Remember to enjoy it!

The first obstacle showed itself only hours after my dad dropped me off at the airport – I remembered that I hate flying! My family usually travel using ferries or a car so it had been quite a while since I’d got on a plane. So I squeezed my armrest so hard that I’m surprised I didn’t leave marks and babbled nervously away to the bored businessman beside me, as the aircraft (which suddenly felt very flimsy) screamed and vibrated as it sped into the air. It didn’t get any better once we were up either, I tried to read but couldn’t concentrate so instead stared out of the window at the distance we’d drop to the ground if we crashed. Luckily there was a very kind air host who brought me a cup of tea to calm me down, and if you’re reading this – thank you so much!

When we touched down I’d never been more relieved to stand on solid ground and couldn’t get off of the plane quickly enough. I had a cigarette in the sunshine and calmed myself before preparing for the next step of my journey. I’d planned it well and knew exactly where the shuttle stopped and where to alight in order to get my train to Firenze. It was at the train station that I realised my first big mistake – I spoke no Italian! Everyone had told me that anyone I spoke to would speak English but they were wrong: no one could understand me as I begged them for directions to my platform and the screens were all in Italian. Panic stations? Nope, nip outside for a quick cigarette and some breathing exercises, a cheeky bit of mindfulness because I’d left enough time before my train. Eventually I found it, sat in my reserved seat and took a deep breath.

The next step was to catch a bus from the station to the plaza near my hostel. I’d looked this up on google maps and thought I knew where it stopped, but I couldn’t find it. So it’s here that I’ll pause to give my next piece of advice: if you’re tired and struggling, give yourself a break! It’s better to fork out the extra cash for a taxi than to stand panicking at a bus stop where you can’t communicate with anyone. So if you need to change your plans and just get to the hotel/hostel and have a rest, do it! There’s nothing wrong with accepting that you’ve taken on a bit too much and need an easier route. I took a taxi.

It dropped me off outside of my hostel, I was tired and hungry and couldn’t find any food. I was also slightly panicked at the thought of going back outside into the land where nobody spoke any English. I was meeting a friend that evening to attend the dance together and he agreed to meet me. We had to ask the hosts of our event to help us in ordering food, and they gladly obliged. So the next piece of advice – if you need help, ask for it! People in hostels or hotels will normally speak some English, if you find yourself stuck just ask for assistance rather than sitting around feeling tired, hungry and helpless!

You might not be able to move at the same pace as you anticipated before arriving. I certainly found myself a lot more tired than I’d predicted and had to cancel a few visits in order to catch up on some sleep. There’s nothing wrong with that. The important thing that I had to remember and think you should too, is that it’s more important to enjoy the trip than to see everything you could possible see in that area. I prioritised the organised aspects, attending dances in palaces and going on a walking tour of the city, above trips to museums and lesser sights in the local area. I missed out on seeing some thing which I’d have liked to see, but the most important thing was that I stayed healthy enough to enjoy the things that I did. So I guess my point is to prioritise your health and stay flexible when  you might have to change plans.

The last point in this short series is that you should probably stay in touch with your family and friends if you can. I made sure to call or text my parents every day so they knew I was okay, and I think this is important. They can’t see how well you’re coping or how much fun you’re having, but sending that one text that only takes thirty seconds can ease a lot of worry for them and let them know that you’re safe and enjoying your trip.

So my final advice to you is:

  • Give yourself a break – it’s ok to struggle while you’re there. Just focus on remembering your coping mechanisms and staying calm
  • If you need help – ask for it!
  • Prioritise your health – don’t push yourself too hard to see everything when what you really need is a break.
  • Stay flexible – sometimes plans may have to change, try to enjoy whatever the trip throws your way
  • Stay in touch with loved ones, they’ll be keen to know how it’s going.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this very short series about travelling with a mental illness. Remember that mental health problems don’t have to stop you living your dreams, if you work hard you can do anything that you want to do!

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Enjoy the journey.

Enjoy the journey.

I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything, until I had completely recovered from the illness that completely characterised my life. How can I do anything while I’m barely able to mop up a spillage without having to go back to bed? How can I achieve anything when I’ve had to drop out of university? How could anyone love me when it’s clear that I’m mad? No – none of these things can possibly happen until I get better.

I lost hope in ever achieving anything and resigned myself to a future of simply managing the symptoms of my illness without moving forward. Time rolled past and life continued without me. But I remember having a chat with someone  and they encouraged me to enjoy the journey. At the time nobody could have guessed how much impact this would have on my life. I suppose it’s linked somehow with the mindfulness stuff I’ve written about before, basically enjoying the moment, but it goes deeper than that too and I wanted you guys to know about it.

