Traveling for me is not fun. The idea of it is fun, the seeing new things, experiencing new places, meeting new people- that all sounds great, right? Wrong. Having an anxiety disorder means being plagued by fatigue and sometimes terrible moods- especially when you're stressed or in overwhelming social situations.
Our vacation up to Michigan was great. We both got to see old friends, have time off work and spend time with Stephen's family (whom I was meeting for the first time.) But after 3 days of meeting new people, going new places and staying somewhere new, I was exhausted. Exhausted not from lack of sleep, but from being overwhelmed. I am a "Highly Sensitive Person," meaning not only am I emotionally sensitive but my sensory system is also extremely sensitive. A crowded store or loud noise can put me on the verge of having an anxiety attack. Meeting too many new people or having too many opinions thrown at me at once is extremely overwhelming and quite frankly, no fun. I'm so glad I realized this at a young age and changed my life goal of being an attorney, no way could I deal with that kind of social environment as an adult.
Anyways, after 3 days of vacation, I was sick of it. I wanted to be home. In my own bed. I wanted alone time, a whole lot of alone time. Being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) is often confused with introversion. I was thought to be introverted for quite some time but I'm truly not. I love talking to people and going out. But on my terms. When I get overwhelmed, I defend myself by being introverted. I take a break from the world and spend a lot of time alone, quietly crafting and being content with my own company.
I felt so bad because on the fourth night of vacation we spent the night with one of my very best friends, as her place was on our drive home to North Carolina, and I was awful. I was physically sick (allergies plus the physical side effects from anxiety.) My muscles hurt, I had a migraine, I was grumpy, sensitive and just wanted to cry. We went out for Chinese food and I fell asleep watching a movie afterwards. I was no fun and spent hardly any real quality time with my best friend because I simply couldn't.
I needed to retreat. I needed to sleep in my own bed, be alone and then spend one on one time with Stephen, whose attention I've never had to share before (I know, I'm a terrible and selfish person but that's a hard thing to endure when that person is your best friend who you've known for ages and never had to fend for their attention span. The poor guy didn't remember a single thing I had told him all week because his attention was with other people and at other places. And forgetting what a woman tells you no later than 5 minutes after she tells you is no way to make a happy woman.)
Needless to say, I was exhausted and grumpy.
It's not as simple as "she's just being bitchy," or "she's not very social." Though I'm sure people will think what they may, the truth is that living with an anxiety disorder is tough stuff. I'm very likable on my own terms but if I'm overwhelmed from my surroundings, after a certain amount of time, my body starts throwing up defenses. Suddenly I can't speak without arguing, I can't think without wanting to cry, I can't even enjoy sleep. It's not a decision I make, it's not a behavior or a way I choose to be, it's the way my body reacts to the situation it's in.
Having an anxiety disorder makes traveling difficult. It's fun for a few days but any more than that becomes intensely stressful. Vacations aren't stressful for most people. But they can be for me. I'm hoping to make another short trip up there later this year to spend some quality fun girl time with my best friend since I was pretty useless by the time I got to see her at the end of this trip. Despite how expensive and hard it is to travel, some things are worth doing :)
And in case you've ever had to deal with panic attacks or anxiety attacks while traveling....
My list of tips for traveling with an anxiety disorder-
1. Stay at a hotel. Seriously. It's a lot of money but think of it as an investment in your emotional stability. It allows you to escape your surroundings when you need to for a nap or at night. Being able to get away from your surroundings and retreat to a comfy hotel room means you're more relaxed and you enjoy your time out in town with people a lot more because you aren't so overwhelmed. We were extremely grateful to have been able to stay with family and friends during our trip because all the hotels in town were either completely booked or outrageously priced due to the holiday weekend. But I would have fared better during the trip if we spent half our time at a hotel where I could retreat to my happy, quiet, alone place.
2. Have a plan. Being spontaneous is great. Except when you have an anxiety disorder. Having an anxiety disorder means that being late, not knowing what to expect during your day, or having your plans change can being very overwhelming. Your mind will thank you later if you have a plan and stick to it. From where you'll stay each night to when you'll be on the road and who you'll spend your time with each day; plan it out if you can.
3. Bring noise-canceling headphones. For the drive or the flight. Peace of mind is underrated. It's important people. Arriving in a bad mood is no way to enjoy a trip. Make sure you can't hear those screaming babies or passing semi trucks.
4. Explain it to the people who matter. All it took was me telling Stephen "I'm overwhelmed, I just want to go home." He might not relate to how I feel or why I feel it, but it does give him a heads up on how I'm feeling and how I need him to be there for me. Not everyone will understand your anxiety disorder or exactly what it means for you, but some people will. If it means your family or significant other will be more understanding about why you may have to cancel plans or sit certain events out because you're overwhelmed, it'll help to tell them.
5. Have an awesome boyfriend. Highly recommend this one. All it took was a couple of days back home after our trip and I was back to my normal happy self. Awesome boyfriends may not understand your seemingly "overreactions" to situations that you can't control because you literally feel like your life is ending when you're at the beginning of an anxiety attack, but they can give you a back rub when you ask, lend an ear when you need to talk and cook you dinner when you don't have the energy to cook for yourself.
I was looking a little rough by the time we drove home. We hit a terrible accident and traffic in West Virginia and had to take a long route around the highway section they had closed off. We spent a lot of time talking about how we agreed that nobody in their right mind would ever live in West Virginia. Talking about how the houses were all falling apart and tiny, all the towns poor and nothing around to do. Just as we were agreeing about the likelihood of us being murdered if our car broke down, we passed this gem of a waterfall. Suddenly we were eating our words about West Virginia. The natural beauty in some rare parts of this state are totally worth seeing. This waterfall was the first real one I've ever seen in person and it was by far the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in person. Pictures don't do it justice. We spent 20 mins-half hour just hanging out there, walking through the water and taking pictures. I absolutely loved it and was astounded by how tall and magnificent it was.
Traveling when you have an anxiety disorder isn't the funnest thing in the world, but I'm glad I got to do it with this
kid man :)