Road Trippin’ with PTSD

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    

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34 thoughts on “Road Trippin’ with PTSD

  1. Thank You! It was fabulous. Just got back after powering home 14.5 hours in the car. I’ll send you some pics later this afternoon. I hope you are hanging in there my friend. 💞💞

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  2. Enjoy your trip!! Sending extra thoughts and healing vibes your way as the seasons begin to change and triggers are extra sensitive.

    Also, I finally picked up Untangled today. I sat down and read it in one evening. I’m so thankful you’ve had the opportunity to begin your healing and share your story.

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  3. Thank you Alexis Rose. I really appreciate your response. It is hard to put into words but so necessary. I’m looking forward to reading your story. Eventually I will write mine, start to finish, but only when I am ready to write with 100 percent love and 100 percent gratitude for all of it. Very close. =) . I hope you have a lovely journey.
    ♥.

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  4. Ah, this is so great! I’ve just taken a spur of the moment trip to the Colorado part of The Rocky Mountains. I’m still here now, even. I’ve not thought about the effects of PTSD in travelling though but it is definitely a thing that I find myself having to be mindful of as well. I hope you have an amazing trip. And it is so great that you have such an awesome support network.

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  5. Niki, wow that is incredible for you. Im so happy for you and I definitely will check out your poem today. Im glad you were able to put into words what happened for you. Sometimes that is so hard to do. Thank you for your awesome support. Fist pumping Go Girl cheers make me very happy and I have a huge smile on my face as I write this to you. Hugs and love to you! 😁💞

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  6. Alexis Rose, this was a very poignant read for me. I’m glad I got some time this morning to visit your blog and read. I always enjoy reading you. So! Things have been full-speed downhill no-brakes in *my* life recently (which is relevant because it created a profound change regarding a similar challenge as you have shared). I don’t know if you know it, but I have struggled with something like PTSD for 18 years. It was diagnosed at “panic disorder” and developed into agoraphobia. There’s a poetry collection on my personal blog called “Steel Bars Made of Smoke,” haiku about those years, day-by-day, trying to push through. Then, very recently (30 July 2018), I had a complete healing. I literally got a brain transplant. I know it sounds ridiculous and maybe delusional but I am telling you it happened. My entire life changed. I have never in memory left a link to my writing in anyone’s blog, but I want you to read this if you get time. I used to think my “mind-frak” as I called it was like cancer and would go into remission but never really be a full healing. They say cancer will always come back (which is crap btw — I’m also dealing with healing that too via Chris Wark’s beautiful work and site chrishealscancer.com) and so I was happy when I did get periods of being able to do normal things like working outside the home, shopping, movies. “They” are wrong (aren’t they always?) Our brains and bodies can heal. Completely. The trauma which created this mind-frak was something I haven’t been able to write about yet — not altogether in one place — but it was over a period of years as a child (9) and adult (11) — so nearly as many years as the fallout took from me. Your triggers are all over the place, from multiple sources. Yet you know you will be strong enough. I’m full of admiration for your courage, fist pumping and enthusiastically saying “GO GIRL!” right now. You are brave and already on the way to healing when you made the decision to go on this journey. So much of your story resonates with me (as this huge comment must attest – ha). Sending hugs and healing vibes and love to you today. Keep being amazing and inspiring. *hugs* and love, ♥. Niki PS Here’s that poem about my healing: https://nikiflow.wordpress.com/2018/08/08/transformation/

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  7. actually, it was Fargo when I think about it Minneapolis was later with the big box stores outside of town a ways 🙂 “I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of faces” in a short space of time this summer, two trips – 12,000 kilometers in 6 weeks – hard to keep it all straight.

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  8. That is a fabulous roadtrip. How fun! Who knows when you were in Minneapolis we may have passed each other on the road. Thanks for the good wishes. Im really excited to get on the road. Im sure it will be awesome. 💞💞

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  9. Good for you! I was thinking about you and road trips as I went on my own a couple of weeks ago….. the issues you have with them. I left Canada and travelled through Minneapolis and Indianapolis for the first time, it was great seeing new country. Nashville and Chicago too. My PTSD isn’t in the same league as yours but it does affect the way I do life alright. In spite of it, I find lengthy road trips to be therapeutic and I loved my trip. I am sure you will have a great experience too, even with bumps in the road. Good for you, for seizing the opportunity.

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  10. Thank You! Ahhhh, you get to hang at the ocean. That will be so fun! The ocean is my favorite place to be. In fact Big Sur is where I go when I need to think of my happy place. 💞

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  11. Have a beautiful time!! I’m actually headed to the CA Coast in about 2 weeks! I’m camping down the coast. This post got me excited and ready to go!! Have a safe trip full of beauty and joy!! ❤️

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