Bipolar and the Nightmare of Travel

Traveling. Who doesn’t love to take a vacation from the daily grind? Unfortunately for many of us, traveling can be stressful. And a possible bipolar mood episode trigger that we may spend months recovering from. The packing, the planning, the crowded airports, the plane ride, the car ride, the sleep disruptions….and on and on. I love seeing and experiencing new places. I do not love trying to cope with the preparation for travel and the stress it causes.  In many cases the preparation for and the actual vacation triggered bipolar mood episodes. Because of this it’s important that I have a plan for pretravel, travel, and the return home after the vacation. I try to start mentally preparing for any trip weeks in advance. I make a list of items I need to pack. Put together a “happy bag” filled with my headphones, music, books, coloring, extra meds, snacks, and water.  I discuss what things are bringing me unwanted anxiety or worry in my weekly counseling appointments. I try to plan for the unexpected the best I can. This is not only beneficial for my happiness, but also for the happiness of my travel companions. They suffer the consequences of my poor mood management as well. I’m a bear when I’m tired and hungry at home, let alone in a strange place. LOL

When on vacation a drink by the pool, or a cocktail or two with dinner is not unheard of. But alcohol and bipolar don’t always mix. One or two beers will keep me up ALL NIGHT long. The drinks I had at dinner may cause my companions to crash at the end of the night, but not me. I will be up long into the night with a major increase in racing thoughts. Which means I won’t be getting any sleep that night. One night of missed sleep could turn into two, or three. That means an increase in anxiety, migraines, racing thoughts, and other bipolar symptoms. I have to seriously consider if the beer at dinner is worth the next few days of recovery. Is this the start of the trip or the end? Do I have recovery time for possible mood triggers? What kind of activities will I be required to participate in during the following days? Is it worth the racing thought increase? Am I prepared to deal with a migraine if sleep continues to deteriorate? What about medication interaction? Sometimes it’s just not worth the beer at dinner.

The airport and plane ride are stressful. People are stressed, in a hurry, and focused on nothing else but getting to where they need to go. I do not do well with rude, impatient, pushy crowds of people, with no sense of personal space. It’s especially hard to manage when there is no place to escape from them, like a plane 30,000 feet in the air. I have to rely on help from my fellow travelers, my headphones and music, a distraction of a movie on my iPad, or just a simple trip to the bathroom for a few seconds of regroup time. At this point in my life those closest to me pretty much know when I am about to lose it and either step into whatever interaction is causing discomfort, or they cue me, gently, to remove myself. When stressed or overwhelmed I am extremely agitated/irritated and that leads to a fast temper. It is always better to ask for assistance or remove myself . Better to regroup and apply some self-care then for things to escalate.

The days after returning home can be just as difficult and triggering.  I’m tired from the plane ride, sleep disturbances, time zone adjustments, and social interactions.  I’m mentally exhausted from trying to keep my behavior and responses to situational changes in check. Sometimes appropriate social interaction is EXHAUSTING!   After vacation it is important for me to get back to a sleep routine again. I keep social interaction to as little as possible. Stay away from extra caffeine and try to get back on a healthier meal schedule. Who eats healthy on vacation? I make sure to keep my counseling appointments, and other doctor appointments so mood and medication management is staying stable. I also just breathe, enjoy the sweatpants day with my pets and give myself some quiet time.

There’s no way to predict how travel will affect my mood episodes. All I can do is have my coping skills ready and plan for what I can. I need to remember to give myself a break, ask for help, and celebrate any small victories that come my way. I know now that even if the trip puts me into a depressive or manic episode, I’ve survived them in the past. As long as I’m honest with myself and others and ask for help along the way…It’s happy traveling.

Here is a helpful article I found online regarding bipolar and travel.