With the weather plummeting into sogginess and the dark evening closing in on us, it's tempting to leap on a plane to the southern hemisphere to fend off impending Seasonal Affective Disorder. However travelling can be somewhat tricky for people with mental health problems because it disrupts the routines that are central to our stability.
But why should we miss out on the joys of travel when, with a bit of foreword planning, holidays can be rewarding and relaxing experiences? Below are some things to consider if you're bipolar and planning on satisfying your wanderlust.
Talk to your healthcare professionals
You will be aware of how your illness affects you and to what degree you can cope with change, however it never hurts to get a second opinion and so talking to your doctor/CPN might be helpful.
Try and stay in a similar time zone
The more you need to adjust your sleeping pattern, the harder it will be to adapt to the new location so if you have a choice of holiday destinations, try and pick the one closest in time zone to the area that you are travelling from. If you do decide to travel afar, plan for a few relaxed days at the beginning of your trip to allow you time to adjust and make sure that you have some free time after the trip, to readjust back to your home routine.
Journey at sensible times
Although flights can be cheaper if you travel at anti-social times of day, bear in mind that going on a holiday is going to require a lot of adjustments to your routine anyway, having a disturbed night's sleep certainly won't help.
Choose a suitable holiday
Whilst I don't think we should let our health problems frighten us away from enjoying life, we do need to be realistic. It's not fair that a 18-30s 24/7 clubbing adventure in Ibiza might send us into mania, but it's unlikely that many of us could cope with that sort of trip. If you want to enjoy some partying, extreme sports or other stimulating activities make sure that they are within the context of a varied holiday that will allow you periods of relaxation in between.
Choose supportive travel companions
People vary enormously in both their abilities and preparedness to help. Whilst you might love your best mate to bits, if she's likely to leave you depressed in the hotel alone so that she can go out clubbing, she's not a good choice of travelling companion. You need to be with friends who understand that you need to stick to a routine and who don't mind taking it easy should you find yourself suffering from mood swings during the trip. Discuss any health concerns with your companions before travelling.
Plan your medication is advance
If you're going on a short journey, make sure that you pick up enough medication to last the trip before you go, as it might be difficult to get a prescription abroad. Should you expect to be picking up meds during your trip, ask your doctor for a prescription in advance and make sure that he/she uses generic names as brand names may vary from country to country. You also need to check that your meds are licensed in the country that you are travelling to as it could be an offence to travel with them otherwise.
Insurance can be expensive for those with pre-existing health problems, however MDF - The Bipolar Organisation should be able to help you there. The Summer 2007 edition of One in Four also suggests All Clear Travel, Travelbility and Free Spirit Travel Insurance.
Pack in advance
The journey itself is likely to be stressful so allow yourself a break between packing and travelling. Try and pack at least 24 hours in advance so that you don't feel stressed at the last minute.
Form a holiday routine
So your holiday routine is going to be a little different from your routine at home, but there doesn't mean that there can't be structure to your days. Try to stick to regular meals, take your meds at the same time each day and try and get full nights' sleep.
Prepare for the change in diet
Often holiday makers can find that the change in diet causes diarrhoea or constipation, these problems (especially the former) can affect the absorption of your medication and mess up your nutritional intake. If possible take some medicines like Imodium with you so that you can nip these problems in the bud.
Familiarise yourself with the health system abroad
It can be hard calling for help when we have half a dozen emergency contact numbers programmed into our phones, so we can really do without the hassle of having to fathom an unfamiliar medical service during a period of sickness. For this reason, before you travel, familiarise yourself with the health service in the country you are planning to visit and find out the best way to summon help.
Whilst travelling can be challenging, don't expect failure. If you've planned ahead and are surrounded by supportive people, you should be able to have a relaxing and enjoyable holiday just like anybody else.
Got any positive (or negative) stories about travelling with bipolar disorder? If so, feel free to share them below.