What My Dark Side Did On Holiday

Blogging friends, I told you the funny stories last time, but here’s where I confess that the past three weeks have also seen me having to confront a lot of limitations. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been able to do the difficult things in life – show me a tough intellectual challenge, and I’m your woman – but I struggle to accomplish the easy things. So, to take an example of that, I find it very difficult to travel. I’ve mentioned here before that I suffer from claustrophobia, and never more so than in a moving vehicle of any kind. On the whole, cars are better than planes or buses or, god forbid, coaches. I’d rather never get on a ferry again, if I have that option, but trains are okay so long as the journey is brief. Before we went on holiday, it had been quite a while since I’d undertaken a lengthy car journey, so long in fact, that I had quite forgotten how the claustrophobia felt. Having removed so many stresses from my life, and having reaccustomed myself to a life that doesn’t include daily challenges to my anxiety levels, I was taken wholly by surprise by the old, old feelings of panic and horror that started to creep over me as we undertook the first leg of our journey. We did three hours in the car, not particularly long, but my goodness, was I thankful to break the journey in Bath and have a day to recover. But getting back in the car for the next stretch down to Cornwall was tougher than I imagined. One’s lizard brain takes over, and the purely instinctual animal side was wailing ‘Get back in the tin crate again! Oh but I can’t!’.

Well, of course, I did. That’s the problem with journeys. You can stop, but you’ve got to get going again. So off we went, while I focused on my breathing and put both feet on the floor and my hands on my knees and concentrated on those mindless extremities, and generally did all I could to find a place of meditative calm. We made relatively good time for the majority of the journey, but you can’t travel in the UK without hitting road problems – our roads are just too congested and in need of repair – but I fear them most of all. About two in the afternoon we hit a trail of crawling vehicles and inched our way forwards with no obvious sign of greater flow in the traffic up ahead. I always follow the map and, having kicked myself for failing to direct us off onto smaller roads at a previous junction, noted a thin white line of track that bypassed what I assumed was the problem – the road narrowing from a dual to a single carriageway quite three miles up ahead. My husband and son were ready to go off-roading, and so we turned off onto what was really a goat superhighway on the side of Bodmin Moor, which, running at a higher gradient than the road we’d left behind, allowed us to watch the poor folk stuck in the jam as we whizzed by them. Well, we weren’t exactly whizzing over the cattle grids, but it felt marvelously spacious for a moment there. We rejoined the road as a single carriageway where the traffic was flowing, even if slowly, and cheered at the best short cut we’d ever made. We entered dual carriageway again, calculated we’d reach our destination in half an hour, rounded the corner and…. stopped. Oh yes, we hit yet another wall of traffic and this one was completely stationary. People eventually turned their engines off and, despite the rain that was now falling, got out of their cars. You might say to me, why not get out myself and ease the claustrophobia? Alas, in my book we were still trapped. As trapped as tin cans on a production line. After about forty minutes, we began to crawl. We crawled for another fifteen minutes or so, eventually passing the wreck of a burnt out vehicle on the side of the road, and after that we were moving normally again. I hadn’t lost it, hadn’t got out of the car and knelt on the tarmac and cried for deliverance, because a) I would hate to embarrass my menfolk and b) it wouldn’t have done any good. There was absolutely nothing I could do until the traffic began moving again. You see? That’s what I mean by trapped.

Well, it took me a couple of days of holiday to get over the after effects of the journey. I seem to effortlessly convert extreme stress into physical symptoms. And much as it was lovely to spend time with my boys, and the place was cute, it did rain an awful lot and I began to be homesick. I turn out, oddly enough, to be more deeply attached to places than to people. I’m a hopeless homebody. And I suppose deep down, I was trying not to think (and therefore endlessly thinking) about that return journey. My husband is very kind to me, and was happy to arrange it however I saw fit. So we decided to travel at the quietest times we could imagine – Friday evening and early Saturday morning, breaking our journey again at a travel lodge this time.

My apprehension levels were through the roof before I even got in the car. I was giving myself constant pep talks, trying to reassure myself we’d be fine traveling at that time of the day, and that I would be able to contain my anxiety. Well, in actual fact I didn’t do too bad. As the hours passed, and we made good time, and the roads were indeed clear and fast moving, I kept up my meditation practice and got as good a hold on my fears as I could. Darkness fell, but I knew that we were only twenty minutes or so from our stop for the night. At around a quarter past ten we arrived at the travel lodge and I was cautiously congratulating myself for having made it this far. Only do you think the travel gods were going to let me off the hook like that? Oh no. We went to book in only to find that a mistake had been made, and we did indeed have a room registered at the lodge – only in two day’s time. And of course that night they were fully booked.

