I am using transitioning in the broader sense of changing ones environment and in particular my experience of returning from a five day trip to Barcelona. I have always been aware that I find it difficult getting into holiday mode and returning to normal life mode. In recent years I have tended to think of this in terms of anxiety. Being away from home generally reduces the number of demands made on me, for instance I don’t tend to cook as much on holiday, there is little washing and cleaning to be done. If the holiday is in a familiar place, I even know I have a safe space to retreat to. I can also be informed about what there is to do so decision making is easy because I know what I will or will not be doing and also know what it will cost me in effort.
Going to a new place is different. In an ideal world I would look at the sights to see, cross off the ones that don’t appeal and schedule in the ones that seem like a good thing. In reality, I look at the lists, feel overwhelmed and leave them alone to mull over in the back of my mind. At least that is what I tell myself. Mulling over in my head using means avoiding looking at the lists until other people start deciding what they are doing and probably after some grumbling about not being able to make my own choices, I go along with the choices they have made. I think I prefer to let people tell me about their experiences of a place in person. That way I can quiz them over things that cause me anxiety and gain some reassurance. Going to a new place in faith that everything will be fine is challenging to say the least.
In Barcelona we stayed at an old friend’s flat. I have been to Barcelona before but not stayed at this apartment in an area that was new to me. It was a lovely apartment, in an interesting area in fact when I look back at the trip it would seem ideal for me. Now I am wondering what does make a good holiday for me? Well let’s see what I come up with. Theoretically for me it would be:
- Somewhere comfortable to stay where I could cook if I wanted to, with the flexibility of coming and going when I want
- Access to excellent food and drink at a reasonable price
- Sunshine and heat so that I can eat outdoors and treat my psoriasis, but not too hot that I am continuously sweating and need air conditioning to sleep
- Somewhere to swim
- A quiet place to myself where I can relax and recover from socialising
- Interesting cultural attractions particularly art and music
- Somewhere where they will tolerate my attempts at the local language but also have a smattering of English (so the frustration is a common experience)
- Being able to understand the place from a local perspective so that I can appreciate what life is like there so gaining a perspective on my own life
Fundamentally I think I need the ability to control my own level of anxiety and have the flexibility to do things in a way that suits me. The above list is really something that I would like to have once my anxiety levels are controlled. It isn’t that simple though, the picture is much muddier in reality. Any aspect whereby I have to interact with people and make decisions is going to trigger anxiety in me.
In the case of Barcelona pretty much all the criteria were satisfied (though I would never had tried cooking in this case) except for being able to find some peace and quiet to relax in. Space was limited in the apartment and the three of us took over one of the kid’s bedroom which was very generous of the kid. I love to hang out on balconies, which is what I did, but I find it difficult to switch off because of the noise levels from traffic and building work across the road. Sometimes I would go to have a lie down in the room having pulled the shutter down to make the room dark. This would be fine until somebody else walked into the room and turned the light on, and sometimes the light would stay on because my child wanted a quiet space to read. I only truly found peace when everybody else went to bed, the dishwasher had finished and the balcony doors were shut. Then I could truly relax in the dark and quietness of the place.
During my time in Barcelona I remember marvelling at my wife’s ability to enjoy her visit and be driven to see the things that appealed to her. She can be relentless, starting out in the morning to see a string of sights and not return until well until the evening. It isn’t something I can do at the best of times. Looking back I think I found the trip difficult to appreciate because there was just too many unknowns for me. I didn’t really feel anything because I was in partial shutdown, trying to keep hold of my control.
Coming home really pushed me to my limits. The plane journey home was not good. I couldn’t find my music player and I had difficulty sleeping despite being really tired from tough swimming training. The noise of the plane and the discomfort of being in a fixed seating position really stretched my nerves but what seemed like a lifetime which in reality was only two and a half hours we started our final approach into Edinburgh. I am not sure “final approach” makes sense when you are still thirty minutes away from landing but it meant the end was nearly here.
Back in our house it took a couple of days for me to figure out how to regain my life. I was so disassociated from anything, I was struggling to live. I would have said I was depressed but I didn’t feel depressed but perhaps that was because I didn’t feel anything. I seemed to be unable to make any decisions. We arrived home Monday evening and I was due to be in work the next day but I couldn’t deal with any work queries it seemed to complicated, I couldn’t write because the words kept drying up or I’d lose track. I was doing nothing but eventually got pulled into doing things to distract myself but used minimal effort, I watched Youtube videos, I got hooked into Netflix series or played my favourite video games.
There were two things that felt like breakthroughs on Tuesday. My wife has, what feels like, a habit of ignoring what I am doing, interrupting me and expecting the answer to a question. This happened a couple of times and eventually I responded angrily. The other was reading about the Manchester suicide bombing. It was shocking particularly to see the list of people who died. The thought of parents turning up to bring their kids home after the concert only to be killed while their kids survived broke my heart and I cried. What would the kids be feeling? Anger and sorrow, I was beginning to feel things again.
By Wednesday I came to the conclusion that I need to concentrate on doing the basics to rebuild my life from the bottom up. I came up with a list of basic things to do:
- Walk the dog
- Go shopping
- Put on a clothes wash
- Tidy clothes in bedroom
- Have a shower
- Take/apply medicines
- Water plants
These require minimal decision making on my part but I would be getting something done which I knew should lead to doing more complex things like doing a bit of weeding or hedge trimming (complex in requiring more decisions to be made).
Illness intervened though, so I have been given more time to find my way back into my normal life. I am making progress though. I have answered some work problems and dealt with a bit of crisis. I have written a few words. I even managed to cook a BBQ with the help of my friends. Perhaps if I could get rid of this illness I might even have transitioned back to normal, whatever that means.