Mad Travel

It’s been a while since my last real trip, I won’t lie. I have been abroad frequently but I haven’t undertaken a trip like the one I’m on currently in a few years and I certainly haven’t done this so far from home.

San Francisco is fantastic though. Every street is a surprise; it is interesting and for me the beauty has been in the smaller details of the place. Aside from The Stinking Rose – a restaurant dedicated purely to cooking with garlic – my favourite elements of the city are the lights, the art and the diversity. I have seen the words “fuck Trump” written more times than I can count and it gives me a little bit of hope for this country again. Also, the coffee isn’t half bad.

My main reason for writing though is quite simple; mental health and travel. When I was younger I convinced myself that Travel was a way to escape or run away from my mental illness. In many ways it does make me feel better. I feel in control and the act of moving around simply makes my life feel lighter. However, the thought that you can leave your ill mental health in a box at home is just not realistic.

When we landed – after a gruelling 10.5 hour flight from London – I was thrilled to just be off of the plane and onto solid land. Even though I had been nervous about US Customs, the process was a breeze. When I stepped out of the airport terminal I was excited. I really needed an adventure and I was lucky enough to be sharing one with a good friend in an amazing part of the US which I have always wanted to visit.

However, as our Uber to the city shot through Treasure Island and took us closer to our destination it was like my heart had stopped. My brain went blank and I couldn’t bring to mind anything other than the exact moment then and there. I started being quietly snappy and angry to both strangers and my travel companion. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye or speak too much. My brain had quite literally stopped functioning.

My favourite part of travel is meeting new people, but in that frame of mind I couldn’t even bear to make eye contact with myself in the mirror. I was being fairly intolerable, I suddenly lost every last bit of my appetite and leaving my hostel bunk left me in a marked state of constant worry. Instead of enjoying myself, I was worrying about when I would next be able to crawl into bed and avoid the world.

Obviously, this isn’t an ideal state for any holiday – let alone when you’re going to be away for almost a month. Very quickly the anxiety translated to a fear that I simply wouldn’t enjoy myself for the entire trip; that for the remainder of my time here I would simply be tolerating rather than enjoying my stay. I very nearly cried at dinner, it wasn’t fun.

What I realised quite quickly were a number of things, but most important amongst those is that mental illness doesn’t stay at home and it is still imperative to engage in routine self-care no matter where you are. So I decided to list a few basic tips which have helped me in the last 72 hours:

  1. Remember any medication: It’s an easy mistake to make; either you don’t bring enough with you or you get swept up in the action of the trip and forget a few doses. So before you leave always double check that you have an ample supply of medication by adding it to a regular packing list. Don’t take the bare minimum amount you will need just in case some gets lost. I also like to spread boxes of meds through both hold and hand luggage just in case anything should happen to my baggage. Also, set an alarm and take medication at the same time everyday even if you’re allowed some leeway wth dosage timings. Getting into a temporal habit with meds will diminish the chance of forgetting when you get swept up by the events of the day.
  2. Take comforter item/s: No, it doesn’t make you a child. Yes, it will make you feel better. I personally don’t go travelling without my small stuffed toy tiger in my bag. It’s a very small thing but these little items can be excellent when you need some grounding or start to miss home at all.
  3. Express your feelings where you can: Bottling up emotions isn’t useful at the best of times. It becomes even worse when you’re either alone and away from home or travelling in close proximity to others for a long period of time. Even the closest of friendships can be heavily tested by withheld emotions. With any internet connection or wifi, you can contact any potential support network back home – though their practical input will be limited, it is often productive to just offload worries and talk through potential solutions. If you aren’t travelling alone and you trust your travel companion, talk to them. Apologise (if absolutely necessary) and do your best to explain how you feel and how they can best support you while you’re away. If neither of these options are possible, vent to a diary. I still write in a diary even when I have both of the latter options. Laying out your negative thoughts can really help to highlight areas of irrationality.
  4. Get plenty of sleep/rest: Yes, you may not have any plans to return to the area you are travelling to, but that is no excuse to wear yourself into the ground and fail to get an appropriate amount of sleep. Even though my mental illness isn’t magically solved by a good night’s sleep, some rest certainly helps when I’m feeling negative. It’s much more productive to sleep well and see a little less of a place than to lack sleep and therefore fail to enjoy your whole time in a location.
  5. Hydration and food: Another really obvious one here, but a lack of food and water can really impact your mood and health. If you’re failing to drink enough or not eating enough, you will most likely become irritable and your mood will suffer. Trust me, I know it isn’t easy to force feed yourself but the trick is to just never pass up an opportunity for food or water. Even if you can only eat the smallest amount of food, it is better than nothing.

On that note, I think I’m going to bed. It’s my last day in San Francisco tomorrow and I’m fairly determined to be a functional human being for it. Next stop, San Jose.

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