For the last month I have been traveling between four different locations visiting family and friends, never staying anywhere for more than three days at a time. I travel a lot compared to most people, but this is excessive. Normally I love traveling and this was not really an exception. However, travel can take a lot out of me. Going this hard for this long has taken a toll on me both physically and mentally. There are five different aspects of travel that make this the case.
1 I don’t sleep well.
Sleep problems are a part of bipolar disorder. In mania there is little need for sleep and in depression people tend to sleep too much or too little. Between episodes, too much or too little sleep can trigger bipolar disorder symptoms. Sleep is also a vital part of rejuvenating both the mind and body. When people travel, it can interfere with normal sleep patterns. It’s also more difficult to sleep when you’re not in your own bed.
2 I don’t eat well.
What you eat can actually affect bipolar disorder symptoms. High fat and lack of protein can cause neurotransmitters to go out of sync. Too much dairy or gluten can cause inflammation that can affect the brain. It’s difficult to maintain good eating habits when away. I tend to eat out more without choosing healthy options. I crave the food of my culture- Tex-Mex and chicken fried steak. This is not a good diet for anyone. People with bipolar disorder tend to have more problems with obesity and medical problems like diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Having a poor diet while traveling only adds to this.
3 I don’t have a routine.
One of the most important factors in staving off bipolar episodes is having a routine. That includes sleep, diet, work, socialization, exercise and medication. When these factors are not stable or disappear, it can cause stress. Not all stress is negative stress, but it can still affect the mind and body. These effects disrupt the circadian rhythm that is already fragile in bipolar disorder. The stress of not having a routine can affect attention, memory, critical thinking skills and social skills. It’s impossible to replicate an exact routine while traveling, but attempting to stay close is important.
4 There’s no real down time.
I have sensory-processing sensitivity. That is, my brain is especially sensitive to all sorts of stimuli. Even if I don’t consciously notice a sound, light or smell, my brain is over-responsive. It can cause stress, general anxiety, social anxiety and depression. I need time to relax, usually alone, to calm myself and process information. When you’re visiting family and friends, finding down time is difficult. After all, you’re there specifically to spend time with people. It can feel rude to interrupt a visit to have time alone and take care of yourself.
5 I need to be fine.
This is the biggest stressor to me when visiting family and friends that I don’t get to see often. While most would say that I can be myself and feel what I feel, it just doesn’t work that way. Loved ones want you to be doing well all the time, which is great. However, it can’t be the case when you have an illness like bipolar disorder. There will be times when I’m not fine. It’s hard for people to accept that. It hurts them. I don’t want others to hurt as much as they don’t want me to hurt. So most of the time when I’m away, it’s just easier to pretend like everything is wonderful and to continue being social. Most of the time I’m not faking it, but there are other times when I have to fake it just to make it through the day. It’s incredibly stressful.
I still love going places and visiting people even if it makes me mentally and physically ill. It’s worth the stress and recovery for me, but may not be to others. It’s up to the individual to note the positive and negative aspects of travel and decide if it’s worth it for them.
Image credit: Lenny DiFranza