What It's Like to Travel When You Have PTSD

I love the ocean. The sound of it feeds my soul and grounds me. I can sit and watch the ocean for hours. It touches something deep, deep inside of me. A knowing, a presence, a connectedness.

I live in the Midwest, which is nowhere near the ocean. When I get close to the ocean, and my senses begin to come alive, I know I’m now on vacation. Ahhh, vacation! I was once that person who worked to go on vacation. Road trip? I was the first person to raise my hand and jump in the car. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people. I understand my little corner of the world is not the be-all, end-all, and I want to see the world.

Traveling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is certainly a challenge, but not impossible.

My trauma occurred in many different places throughout the world. I can be triggered by certain smells, sounds, the way the wind blows, dialect and many other things. Sometimes, that can start a flashback. Sometimes, I get disoriented and anxious, and sometimes it’s just a general feeling of knowing something’s off. When I’m at home, I can figure out ways to ground myself, get support or use one of the many tools in my distress tolerance toolbox to ride out the wave. When I travel, things are unfamiliar and it takes longer to come out of a trigger.

Another symptom of my PTSD is that I become overwhelmed in busy, loud places — restaurants, for example. It’s very easy for me to get flooded by too many menu choices and a voracious appetite can become nonexistent. Before PTSD, I loved trying new food and going to restaurants I wouldn’t have visited in my hometown.

Airports are triggering for me. The noise, the crowds, the upheaval, the lines. The anticipation of sitting in a tiny chair for a four-hour flight. The same anxiety most others feel at airports is more pronounced for me. My anxiety is ramped up because my perpetrators often put me on a plane and sent me all over the world. So just by walking into an airport, it’s triggering. And yet, I love the speediness of getting to your vacation destination by flying, and how wonderful to be in this machine that flies in the sky. It’s part of the travel experience.

My support system is different when I travel. For my family, it’s often a good respite for them when I go out of town for a few days. It’s not an easy decision for them to let me go off without one of them accompanying me. So, a lot of moving parts must happen before I can hop on the plane. My support works together to provide text, phone or Facetime calls with regular check-ins. I must be mindful and respect the times that are available, especially with a time change. It feels uncomfortable for me to know I require this support.

I just want to jump on a plane, hide out at a beach for a few days and think, write, read and relax. It’s part of my fantasy travel experience. But the extra support is part of the give and take if I’m to travel right now, and I’m grateful for the opportunity and the support.

I understand that traveling with all my PTSD symptoms is a huge challenge. But, I’m determined to have a great time, get my spirit renewed at the ocean or spend some wonderful time reconnecting with an old friend. My intention is to look at the beautiful palm trees and fill my senses with the healing ocean air, and for just a few perfect moments, breathe with ease.

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Unsplash photo via Farsai C.

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