Feeling trapped and overwhelmed, and with depression looming, I felt an urgent need for a change of scenery. Answering my “traveling itch,” I took the risk of visiting my hometown. The trip was for my peace of mind—and it was worth it.
Why Would I Take the Risk of Traveling?
In July of this year, I decided to travel outside of the confines that I had previously set up for myself to minimize my risk of falling victim to this global health crisis. Honestly, it was a little scary. And it was a series of “firsts”:
It was my first time doing any serious traveling in years.
It was the first time in almost a year that I revisited my hometown, Meridian, Mississippi.
This was also my first time being on a beach since I spent time in Virginia Beach in 2008.
I went to my hometown to see my family and friends, then I traveled down to Orange Beach, Alabama, where I spent the weekend at the shore. (If you would like to see some of the details of my vacation outside of Atlanta, you can visit my travel blog.)
While some people would probably think that I was “crazy” for traveling during an ongoing public health crisis (I would’ve thought the same), there was a very important reason why I needed this trip—even though, admittedly, I had passively tried to avoid it.
I needed to let my hair down (figuratively speaking, since I’m bald), and just let go.
I needed to be in a space where, for a time, no matter how long or short it was, I could just escape from the world around me—get a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t forget the risks still floating out there. I wore a mask constantly (by that time, Alabama had made it a statewide mandate to do so), and I was being mindful of my physical space from people.
Honestly, social distancing—or physical distancing—isn’t a big problem for me because I require a considerable amount of distance from people anyway. I feel an anxiety attack coming on every time when people are too close to me and I didn’t invite them to be within my “bubble.” So it wasn’t like I was recklessly going amok, like some of those people you see on TV. I was very responsible.
A Moment of Peace, Freedom, & Clarity
But I remember specifically one Saturday evening, when I was on the beach for about an hour or two. The sun was hidden a little behind the clouds, so it wasn’t as hot. And it wasn’t as crowded. There was a nice breeze, and the waves were picking up just a little.
I just sat there, taking it all in. Listened to a little music from my YouTube Music playlist and made a few videos. Stepped to the edge for a second and let the water wash my feet.
That was something I haven’t felt in a long time. For the last few years, I’ve felt like I was in this very confined space, because of things going on in my life and my internal conflicts and struggles. For those moments, I simply didn’t feel that way.
It was the break that I needed.
Traveling with Bipolar: Risks & Rewards
Sometimes, we need that break. We need to detach from the world around us. We need to just get away. Our individual worlds are full of distractions and affected by the stresses of the overall world around us. To have that break could go a long way in helping us manage these stresses and distractions.
Where I went was about five or six hours from my home in Atlanta, Georgia, so it wasn’t extremely far off. But it was enough of a difference and distance that it helped me get a little bit of clarity in my own often chaotic world—even if it was only for a little bit of time. Sometimes that’s all we need.
I admit … sometimes traveling triggers my mood episodes, especially when I cross multiple time zones. Depending on the length of travel, I could end up experiencing hypomania or mania, and it’s likely because during that time I’m not sleeping as much.
The possibility of experiencing a manic episode is something that I have to be mindful of when I’m traveling. I have to monitor my sleep more closely and step up everything else I need to do to try to keep my bipolar disorder in check.
If this is something that you deal with, I suggest creating a checklist or doing a check-in before you embark on your excursion.
For me, it’s a matter of maintaining some kind of compliance to my medication, especially in the weeks prior, since sometimes I don’t take my medication the night before travel, due to the grogginess that I feel. I also try to identify and plan for any potential stressors that could aggravate me.
The “Itch” to Travel & Explore New Places
Despite the risks, my trip was rewarding. Would I do it again? Yes … especially considering that it gave me a chance to break up the state of everyday monotony that I was living in.
While I don’t mind distancing myself from the world sometimes, I’m someone who constantly needs a change of scenery. If I don’t have that change, even if it’s only for a short time, it affects me mentally and emotionally. Feeling trapped would be an understatement. To an extent, I would feel angry, and I would start hating my life and my situation.
I call it the “traveling itch” or the “moving itch.” Every couple of years, I get the urge to go somewhere. I need to move around to stimulate myself. Even when alone, I have to see something different. I’ve always wanted to be a traveler; being in the military meant that I was moving around often, and that was helpful. I realized after I left, in 2010, that it was now a mindset of mine to be prepared to move around every couple of years, and it would drive me up the wall if I couldn’t.
Then I return home and I feel refreshed for a little while.
New Experiences Are Vital to Our Mental Health
It goes back to what I said earlier: Sometimes we need the break from the everyday. We need a getaway to recharge and get a better handle of our mental health.
Whether it’s a trip to the beach or chilling in the middle of the woods; whether it’s checking out what’s going on a few towns over or visiting another country, we need the opportunity to let go, disconnect for a little while, and appreciate life.
So, if you can safely do so, go explore the world. Go somewhere outside of the confines of your space. If it means stepping out for a day, then that’s fine. You don’t have to be a wanderlust to have that moment where you can step out and rediscover yourself and the world. While doing so, be safe. Protect yourself and protect others.
JB Burrage is a writer living in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. A Meridian, Mississippi, native, he served in the US Army for over ten years. He started battling depression before he was a teenager. After years of receiving different diagnoses, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. For years, he was in self-denial before he finally accepted his diagnosis; he's slowly working to manage it, one day at a time. He’s the creator of The Diary of a Mad Writer, a blog that he uses to discuss various topics, especially mental health. He's a publisher of his own stories and is working on creating online courses. You can learn more about him, follow his blog, and contact him at jbburrage.com.
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