I love the ocean. The sound of it feeds my soul and grounds me. I can sit and watch the ocean for hours. It’s huge, sometimes angry and wavy, sometimes calm and clear. I love the taste and feel of the salt water on my skin and lips. It’s different and well, oceany. Also, I love the smell of the salt air. It touches something deep, deep inside of me. A knowing, a presence, a connectedness.
I live in MN which is nowhere near the ocean. When I get close to the ocean, and my senses begin to come alive, I know I’m now on vacation. Ahhh, vacation! I was once that person who worked to go on vacation. Road trip? Yep, I was the first person to raise my hand and jump in the car. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people. I understand that my little corner of the world is not the be all, end all and I want to see the world.
Then I was struck with PTSD and my whole world turned upside down. The things I did without thought have suddenly become a big production. I’m plagued with flashbacks. I’m easily triggered. Not only by the typical anniversary dates but sometimes the wind can blow a certain way and BAM, I’m triggered which can quickly spiral into a flashback.
My trauma occurred over a 20 year period in many different places throughout the world. I can be triggered by certain smells, sounds, the way the wind blows, a dialect, and many other things. Sometimes, that can start a flashback, sometimes, I can get disoriented and anxious and sometimes it is just a general feeling of WTF is happening to me. When I’m at home, I can figure out ways to ground myself, get support or use one of my many tools in my distress tolerance tool-box to ride out the wave. When I travel, things are unfamiliar and it takes longer to come out of a trigger. I love being in new and different places. That is part of the travel experience.
Another symptom of my PTSD it that I become very overwhelmed in busy, loud, places. Restaurants are one example. It’s really easy for me to get overwhelmed by too many choices. Menus can be a PTSD nightmare. There are so many coices and I can’t decide, my brain starts to shut down. At home, I can go to the same restaurants and figure out what to order. If it’s a new restaurant, my support system will nonchalantly offer me a few choices that they have scoped out on the menu and know what I will eat. If I’m with someone I don’t know very well, I will do that thing that I do, “what are you having? That sounds great, I’ll have that too.” When I travel, most places are unfamiliar, so I’m overwhelmed just by virtue of being somewhere new and different. I love trying new food and going to restaurants that I wouldn’t have in my hometown. That is part of the travel experience.
Airports are triggering for me. The noise, the crowds, the upheaval, the lines. The anticipation of sitting in a tiny chair for a four-hour flight. The same anxiety that most other’s feel at airports are really pronounced for me. My anxiety is ramped up because my perpetrators often put me on a plane and me sent all over the world. So just by virtue of walking into an airport, it’s triggering. I love the speediness of getting to your vacation destination by flying, and how wonderful to be in this machine that flies in the sky. That is part of the travel experience.
My support system is different when I travel. For my family, it’s often a good respite for them when I go out of town for a few days. They get a break. I don’t feel bad about that, and they don’t feel bad about that fact either. It’s a necessary part of caring for someone who has an illness. It’s not an easy decision for them to let me go off without one of them with me. So a lot of moving parts has to happen before I can hop on the plane. My support works together to provide text support, phone or facetime calls with regular check-ins. I have to be mindful and respect the times that they are available for support, especially with a time change. It feels uncomfortable for me to know that I have to have this support. I want to just jump on a plane, hide out at a beach for a few days and think, write, read, relax. It’s part of my fantasy travel experience. But that is what is part of the give and take if I’m to travel right now and I’m grateful for the opportunity and the support.
Today, I am going to get on a plane and visit my friend who is sharing her beach house with me for a few days. I’m excited and know we are going to have a great time. I had to promise my support team that I wouldn’t wander around California alone and had to make sure my friend was going to be with me during the days. I had to promise to eat, and let my friend know that if I get overwhelmed at a restaurant that I need help choosing something. My tendency would be to not eat, and that’s not acceptable. I have to make sure I’m in contact with the people here who support me.
I understand that traveling with all my PTSD symptoms front and center is a huge challenge. But, I’m determined to have a great time, get my spirit renewed at the ocean, and spend some wonderful girl-time with my good friend. I got the all clear to go after a dicey few days dealing with triggers. This evening I intend to look at the beautiful palm trees and have my senses filled with the healing ocean air.
Traveling with PTSD is certainly a challenge, but not impossible.