As summer begins to wane and the occasional cool breeze brings a hint of fall in the evenings, I find myself packing to hit the road and drive thirteen hours to go hang out in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It’s was a spur of the moment decision to leave, which makes this even more exciting. But, for me, especially this time of year, where there are triggers, triggers everywhere, I have to make sure I have some plans firmly in place so my adventurous road trip doesn’t become a series of frightening flashbacks from a time long ago and a place that I don’t like to talk about.
I absolutely love the freedom of hitting the road, not having a specific destination to sleep, and just enjoying the journey. I love the spontaneity of it, and the “let’s take this road and see where it leads” adventure. It appeals to my carefree nature that is often squashed by my symptoms, but still lies just below the surface.
I love the majesty and strength of the mountains. They make me feel safe, protected, and extremely grounded. They touch that part of me that needs to feel grounded by the steadfast rock, the earth.
I live in Minnesota, which is nowhere near the mountains. When I get close to the mountains, and my senses begin to come alive, I know I’m now on vacation. I was once that person who worked to go on vacation. Road-trip? I was the first person to raise my hand and jump into the car. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people!
Then I was struck with PTSD and everything changed. The things I did without thought have suddenly become a big production. I’m plagued with flashbacks, especially at certain times of the year when my symptoms are easily triggered.
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, dialect, and many other things. Sometimes, that can start a flashback. Sometimes, I get disoriented and anxious, and sometimes it’s just a general feeling of knowing something’s off. When I’m at home, I can figure out ways to ground myself, get support or use one of my distress tolerance tools to ride out the wave. When I travel, things are unfamiliar and it takes longer to come out of a trigger.
Another symptom of my PTSD is that I become overwhelmed in busy, loud, places — restaurants, for example. It’s very easy for me to get flooded by too many menu choices and a voracious appetite can become non-existent. Before PTSD, I loved trying new food and going to restaurants that I wouldn’t have visited while in my hometown.
Busy roads while not necessarily triggering, can be overwhelming for me. The speed and crowded freeways can be overstimulating, and I tend to get anxious. The same anxiety I used to feel in a gridlock or driving at night with 18-wheelers whizzing by is now more pronounced for me. My anxiety is ramped up because my perpetrators often drove me to places across the country.
I used to try to navigate where I was by counting the light poles. I thought if I kept track of them I could find my way back home. Of course, I would lose count very quickly or realize that it didn’t matter anyway, and simply sit quietly waiting until we stopped at a final destination.
But once I became a young adult and understood the freedom of the open road, I began to love road-trips. I still love road-trips!
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. It’s not an easy decision for them to let me go off without one of them accompanying me. So, a lot of moving parts must happen before I leave. My support works together to provide text, phone or FaceTime calls with regular check-ins. I must be mindful and respect the times that are available, especially with a time change. It feels uncomfortable for me to know that I require this support, but I’m grateful that I have this in place so I can do the things I would like to do and visit the places that bring me peace.
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 and get my spirit renewed in the mountains. I’m going to the The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at the Shambala Mountain Center. This has been on my list of things to do for many years, and I’m so excited to go. My intention is to hike and camp in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and fill my senses with the crisp, clean mountain air, and for just a few perfect moments, breathe with ease.
Road Trippin’ with PTSD is certainly a challenge, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning and the agreement to tell my travel companion if I’m having any symptoms, this adventure is not only possible, it’s happening!
Photo by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph