Watching the car crash that is 2020 ignite and set ablaze before our very eyes, it’s impossible not to be consumed with a nostalgic longing for the years behind us.
Somehow, the knowledge that the rest of the world is simultaneously sharing my grief for the plans that were lost provides little comfort. I’d resolved that 2020 was going to be “my year” and had made big plans to commemorate it; a well-deserved European hiking adventure, a trip of a lifetime to Japan, a June that was ambitiously packed with back-to-back festivals and gigs, and a wistful commitment to pursuing a PhD. It was going to be my comeback: the year I re-entered the world less broken than I was a few years ago, thanks to my 2019 self-enforced travel ban.
As the clock struck twelve that New Year’s Eve I promised myself: “I will not travel in 2019”. It wasn’t something I felt the need to announce or communicate often; leaving a lot of people close to me assuming my sudden lack of enthusiasm reflected a new form of mental health crisis. It was the opposite.
My relationship with travelling had always been one of reckless dependency. Since my first mental health breakdown, aged 12 – after losing a loved one to suicide – I felt resentment for everyone and everything that I considered home, and as I matured into a vulnerable adult in an abusive relationship, home became a place associated with danger, fear and grief.
People would say I caught the travel bug, but behind the Instagram pictures depicting a smiley woman in obscure off-the-beaten-track locations, was a vulnerable little girl who had Borderline Personality Disorder, manic depression and Complex PTSD
People would say I caught the travel bug, wanderlust or itchy feet, but behind the Instagram pictures depicting a smiley woman in obscure off-the-beaten-track locations, was a vulnerable little girl who had Borderline Personality Disorder, manic depression and Complex PTSD. For someone suffering with trauma, the freedom and control gained from travelling can feel liberating but when we experience traumatic experiences and the subsequent triggers, our survival mode will launch trauma responses, mine was literal Flight Mode – I was running away from my problems.
Now, I reflect on how resourceful I was: a working-class girl from a single-parent household, who saved every penny of excess income; birthday funds, tax rebates, student loans. I utilised my unapologetic geekiness to complete Uni assignments way ahead of schedule, leaving me with months of free time to travel. I’d plan my studies around this too, conducting my undergrad research in South Africa and post-graduate research in Nepal. I was spontaneous.
Any slight inconvenience perceived threat, or inevitable breakup within my abusive on/off relationship, would see me booking a last-minute flight to whichever country was next on my bucket list across Europe, Asia, Africa and even Russia. I needed to feel as far away from “home” as possible, and that meant feeling removed from Western comforts, leading me to rural, mountainous locations, living with local communities, the less wifi the better. While I was travelling, I was denying myself formal mental health support; every stamp in my passport represented a band-aid covering another wound I wasn’t willing to let heal. It wasn’t until a sizable panic attack whilst laid on the top bunk of an overnight train that had been stalled for 6 hours in India, that I first craved change.
When I made my resolution, it was eight months since I’d left my perpetrator for good, ten months since I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and six months since I had self-referred to a Trauma therapy service for women and separate bereavement counselling service. I had graduated with a first-class Masters degree the September before, after having to defer a year due to mental health and was making strides in my career. I recognised that this was the first time in over ten years that I’d had the capacity to take control of my wellbeing, and was anxious to utilise it immediately.
The progress I have made in that year had previously seemed unobtainable. Prior to lockdown, I’d completed a 4-week group programme, and 20 weeks of one-to-one counselling and was awaiting further group support with the Women’s Trauma service, and had finally made it to the top of a 16-month waiting list with a bereavement service. I have learnt grounding techniques which are now a daily part of my mental health routine, have adopted healthy coping mechanisms, am consistently challenging negative internalised beliefs about myself and others and am advocating for my mental health in personal relationships and professional settings.
I also dedicated time to in-country travel, touring Britain’s countryside and national parks, challenging myself to complete its peaks and inevitably morphing my bucket list to one that’s UK-based. This was revolutionary for my wellbeing. It cemented hiking and wild swimming as healthier coping mechanisms that became part of my weekly mental health routines. It’s challenged the internalised belief that Britain, as “home” was synonymous with pain and lack of safety, and allowed it to develop into a place of contentment and freedom. This persists when I visit my hometown. Trauma has overridden any and all happy memories and I am triggered into a withdrawn panic attack, a perpetual sense of unease and alertness, and find myself itching to leave as quickly as possible.
Rather than feeling the need to overcome this, I’ve come to accept that maybe having a location ‘house’ my trauma is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe my inconsequential home town filled with its inconsequential residents has a purpose; to create space for the rest of the world to feel joyful again.
When lockdown first began I was self-indulgently irritated at the seemingly bad timing of the whole situation
When lockdown first began I was self-indulgently irritated at the seemingly bad timing of the whole situation: if only I’d have known this was going to happen, I’d have scheduled my travel ban for this year instead of last. My current acceptance of the ongoing situation has allowed me to reflect on the positives; if I had somehow managed to pre-emptively coincide my travel-ban with a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have been able to access the same intensity of mental health support as I had done previously, this would have left me unprepared. I’ve overcome two mental health crises during lockdown with more strength than I’ve ever shown – this I acknowledge is due to the resilience I’ve developed through support.
I’ve learnt that integral to mental health growth, is recognising your wins no matter how subtle and unique.
Now, as global travel bans are lifting, despite the world becoming more chaotic, I feel no rush to book a flight to replicate a momentary feeling of escapism. Instead, I’m excited to continue the exploration of the UK in what I perceive to be an opportunity to maintain the trauma work that has become routine. I’ve learnt that integral to mental health growth, is recognising your wins no matter how subtle and unique.
Amidst the constant force-feeding of #travelgoals and #wanderlust pictures that maintain a narrative that travel can only be a positive thing, my break up with travelling may not be an obvious or immediately understandable milestone for some, but it’s one I’m particularly proud of.