Does Mental Illness Keep You from Enjoying Travel?

My first break was at the site of a small airport, so airport travel is always somewhat of a stressor as I tend to relive that trauma from time to time. (I was handcuffed and taken to the police station at this break because the authorities thought I was trying to bomb the plane….)

Regardless of or in addition to this airport-induced trauma, I still have major issues with traveling today. Here is a quick list of my mental health impacts to travel:

  1. I don’t change time zones easily so travel abroad or to the West Coast is particularly difficult.
  2. I have high anxiety about leaving the house and consistently think I have done something like leave the water running or the refrigerator open. I often will have to ask a friend to “check” on things at the house for me when we are traveling.
  3. I don’t do well when it comes to changes to routines. I am very much a creature of habit. Travel changes that. When traveling I tend to have to wake up earlier than usual and eat dinner later than usual. This change is very stressful for me.
  4. The enhanced contact with family members is enjoyable but also stressful. It is more difficult for me to be in a party of 12 to 15 than a party of 3 to 5 which is usual at my house.
  5. My reflexes and response time are not that great, so when we drive my husband does most if not all the driving. This is very stressful for him.
  6. During airport travel, I tend to get overly anxious with the loudspeaker announcements and lack of windows. The loudspeaker is somehow a trigger for me. Oddly, once I am in the plane I am fine. No worries mid-flight per say. My worries are in the airport itself.
  7. Over the years my hippocampus has been damaged by too much accelerated thoughts. This makes logistics while traveling difficult. I am not always great with a map or a GPS. I can easily get confused while making travel plans and following routes on the map or GPS.
  8. I am a checker. Even if staying with family, I tend to need to check things before leaving the house. My extended family has somewhat gotten used to this but it is still annoying.
  9. Back to the hippocampus: things like finding parking or locating the car when parked are difficult things for me to do. I have to make a mental note or a physical note as to what level in the parking lot we are in and where the parking space is relevant to the elevators.
  10. It takes everything I’ve got to go on a trip and not get really, really anxious. I tend to need more or much more downtime to function. People we are visiting generally do not.
  11. Before going on a trip I need to be sure my meds will cover me for the duration of the trip. Sometimes I have to use GoodRX coupons instead of insurance since my insurance company does not issue vacation overrides.
  12. I also tend to worry that the dog is OK while boarding. She has come back with kennel cough with one boarding.

All of this adds up to loads of stress while traveling. What if anything stresses you out while traveling? Or do you enjoy traveling locally or abroad?

Night and Day – Living with Bipolar Disorder out of or in a Routine

I do not know if the experience is similar for other people with a serious mental health diagnosis, but I find myself to be very anxious and irritated when I am not in my regular routine. If I am able to function at a 9 or a 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10) while I am home, I am able to function at a 5 or a 6 when I am out of town and out of my routine. And that is just for domestic travel and travel to a familiar spot. If I have to travel to someplace new or abroad I would have to rate myself even lower due to the adjustment and/or the jet lag and jet lag recovery. As an aside, I have discovered that melatonin does help tremendously with jet lag.

What does it mean to be so tied to a routine? Doing things like taking meds, going to bed, waking up, taking morning meds and taking noon meds are all things that function pretty much on their own when I am at home. I am more or less on auto-pilot with these activities. When I am out of town, I have to create this structure that punctuates my day at several intervals. Things go wrong or even slightly wrong and I have upset the apple cart. Everything starts to tumble and there I am trying to pick up all the apples. Little things like eating dinner at 8:00pm instead of 6:00pm gets my evening off to a rocky start. Things like placing my meds in a different location than I am used to can be a form of stress as well. Sleeping in a strange bed can also be a pain. Having to get somewhere early in the morning is also a challenge as my day starts around 8:00 or 9:00am at home.

I have often thought that because of my bipolar illness I have damaged my hippocampus in some way due to all the trauma over the years of accelerated and then slowed thought processes. So there may be a real medical explanation for all this routine dependency. As I understand things, the hippocampus helps orient you through time and space and helps you keep pace with your general well-being. Getting to a new location that used to be a breeze now with hippocampus damage may seem a daunting task. I have trouble with spatial sense of direction which is one of those skills you need when you are traveling in a new or relatively new spot. This was not the case when I was in my twenties and thirties. This is also one of those problems that is self-fulfilling. The more I tell myself how difficult it is to get somewhere new, the harder it becomes.

So much for loving to travel. I much prefer to be at home in my own routine however boring that may sound. What about you? Do you find that routine is a critical element of your functioning or can you pretty much establish your day and night in a new place without much thought or effort?