GOING ON HOLIDAY CAN be stressful. You’ve got packing to do, accommodation to book, important documents to keep an eye on — the list is endless. For those with a mental illness, these seemingly simple tasks can be a real strain, making something that should be pleasurable — like a holiday — a struggle.
Mental illness is intangible, with most symptoms, sensations, and experiences completely invisible to others. To better understand some of these experiences, we asked people with a range of conditions to describe how they experience and cope with travel.
Artist Loren Conner, who herself has mental health difficulties, then brought the descriptions to life in 5 evocative illustrations.
“Personally, I have always connected with drawing in order to connect with myself, I find slowing down and taking that moment to create can see me through even the toughest of days. No one should feel afraid to embrace or express their thoughts and feelings, it is the most important part of coping with mental health for yourself and others around you.”
Doug has had depression for the past twelve years, but only recently spoke out about his experience. Prior to this, his friends and family were unaware of his struggle.
“Depression affects everyone in so many different ways. For me it’s just a bad head space where I’m not entirely sure who I am and I over think, over worry and over analyze every situation. I get this horrible sensation in both my stomach and my head and I can’t even describe it. It’s an uneasy feeling and that makes traveling really tough.
“Traveling is doable, but you need to find out how to do it in a way that suits you and leaves you in full control of your situation and surroundings. Arriving early really helps me get settled. Just being prepared in general is a great help.”
Lauren was sixteen when she had her first panic attack. She still doesn’t know what triggered it, but from that moment on, anxiety has been a constant part of her life.
“Traveling feels like you’re making a huge mistake. Everyone says to trust your intuition when you travel, but I had to learn to silence the voice in my head that was always telling me that something was going to go seriously wrong — if I hadn’t done, I never would have left in the first place.”
Lauren finds that forming a routine when she travels helps reduce her anxiety: “It gives me a sense of control over my life. I’ll set my alarm for the same time every day and then head out for a morning walk. Even though the location changes, the simple act of doing the same thing every morning helps me to feel less disorientated.”
Daniel was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 5, but it wasn’t until his 18th birthday that he fully understood he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Traveling with ADHD is obsessing over stuff that never eventuates, but just to make sure, I’d better run it through my mind 300 times and not sleep for three days prior with a complete loss of appetite.
“The stress of checking-in baggage and then being responsible for it is a bit too much.” To combat this Daniel has a simple approach to his packing, taking only a backpack, wallet, passport and phone. As long as Daniel has his wallet on him, he can buy what he needs as he goes.
Rather than be unaware or misinformed — which can exacerbate his ADHD — Daniel finds that thoroughly researching the place he’s visiting helps him cope better when traveling.
Leanna recognised the symptoms of late-onset PTSD a year after being attacked in the alley behind her apartment in October 2012.
“I noticed early on that shadows were a huge trigger. PTSD is like a shadow. It’s always there but not always visible. It’s easy to dismiss when you’re calm, but can manifest at any moment, and when it does, everything else disappears. Whether it’s a random spike of anxiety, uncontrollable shaking and crying, nausea, hyperventilating, elevated heart rate and trouble breathing or feeling faint, it overtakes every other sense in your body. You are trapped in this sensation, like being locked in a pitch-black room.
“I had to fight to travel again. It took two years for me to finally get the courage to take my first solo trip, but I was determined to move past my fear. The key for me was preparation. I learned to think about the situation practically. What were my options? What could I do immediately? How could I help myself feel safe? Sometimes, the smallest thing made the biggest difference – never underestimate the secure feeling of a fully-charged phone!”
Ellen was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder after her symptoms became physically evident as an adolescent. Prior to her diagnosis, Ellen’s OCD symptoms were internal, taking place via mental compulsions.
“Traveling with OCD at its worst can sometimes feel like you’re carrying a little manipulative monster on your shoulders, constantly whispering negative thoughts and situations at every chance and not being able to shake it off. It can also feel like you’re wearing a really tight life vest. Making you feel trapped and incredibly anxious, yet at the same time luring you into a sense of security that the OCD thoughts and anxiety are perfectly logical. No matter what you do, you can’t seem to loosen the life vest.”
Over the years, traveling with OCD for Ellen has become a lot easier. “For me planning is key. This carries across to when I’m actually on holiday, so I can mentally prepare for any tricky situations that could arise.
“I love to bullet journal, so I’ll take the time to make dedicated pages for certain aspects of my trip like a packing list, or key sights to see. This helps to reduce the anxiety a little and it’s enjoyable too.”
This article was originally published on Staysure.co.uk, and is republished here with permission.