“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”
~ Freya Stark
[Nov. 6, 2015 – Somewhere over the US]
It’s fitting that I find myself writing this blog post on a flight home from Phoenix to Vancouver, but I guess it makes sense that travel is on my mind.
I wanted to write this post because one of the most devastating things I believed when I was freshly diagnosed with schizophrenia is the fact that I would a) never be able to travel for long periods of time again or live in other countries and b) never be able to travel alone.
My one major relapse, which involved a suicide attempt and hospitalization and eventual diagnosis, happened while I was away in Texas. Fortunately I was with family that got me stabilized and home safe, but this article is to help you avoid that if you live with a mental illness and you think that has to hold you back from future travel.
A few years later and since my diagnosis I’ve: spent 3 months in Europe on exchange and backpacking around; backpacked around Central and South America for 7 weeks; gone on multi-week road trips around Canada and the US; attended plenty of seminars, conferences and performed speeches around North America both with people and alone.
When I think of what’s allowed me to travel with this illness and avoid any more relapses, suicide attempts or major struggles, it comes down to a few core strategies.
I share these with you below.
“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”
TRAVEL WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS
Having insight into your illness, symptoms and how you’re feeling at any given moment is crucial to staying well whether you’re at home or travelling, but is especially important during the latter. Having insight means you understand your illness to the point where you can pinpoint symptoms when that come up, recognize when you’re starting to slide downhill and have tools in place to reverse the trend when you need to.
Another important piece to map out is your contacts while travelling and how you can go about that. Will you have a cell phone, access to WiFi and email, your laptop with you? Do you have people back home you can contact in an emergency? Do you have a local contact person that could help you if needed? When I went on a school exchange to Copenhagen, I found a prof from my school, opened up to him and asked if he could be a local contact in case of emergencies. I also opened up to a couple of fellow exchange students I made friends with and trusted. That safety net gave me the confidence to enjoy myself and make the most of my time away.
This is another strategy I recommend whether at home or away, as our overall wellness impacts our mental health in every way. What you eat is vital to staying well abroad. 5 days in a row of eating out and drinking always make me feel horrible and negative. I’ll often bring a small blender (my preference is the Magic Bullet – $40), and I’ll do my best to get a place with a kitchen or at least a fridge so I can make morning smoothies – that’s why I love Airbnb. Another great, small blender I’ve used is the Hamilton Beach Blender ($15).
Sleep is also critical, which is why my travel doesn’t include non-stop partying as it used to. Exercise usually isn’t my top priority, but I’ll still try to get some short runs and a few pushups in if it’s a more business/conferency trip. I also recommend having some strategies to calm yourself when things go wrong or when you’re feeling stressed. A breathing or meditation routine, going for a walk, a relaxation playlist on your phone can make all the difference in those moments when everything seems to be going wrong. Here’s a 1 hour song I listen to for this purpose. Always bring headphones.
Medication is pretty straight forward. Bring more than you need. Don’t lose it. Remember to take it. Easier said than done of course, but that’s what phone reminders are for, right? Having some different medication in addition to your normal persciption can also help. I take anti-psychotics, but I also have some more powerful anti-psychotics and anti-anxiety meds just in case.
Finally, worth mentioning is the environment you’re going into. Know your comfort zone and push beyond it, but not so far that you’re going to stress yourself out and struggle. Maybe a good starting point is a somewhat local or short trip, working your way up to longer and farther-flung ones. If parties aren’t you’re thing, don’t bother with Ibiza or Vegas. Know your style and customize your travel to fit your needs.
That’s a basic run down of how I travel with a mental illness. I know plenty of others who do also and everyone has their own style and preferences. All I want this to do for you is let you know your mental illness absolutely does not have to keep you from knocking awesome spots around the world off your bucket list.
Leave a comment below with where you plan to go next and share a travel tip for other readers to learn from you!!
Safe Journey and Keep Well,
PS.. I’m teaming up with Innovative Fitness [Kitsilano] to host a mountain circuit workout fudraiser, and I’d absolutely love if you joined me!! All goes down Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015. Click the image below for details and I’ll see you there!!