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!