Well, what were we to do? The reservation clerk my husband was talking to was trying to persuade us to stay in a different travel lodge about 25 miles south of Reading, but I felt if I was going to have to get back in that car, I wanted at least to be heading in the right direction. The obvious thing to do was to keep going and to finish driving home that night. We had a good two hours’ or so of journey ahead of us, and my husband insisted that he was fine to drive it, and my son was stoically good-natured, and I completely agreed it was the right thing to do. But as we made our sorry procession back through the car park, my heart was hammering in my chest and I started to shake from head to toe. I have a deal with the chronic fatigue that if I can be peaceful from about nine in the evening and in bed from about 10.30, it leaves me alone. Well, that one was broken. But worse was the deal with my anxiety about car travel. Something felt utterly betrayed inside me that I hadn’t kept to the plan and was clearly about to let me know it. I arranged to swap places with my son on the grounds I could sleep in the back of the car, and I did indeed pretend to sleep. The boys had enough on their plates getting us home without having to worry about me and, well, I just didn’t want to let on how awful I felt because there was once again absolutely nothing that anyone could do. So I kept quiet in the back of the car, and how I got through that journey (that included a nightmarish trip around a heavily roadworked M25) without throwing up or having a full-blown panic attack, I really don’t know. But the time passed, and the car ate up the miles and eventually we reached home. On the following day I felt like a butterfly must feel as it breaks out of its chrysalis – my body was rigid with the tension I’d been carrying since we left home ten days previously. And then the day after that I fell ill with a terrible headache and dizziness and nausea that I thought was part bug, but part also the long period of tension and strain I’d just been through. The worst thing about it was that I couldn’t read because my head hurt so – can you imagine! It’s enough to make me want to become a recluse and to say, that’s it. No more traveling for me, not ever.

Except of course there’s my husband and son to consider, and nothing is ever as simple as it sounds. Still, I plan on as quiet a few weeks now as I can manage, because my anxiety is rather like the Kraken, in that it slumbers but never seems to die. Having awoken it, it troubles me at the moment over every little thing. But if I stay peaceful and empty and quiet enough, it may be lulled into a false sense of security and encouraged to nap once again. I find it all so frustrating, because there’s a world of people out there who seem to travel all the time and barely notice it, who enjoy visiting lovely parts of the world and who even find it restful and relaxing to do so. It’s difficult to feel so limited, so eccentric and strange. But I cling to my fallback position, which is that I’ll go anywhere in my head, and my imagination has no boundaries. At least there, I have no sense of constraint.


25 thoughts on “What My Dark Side Did On Holiday

  1. Having just read both your holiday postings back to back, I got the full experience of your travels at once…one moment I was laughing hilariously, and the next holding back tears of sympathy as I thought about your poor claustraphobic self turned away from the inn and forced back into the “tin can” of the car.

    I have become a rather good traveler, although I wasn’t always, and suffered from my own bouts of anxiety at being away from home. Once a year we travel by car to our home in Florida (and back to Michigan again), which is a journey of about 1200 miles. We take our two dogs with us, and so stop frequently, but it still means being in the car for about 6 or 7 hours straight for three days. It takes a good deal of talking to myself to get me through it – and woe betide if we run into a traffic jam, as often happens. I’ve learned that the reward (escaping the worst of winter) is worth the travail, so I manage to get through. It gets a bit easier each year 🙂

    I’m glad you’re home and recovering and enjoying your new lingerie!

  2. Oh Litlove, I sympathize. I’m a homebody myself and find travel difficult for other reasons. I know a lot of people who do–so you aren’t strange really. But boy you were brave and kept it together for your family.

  3. It is one of the pleasures and privileges of being, as you are, a person who knows herself and her strengths and limits, that you can both get through things like this — as you so beautifully did — and also firmly avoid doing them again, because they are simply not good for you. Sure, other people travel without anxiety, but if you are not one of those people, then you just aren’t, and that’s really perfectly fine. As for the rest of your family, I’d say that your husband and son can have beautiful, bonding trips together that give them the experiences they desire, while you stay home and travel in your head. And then when they come home, there you’ll be — rested and happy. I’m glad you’re home and feeling better. I missed you. xo

  4. I knew you didn’t like to travel but I had no idea you suffer from claustrophobia. Your trip down and back sounds awful under the circumstances. Was the in between part of being there relaxing at least? I’m not very fond of car trips, but can manage it if need be. I like going places but the traveling part isn’t as exciting to me anymore as it once was–probably part of the reason I never seem to go anywhere these days. Your husband and son sound like good sports all around (and you as well for not letting on how terrible you felt!). Sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home again–so you probably are really appreciating it right now.

  5. My dear blogging friends – you are SO kind and supportive! How wonderfully you manage to make things all right for me. Thank you.

