Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Welcome Home! Post-Vacation Support for the Bipolar Traveller

The traveller with bipolar disorder faces a number of challenges. Leaving behind proven routines and support structures, the journeying itself (especially if different time zones are involved), and the excitement of new places and opportunities are all intrinsically destabilising. Good planning including a Travel Wellness Plan goes a long way to mitigate the risks. Factoring in some post-vacation support is valuable too.

In our book High Tide, Low Tide Fran and I describe how we managed our mutually supportive friendship whilst Fran was touring Europe with her elderly parents, as well as what happened on her return home. On that occasion, Fran couldn’t rest and recuperate, as she had to immediately look for somewhere new to live, pack up, and move home. Fortunately, not every trip is quite so traumatic!

Fran has just returned from a ten day vacation with a friend to Edisto Beach in South Carolina: a round trip of 2,200 miles. She arrived home last night around 6 p.m. her time (11 p.m. for me here in the UK). We met on webcam shortly afterwards.

Fran had warned me in advance not to expect too much from her on this first call. The journey north had taken two days, and the 22 hour drive had been compounded by car troubles and a less than satisfactory motel stopover. (Note to self: pay more attention to online reviews when suggesting travel accommodation!)

I imagined we’d be on for no more than ten or fifteen minutes: long enough for me to welcome her back and to briefly catch up on anything immediately pressing. Anything else could and would have to wait. As it turned out, our call lasted an hour and a half. Fran was exhausted, but needed me to hold space for her to release what she was feeling and thinking, so she could unwind. I got to contribute but we agreed I would have my turn later. This first call was for her.

We had our usual check in at midday my time today, and will meet later on webcam. There is no specific agenda but as we move through these first post-vacation days we will be focused on a few key areas.

Vigilance. It’s more difficult to help Fran keep an eye on her health when she is away from home. We kept in regular touch on this trip using chat, and had a few voice and video calls, but far fewer and shorter than usual. Getting back to our usual structure is stabilising in itself and will help each of us assess how Fran’s doing in terms of her physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

Catch up. I have a fair idea what Fran did while she was away because she shared things with me day-to-day and on her social media. But, as I mentioned to her last night, “I’ve had ten days of life too!” I look forward to sharing my news with Fran and hearing more of what she took away from her vacation.

Processing. We approach any experience as an opportunity for growth and learning. This curiosity has stood us in good stead in the past. We will take time over the coming days and weeks to explore what we’ve experienced while Fran has been away, celebrate our successes, and look for lessons learned.

For example, Fran mastered a new GPS (satnav) app on her phone, and successfully navigated the route to and from Edisto, as well as on day trips through the week. She and her friend also handled spending most of their time together on the trip, including the best part of four days on the road.

For both of us, being in less frequent contact always offers opportunities to explore connection, independence, and codependency in our relationship, and this trip was no exception.

Picking up the reins. We keep track of our individual and joint tasks on shared calendars and To Do Lists. We parked a number of things while Fran was away, so we will review these and pick up where we need to. This includes appointments, preparing for upcoming events and trips, and the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year).

Hanging out. One of the things I am most looking forward to is hanging out again with Fran, especially reading together (we are currently reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon) and working our way through all eleven series of the American sitcom Cheers on tv.

Fran loves to travel, when funds and circumstances allow. We are already planning for further trips next year. With care and forethought we know she can travel safely. And with some dedicated post-vacation support we know we can grow and move forward, both stronger for the experience.

 

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