Since I announced my intentions to travel last week, I thought I would give some insights in the trip preparation. And no, despite the photo this won’t be another packing list. Rather I hope to give a glimpse into how a brain injury affects everything. As all brain injuries are different, chances are that the following doesn’t apply to everyone with a brain injury. But chances are some common elements (like low energy levels) will apply to most.
So how do you prepare for a trip or holiday? I think that most people want to make sure everything is booked, checking on travel insurance, doing laundry and packing the night before. And of course learning about your destination. Maybe even making a list of the things you want to see and do. The actual day of travel will be a bit stressful, but after arriving all you have to do is to try to relax and let go. Well at least that’s how I went about it in the good old days.
Being a creature of habit with a tendency to stubbornness, I tried this approach last year. Multiple times. Regrettably, it didn’t turn out very well. The actual travel, the new environment, all the new stimuli turned out to be too much. Resulting in feeling miserable and drained of energy for the first couple of days. I now have a dubious record of crying on the streets in Norway, England and Italy, because my brain simply couldn’t handle it.
As you can imagine, being out of your comfort zone or even in a different country, while feeling very low, isn’t the perfect way to start your vacation. All you can do is endure and hope that the next day will be better. Which it eventually – luckily – always does.
However, I don’t particularly look forward to starting every holiday with these kind of lows. So I’m trying to find a solution. Maybe I can mitigate the effects by changing my behaviour in the days leading up to a holiday.
I figured that it would, if I ‘saved’ some energy. Logically thinking, if you’re more rested when you travel, it (hopefully) becomes relaxing a little bit faster. This time around, I’ll start two weeks before I leave. Which means that I won’t make any commitments for my days off. I’ll just try to sleep as much as possible.
During the week, I’ll do my utmost to try and take it easy. To not become stressed out over something at work and to make sure that I go for a walk during the lunch-break. Which of course is always easier said than done. But thankfully people will point out if I get worked up about non-important things. This gives me a chance to find my equilibrium again and to focus on what’s really important. Staying healthy and respecting my limits.
The other top priority is ensuring that I can shut out the world when needed. I counted and for this trip I’ll bring four different sets of earplugs. For sleeping, music, the bus and to wear during the day. Two kinds of sleeping mask and sunglasses. All to preserve my energy, as too much sound or light quickly leads to overstimulation.
I’ll also bring a mp3-player filled with relaxing classical music in case I need to distract my brain. Sometimes you just have to sit through a situation, wanting in line or waiting at the bus stop for example. I discovered that playing relaxing classical pieces (loudly) will help me to stay focused on myself while passing the time. Last but not least, I’ll make sure to bring a menthol stick. If despite my preparations things don’t go as planned and I’ll get overloaded, I’ll start the feel a shortness of breath. Breathing with a menthol stick is than surprisingly helpful.
The will to grow
Writing this all down, going on holiday might not seem to be very relaxing. For me, I look at it more like an adventure. I’ll hopefully discover more about how this new me works. I’ll find out if my limits have changed, while exploring new places. And I can now use my stubbornness to keep trying and keep pushing the limit.
The thing about brain injury is that it makes it more difficult to be spontaneous. You always have to think about your energy level. What you did in the past days and what you have planned for the coming days. And then decide what you can do today. Travel just makes this balancing act a little more complicated. The reward? Discovering that you’ve grown.
- That you could tell a complete stranger about your brain injury and ended up spending the day talking and exploring a new city.
- That you could visit an art museum, even if it was just for thirty minutes.
- That, despite getting on a wrong ferry and getting a panic attack, you managed to ask for help and found your way back.
Those are the moments that make it all worth.
What do you always take on holiday to preserve your energy? How much time do you spend with preparations if you go away? Have you already an established schedule?