Beth is a writer, occasional blogger, and a huge fan of all dogs. Her lifestyle blog, Toasty Writes, focuses on cruelty-free beauty, her journey towards eco-friendly living, vegan and vegetarian food, and mental health. She has a diagnosis of PTSD. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
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This article may contain trigger points and may not be suitable for everyone.
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can develop after you go through a traumatic event. Although it’s often associated with members and former members of the military, PTSD can affect anyone. I developed PTSD after a car accident I had in 2017.
PTSD is difficult to deal with, but it’s your brain’s way of protecting you from experiencing further trauma. Traumatic memories don’t get converted from short-term memories to long-term ones, so if you encounter anything the brain perceived to be a threat (known as a trigger), its reaction is to protect you and signal that the situation is not safe.
This can lead to the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks
- Fight, flight or freeze responses
I also experienced nightmares, both replaying the incident, replaying it with a worse outcome, or experiencing any kind of road accident.
For me, my triggers were sitting in my car, driving my car, sitting in other people’s cars, travelling through country lanes either as a driver or a passenger, and lorries. Especially lorries on the other side of the road, as my accident occurred when I had to swerve to avoid a lorry on a country lane. Loud noises from the left-hand side of the car also startle me, as does having to brake suddenly.
How is PTSD treated?
I was put on antidepressants (Sertraline/Lustral) and referred to a local mental health service for a course of talking therapy. After a couple of false starts, I found a therapist who specialised in trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
I won’t sugarcoat it: the first two months of taking antidepressants were rough. It takes a while for your body to adjust, so I experienced insomnia, restlessness, exhaustion, and a lack of appetite. Once that died down, I was left feeling tired most of the time, but the nightmares stopped and I didn’t feel as panicky.
Some people have said they felt numb while on antidepressants. For me, it doesn’t go that far; it just levels things out. The highs aren’t as high, but the lows are nowhere near as low, and for me that makes it worth it.
As for the CBT, the aim was to convert the memory from short-term to long-term, so my brain wasn’t so triggered by anything related to driving. We slowly discussed the accident, going from talking about it, to me listening to myself talk about it, to looking at photos of the accident site on Google Maps, to me venturing further and further afield in my car.
I also took steps to make my car feel like more of a safe place. I associated the smell of it with the accident, so my therapist suggested buying a new car air freshener. Now my car reeks of Yankee Candle’s cotton scent and I don’t shudder every time I get in.
Until recently, when I started social distancing due to coronavirus, I was driving to the supermarket, the gym, the bank and to pick up friends. All I wanted was to get from A to B and I feel like I’ve finally achieved that. I still get the train to work, but that’s because it’s quicker and better for the environment.
In my experience, my condition had to be treated by both medication and therapy in order for me to go into recovery. The medication calmed me down so I was well enough to lead my everyday life and actually attend the therapy sessions, while the therapy tackled the reasons the PTSD developed.
How do I travel with PTSD?
Preparation is a key part of travelling for me. I make sure I have enough medication to get me through the trip, plus a bit extra, and I store it in my hand luggage in its original packaging with my prescription.
To help me to travel with PTSD, I buy travel insurance well in advance, as I have to budget the cost of declaring medical conditions (I have generalised anxiety disorder as well as PTSD). I also have to take any activities into account, as I feel more comfortable avoiding activities where I’m out of control of the transport, be it a bike, a car or a go-kart.
That said, I did manage to take a Segway tour of Oslo last year, although the instructor had to pull me along because I didn’t go fast enough for his liking – I also managed to run over my own foot…
What are the hardest parts of travelling with PTSD?
Travelling in cars is a challenge for me while I’m abroad, especially when I’m in a taxi in a new country. I prefer getting public transport or walking when I explore, but if car travel is a must then I’d pick going in a hire car with one of my friends driving over having a stranger do it. They know I find it difficult and are more careful as a result.
So far, the only time I’ve had a panic attack abroad is when we were on our way to San Gimignano in Tuscany and my friend had to drive along a lot of very windy roads to get there. Luckily he had driven on the other side of the road before (which is why I always got in the car with him) and we stopped a couple of times on the way, which gave me a chance to breathe deeply but also to admire the views.
I’ve also had to calm down a bit, because alcohol and Sertraline don’t mix very well and fatigue means I’m normally in bed by 10pm at the latest anyway. Younger Beth would have been gutted to miss out on all the shots and late-night antics, but these days I enjoy myself a lot more if I get a proper, sober night’s sleep.
What are the best parts of travelling with PTSD?
I find flying a lot less stressful than I used to—once I’ve made it to the airport, the hard part is over! And I’m proud that I haven’t let PTSD stop me. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve been to Zell Am See, Tuscany, Oslo, Treviso, Venice and Tambre, and I’ve got more plans in the works for once the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Recovering from PTSD has been a slow, difficult process, made harder by the fact I never imagined I would have to deal with it. But I have dealt with it, and I’m very proud of myself. I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t stopped me doing things, because it has. Luckily, travelling is not one of them.