    Becca – I am most certainly enjoying my return and my lingerie, and I’m very glad I gave you a laugh first! I’m in awe at your ability to travel those long, long distances, particularly if you didn’t come to them with full enthusiasm and confidence. I am sure you are quite right, however, that familiarity helps a great deal. Knowing the road does help me. And having the incentive of nice weather must be a great push in the right direction.

    Lilian – hugs to you and a big thank you for the empathy. You are so kind – and it’s comforting to think others dislike travelling too. A combination of home and the virtual reality of the internet is what suits me best, I think.

    Lily – oh my dear Lily, you have such power to make things better. How very lucky your boys are to have you around. I do love the thought of my boys having bonding trips together – that would be so good for both of them. I’ll get my husband to read your words. hugs to you xoxox

    Anne – it’s the one great recompense – that recovery time feels very sweet after the event! Hugs to you, too.

    Danielle – there were some really lovely parts to the holiday; the place was so pretty, and my son and I enjoyed poking around the little local shops, and seeing his enjoyment of the beach was wonderful. And we had a great lunch out one day and lots of nice family time together. I think you’re right and that travelling itself is less fun as a person gets older – I certainly did it fine when I was young. And I do agree – coming home is the best bit and I do love to be here. And I’m starting to be able to read more, so that IS a turn in the right direction! 🙂

    Bluestocking – oh my heart really goes out to you. I can at least get out of a car from time to time, but a plane is another degree of difficulty altogether. You were very brave to do that – and I do hope you had a lovely time when you were there.

  6. We are so similar in so many ways! I suffer from claustrophobia in vehicles, too. Car trips when I was a kid were only gotten through by intense perusal of maps beforehand, so I knew exactly where we were going and how long it would take us to get there, and approximately what type of road we would be on. I remember the horrible feeling of the dread and the panic rising in me–so scary! Once I learned to drive, however, things changed because, of course, I was in control. I still have the false sense of security that being in the driver’s seat brings–so I actually enjoy road trips now! However I have a full-blown fear of flying, so that for years I couldn’t get on a plane without being medicated. And my in-laws live on the other side of this rather large country, so I could count on at least two five to six hour plane flights per year. Talk about feeling like you’re stuck in a tin can! I learned some self-hypnosis/meditation techniques from a hypnotherapist that helped me, but I still take a pill if I’m flying. Somehow trains don’t bother me as much, maybe because train tracks are predictable somehow… Coaches are a horror!

    I have to echo Lily above, cheers to you for knowing your strengths and limits. Let’s hear it for wide margins 🙂

  7. I completely agree with Lily. And wow, Litlove, this was an amazing post to read, I had no idea you went through such ordeals in transit. How exhausting and stressful that must be. As I think you know, I’ve lost my love of flying over the years, but in general am a very sturdy and happy traveller, so this was such a keen insight into what it’s like for others, a very real and even frightening burden. Again, I completely agree with Lily! (But oh, the things you’ll see!)

  8. I never go anywhere, for many of the same reasons, except that my Furies are incredibly easily-triggered motion sickness and fatigue, rather than claustrophobia and fatigue. I really do know exactly how you felt, and you deserve a medal for enduring it for the sake of your fellas. People who do not have these struggles really cannot understand how profound and pervasive this type of suffering is; it makes recreation a terrifying stress. No wonder we’re overachieving workaholics … we can do that from the comfort of a familiar place that isn’t on the move.

  9. I knew you weren’t a keen traveller, but I didn’t know you had such a visceral reaction to the process, and I’m sorry for your suffering. Litlove, your vision is vast and all-encompassing, and if that means having peace and quiet and not travelling far from home, then so be it.

    While I love to travel, I am with you on ferries – I loathe them.

    Hope you are feeling rested now, and much much better.

  10. I used to travel a lot but I never enjoy planes, I do share that “tin can” feeling in there… I’m glad you’re home and resting after this challenge (oh how I hate when I arrive to a carefully chosen hotel to discover that the registration went wrong and that we have nowhere to go!!)

  11. I have only very mild claustrophobia (you won’t catch me crawling around in caves), but just enough to be able to imagine the tiniest bit what it must have felt like. I’m so sorry the traveling was difficult! I hope you get your very quiet weeks and can recover quickly and thoroughly. I love Lily’s idea of father/son vacations.

  12. Litlove, I so appreciate that “Kraken” anxiety and the extreme effort it took for you to keep it at bay. No wonder you were ill at the end. At least you kept your imagination–and your sense of humor. No more “tin cans” for you for a while; enjoy the lingerie instead!

  13. I’m fine with cars and trains. I avoid flying, however. More and more over the years. If I absolutely have to, I arm myself with self-hypnosis starting weeks ahead and a bottle of sedatives to knock me out for the ride. I never assume I will arrive alive.

