Flying with a brain injury: my first long flight

Flying is my least favourite mode of transportation. Unfortunately it’s also the most convenient way to travel outside of Europe.

After my brain injury I was very curious about whether or not I’d still be able to fly (by myself). This called for an experiment.

Trying out flying

My first flight was a year and a half after my brain injury. At that time I could handle far less compared to the situation now. I had far less energy and got overstimulated very easily. Or maybe I had yet to discover how I should handle the ‘new me’.

So I avoided places with a lot of people. As fifteen minutes in a busy place would deteriorate my speech, thinking and balance quickly. Flying thus was written of in advance.

Luckily someone told me about the special assistence you can request when you plan to fly. This service makes it easier for people with any kind of disability to travel by plane. Once requested in advance, someone will escort you all the way into the plane. Which means that you get a lot faster through the airport and can save some precious energy. This service made flying suddenly a possibility.

And as a result I had two succesful flights within Europe. Which meant that it was time for the next step. To take a long flight and to try it without any kind of assistance.

A ten hour flight

That long flight was my flight to Sri Lanka last week. This time, not the airport but the flight itself was the most challenging. In the airport I had my earplugs, noise cancelling headphones and sunglasses and could hide out in a quiet corner. I even made a reservation for an airport lounge to rest in, which almost made me forget I was at an airport.

In the plane however, you can’t leave. Blocking out the world is a whole lot harder if there’s nowhere for you to go. This made the flight challenging, thought the last three hours of turbulance might also be to blame. Still I learned some lessons for my next flight in five weeks.

Know your triggers

I always find travel days extremely stressful. Nine out of ten times this culminates in a panic attack. This time was no different. Thankfully I recognised I was having a panic attack early on, so I could do something about it.

Follow your gut

If you notice that you stress yourself out over something, try and do something about it. I kept chaecking my watch every other minute, because I was afraid to be late. After an hour of annoying myself I finally decided to just go to the airport way too early. Looking back I should have done that earlier.

Plan your route

Nowadays, I think you can find the map of almost all airports online. This means that you can plan where to go in advance. Knowing where the lounges, quiet areas or prayer rooms are located beforehand can give you some piece of mind. Once you’ve passed security at the airport you already know the shortest way to where you plan to rest.

Keep a choice of distractions ready

Once you’re seated in the plane, it’s a matter of sitting it through. Of waiting until the plane has landed and you can get off. I discovered that I can’t read or watch tv on a plane. My mp3 player is therefore filled with different kinds of music. Music to sleep, to distract or to cancel out other noises. Make sure you have the option of distractions for the duration of the flight.

Keep yourself hydrated

Any time you get offered a drink on the plane, take it. Not only will it help you to stay hydrated (so don’t pick an alcoholic drink) it’ll force you to go to the toilet. In other words to stand up and walk around.

After care

The second or third day after the flight, I’ll feel the consequences. So listen to your body. If you need to sleep for 12 hours, do that. If you crave sugary or salty snacks, have those. Flying is hard and challenging, so take some recovery days into account and allow yourself some rest.

– I can only speak from my own exprience, so do check with your doctor if you have specific requirements to take into account when flying –

What do you do when you fly? Do you have or need something special that really helps you?

14 Replies to “Flying with a brain injury: my first long flight”

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  3. I need to fly back home in 2 months or less because my contract as a seaman will end and suffer a brain injury last feb this year what should i consider til now have severe headache ringing ears ang massive weight loss and emotional problems

    1. That sounds really tough. I can only advise you to go see a doctor or other health care professional. As I’m neither, I can’t give you any advice. Hopefully the medical professionals will be able to help you so that you’ll feel a bit more confident to fly. Take care!

      1. Hello im flying home today still nervous with my headache ringing in the ears have a mri after 3 months the injury looks good my doctor says im fit to fly but still worried i read posts about flying with head injury and all i rea is not good

        1. Hi Jay, I hope your flight went okay and that your can relax and recharge at home. Take care!

  4. We went to Cambodia & Thailand for Christmas this year, which was wonderful 😊. We were lucky on the way out as my husband got us business class. We were able to use lounges with free food & a calm atmosphere. I was still stressed however & grateful that I had meds – even with them I only slept 5 hours.
    On the way back we were economy 😫 a lot less relaxing. No calm lounges.
    BUT I’d absorbed enough Buddhist feelings of calm & had sufficient aromatherapy massages that I felt more able to cope!

    1. Business class on the way out sounds like a good way to start your holiday. πŸ™‚ How great that your holiday left you in such a calm and relaxed state that you felt more able to cope! That must give you a good feeling, knowing that you can handle a flight. πŸ™‚

      1. Definitely! And the whole atmosphere of the 2 countries made me feel much calmer & like I can handle anything….although it’s still been quite a challenge dealing with daily stuff now i’m home again….

        1. That’s something I still struggle with. Feeling really good and in control on your holiday, but once home the struggle starts again… I hope you can find some form of balance again! Take care!!

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