It is easy to believe that our life will re-start once we have recovered, and not before. This is a lie. If we allow life to roll on by without us playing a part, we will inevitably miss things – potentially things which could bring us great enjoyment and healing. When you’re walking up a mountain you could ignore the views with an aim to reaching the ultimate view at the top, but in doing so you’re bound to miss countless beautiful sights on the way up. The same is true of life, if we’re waiting for our enjoyment to come when we’re better we miss enjoying time spent with loved ones, reading a good book or listening to a new band. We miss the adrenaline of rides at a theme park or the feeling of accomplishment and health after a hefty bit of exercise.

Take notice of the little things, pause to look at the view as you climb the mountain, it’ll make the journey a lot more enjoyable.

 

Live your dream

Live your dream

I have always wanted to go to Italy. In 2014 I booked a cheap trip to Venice over Groupon with my partner at the time, it was to be my first excursion abroad without my parents to somewhere that I had chosen. Images of romantic Gondola rides along the river and strolls down ancient winding streets floated around in my mind, alongside expectations of cheap red wine and the most delicious authentic pasta dishes. Everything was booked and payed for out of my savings, I’d begun to allow myself to get excited about the trip. Then a few months before we left I found myself single, and another month after that I found myself in a psychiatric hospital. My dreams were scuppered. I convinced myself (and was probably right) that I wasn’t well enough to go. So I stayed home and allowed the shadow of my ruined dreams to immerse me in darkness while he went without me.

I wanted to begin this series with this story not to encourage you to go travelling while you really are too unstable to go, but to demonstrate that not being able to go now doesn’t mean that your dreams of travel should be put to bed forever. If I’d gone on this trip it could have ended badly and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it, it would have been a disappointment and I would have felt more upset afterwards… this is all disregarding the damage that going on holiday with an ex boyfriend could have done. Because of this, I’m advising you to know your limits. If you know that you’re probably not stable enough to go travelling then don’t do it – being miles away from family and friends in a country where you don’t speak the language is not the best way to test yourself.

Having said that, don’t let the dream die! As long as you stay alive, there will be another chance. Engage with any treatment you may be offered, be responsible with your medication and allow family and friends to help you. Let that dream of yours simmer away in the background and spur you on towards recovery!

Two years later I was stable. My dream of going to Italy was reignited by the opportunity to meet a group of dancers over there. I jumped at the chance! This time it was Florence rather than Venice but in my head it wasn’t that different: this new place still held the beautiful views, ancient streets and authentic Italian food that I’d dreamed of. I saved up and booked my ticket to ‘Florence Lindy Exchange’, knowing that once I arrived I could meet up with other dancers and wouldn’t be entirely alone. This is point number two – don’t go alone, either go with a friend or meet other people there on an organised trip. Not only does this safeguard you against crime, loneliness and getting lost, it is also a great opportunity to meet new friends!

My third point is to plan well. My diagnosis leaves me vulnerable to ill health if something doesn’t pass as expected so I ensured that there was no space for this as I planned my trip. I asked the organisers for recommended hostels and requested a room of my own as I know that I need my own space. I found the schedule for the organised part of the trip online and added to it other interesting places that I wanted to visit. I printed maps of the city and drew routes to the places I’d be going onto it. I made sure there was plenty of time (probably more than I needed) between each stage of my transport from home to the hostel and back again. By the time I’d finished, there was little room for anything to go too wrong.

So before you go:

  • Don’t panic if your dream of travel seems too far away, keep fighting and it will come within your reach
  • Don’t go to test yourself or to prove people wrong, be sure that you’re stable before you go
  • Don’t go alone, either go with a friend or meet an organised group while you’re there
  • Plan well – make sure you’re staying somewhere safe, that you know where you’re going and that you’ve bought health insurance (just in case).

 

 

The Aftermath

This is part 4 of ‘Frames’, if you need to catch up before reading: click here.

Sometimes I think I’ve spent the whole of my life looking backwards. The memories in these frames are gone, sealed into the past by well polished glass. Now there’s not much time for reminiscing. The frames are still there, the picture of Maria from before she was born is still magnetised to the fridge by its little footprint. I just don’t look at them as much.

Maria makes sure of that. A newborn baby is a difficult thing to manage while you’re busy looking over your shoulder at what has been before. So instead I look at the little girl sleeping in her cot, with that satisfied grin James always wore when he slept. I look into the brightly coloured eyes of my baby girl and smile back at the ghost of my husband who seems to somehow be always beside her. I see him in the way she squints her eyes when she smiles and in the way her nose wrinkles up when she frowns. I hear him in the whispering snores as she sleeps. I know he is within her, he made her and he’ll be watching over her; just as he is watching over me.

I place my little bundle in the lavender sheets of her cot and flick the switch on her mobile. Bunnies bounce around the circle towards carrots that always never get closer and an awkwardly recorded nursery rhyme rattles out of the speakers. I watch her a moment before returning to my room and dropping onto the wrong end of my bed. James smiles back at me from our wedding photograph. The wedding that lasted only a few months, but that I know will remain in my heart forever. I may have already known what I had when I had it. But now that it’s gone the frames will I will always remember what I had.