  14. Pingback: Adventurous People

  15. Gentle Reader – oh my goodness, we are alike! I do agree that being the one driving does help, and it’s not particularly useful that my husband’s car (which we normally take on long distances) isn’t comfortable for me to drive, containing, as it does, the world’s most ferocious clutch pedal. I haven’t been on a plane for a while now, but I think medication might be the only solution. The problem is getting it off UK doctors, who would stick me on a course of anti-depressants as soon as look at me, but refuse me valium on a point of honour. Well, now I will remember this when you next write about having to visit your family on the East coast, and think about how incredibly brave you are!

    Doctordi – I know you are a good traveller, and I do envy you. I can sit in a car feeling perfectly calm and untroubled in my mind, I’m not worried about crashing particularly, but then I can be mugged by huge muscular anxiety. I don’t even understand where it comes from. Ah, it’s a nuisance, that’s for sure.

    David – oh too right. Just give me a desk, four walls and some books and I’ll find something to do. In fact, these days I am more and more content with less and less. Eventually I may enter a zen state that is indistinguishable from coma but be perfectly content with it. 🙂 I do think you do know how I feel. I’m not really motion sick, but I was extremely queasy on this journey. So my heartfelt sympathy to you, too. May we be allowed to amuse ourselves at our desks indefinitely!

    Charlotte – what a kind and compassionate comment – thank you. I do at least feel much better now to be home and extremely appreciative of my own environment. And I think ferries might just be the most sordid form of transport yet to be invented! 🙂

    Smithereens – we were particularly unfortunate with the travel lodge that night. And yes, flying does seem to be the form of travel that most readily unhinges the sang froid of otherwise competent travellers! I’m very glad that your recent holiday passed by without incident.

    Dorothy – lol! I’ll join you outside those caves! Thank you for such kind wishes – it’s really nice to be home and I am banking on doing a whole lot of nothing over most of August. It’s a slumpy sort of month, so I intend to slump for it. 🙂

    ds – absolutely! You’re so right – I will choose the lingerie over a lengthy journey any day! You know, I do believe people sort of balance out, and if we just accept ourselves, exactly as we are, we can find the way to live that pleases us the most. If I didn’t have so much imagination, I might have to travel to alter my mindset, but having too much imagination makes that travel difficult – such is life! Thank you for such kind and consoling words.

    Oh – ain’t that the truth! And I do appreciate my own very much.

    Squirrel – how nice to have you drop by! You and the gentle reader both mention self-hypnosis, which is something I’ve never tried and will have to look into. A bottle of sedatives sounds just the ticket, however. Where can I find me a tame prescribing doctor?? Planes do seem to be the toughest choice for serene travel… I’m very glad that you have lived through all your journeys so far. 🙂

  16. Phobias are legitimate medical conditions so most regular physicians will prescribe mild sedatives. My doctor was a flying phobic herself. As for self-hypnosis, I’d recommend the book “Imagine Yourself Well” by Sean and Reid Kelly as an introduction. I used it for flying.

  17. Here via another site: I’m so sorry to hear about your claustrophobia and the impact it had on your family trip. I’m hesitant to proffer a suggestion for dealing with it as I know how irritating that can be, especially when the solution is something regarded as fringe. On the other hand, though, if it might help and I didn’t mention it… so I’ll take the risk and apologise in advance if it’s annoying. I’ve heard the EFT technique can be very helpful for various conditions including claustrophobia (http://www.emofree.com/claustrophobia.htm). I don’t have any experience of it myself, but my best friend found it incredibly effective for her extreme PTSD, so it might be worth a try. It sounds completely bats (you tap yourself repeatedly with your finger), but it doesn’t cost anything and you can do it at home. Nobody knows why it works, but they don’t know why aspirin works either and they’ve been using that for three thousand years:). Best wishes.

  18. Squirrel – well, that’s encouraging to know before I next have to confront a doctor. And thank you very much indeed for the book recommendation – that’s extremely helpful.

    Solarflare – I am interested in anything and everything that might help! And you’re looking at a person here who has tried all kinds of alternative therapies, none too bizarre to be worth a go. 🙂 I will certainly look into EFT and thank you very much indeed for the suggestion and for the useful link.

  19. I’m a wee bit late, but, I really hope you’re enjoying your quiet time litlove. I must admit travel isn’t a problem for me but, I do know how lovely and recuperative it is to go home at the end of a holiday.

  20. How brave of you to make it through the going and returning parts of the journey! I get anxious in small enclosed places like elevators so I can imagine how you must have felt and I send you comforting hugs. I hope you continue to rest and feel well again soon!

  21. I’m very late reading this part two of your travels but I’m sorry it was so difficult. And I’m sure you’re enjoying being back at home. I can definitely empathise with some of the travelling woes. I worked myself into a state about this trip.

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