It’s easier to travel while sane than crazy. As evidence I produce my two nearly identical holiday circumstances: 3 weeks with in-laws 8 time zones away, plus toddler(s). The first trip, four years ago, resulted in my decision to take anti-depressants for the rest of my life. The second, last month, with double the preschoolers, resulted in nothing but good times and fairly banal holiday stories. Thus, my conclusion – travelling while crazy sucks!!! And is really, really hard.
We generally visit my husband’s family in England every two years. Six years ago I visited with a six-month-old nursing infant and a boatload of victim-thinking (I’m practically a hostage! A captive wet-nurse!). My brother-in-law’s new girlfriend made her first debut, we were snowed in up to our waists, and the seven of us slept (or didn’t) in 1 bedroom and 2 converted offices.
Four years ago, we celebrated the marriage of my brother-in-law to aforementioned girlfriend. I spent hours studying myself morosely in the mirror, wondering what was wrong with my hair, what was wrong with my skin, my body. How could I stop everyone from noticing? I took lots of sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety meds.
Two years ago, I didn’t go. Since I had another six-month-old, I just didn’t want to cope with the jet lag and unfamiliar sleeping arrangements. My husband went with our 4-year-old. This year I decided I could cope. Decided I wanted to cope.
The trip four years ago convinced me that I was depressed and anxious enough to need chemical help. My doctor agreed – her in-office evaluation scored me as ‘severely depressed’. I”ll say….even a few months later (after tossing in a visit to my own parents and dying friend for extra points) I was crying too hard to get out of bed and wondering if my son’s caregiver had my husband’s number if I failed to pick him up.
So while I had a good excuse for not returning two years ago, I was also glad, because I was terrified of repeating this mentally isolating and exhausting experience. Plus, I was embarrassed by my behavior four years ago – seeming incompetent, teary, weepy, defensive, obsessive, annoying and difficult. I felt ugly and incredibly self-conscious, as well as like a professional and financial failure. So this trip would be like a final exam for my bachelor’s degree in getting my mental shit together over the past four years. I wanted my husband’s family to see that he had good reason for marrying me. There were positives to my madness.
This year I returned to jolly old England and my jolly old friends and in-laws and it was merry. I was merry, very serenely merry. Why was this trip such a success?
- 4 years of tools: anti-depressants, clonazepam, yoga, self-stability and surrender
- Holidays within our holiday – a week break in Italy, along with grandparents, uncle and auntie, just me and eldest son in Scotland, just my husband to Ireland
- Recognition of my supporting role in my husband’s journey home and all the entailing anxieties as well as my children’s journey to building relationships with their grandparents and their geographical history
- Setting expectations to what is actually possible in maintaining relationships at a distance. Since we live apart from most people in our past, visits are always filled with self-flagellation: “Sorry I haven’t called every single day, and occupied the place of prime confidante from 8 timezones away.” Let that baby go. We live far apart and we do the best we can. “It’s great to see you. What’s been happening the last two years.”
- Responsible use of the Withdrawal Method: it’s ok to read in my room/slip out for a walk without an escort/watch TV or not/go home or bed when tired, NOT when the visit seems appropriately long enough.
Gratitude: it belongs in the bulleted list above, for it’s a great tool. Unfortunately, it’s a tool I can only operate while somewhat sane. Still, it helps me keep it together on long flights and roadtrips, thinking that no matter what happens, I am safe and warm with a reasonable expectation of eating in the next 12 hours (even though meals are no longer included on international WestJet flights). And I have a return ticket. Relative to the stories of so many refugees stuck in European waiting “camps,” that is a lot to be grateful for, and very little to complain about.