don’t want her looking at me thinking that women can’t travel alone. That sounds a bit ridiculous but I want to be a good role model.
Holidays and mini breaks and travel? I’ll have to keep sucking it up for a while longer. But perhaps I’ll take the marketing hype with a pinch of salt in the future!