Hello to all of you beautiful readers! If you have even gotten this far into reading my blog, then let me say, I love you, you are helping me make my dream come true, and thank you. If you come here often, you know how it works, grab your self a beverage, get yourself comfortable and enjoy a momentary escape from your world.
If you’re new here, welcome! So nice to see you. Same applies, bev, blanket and escape.
Today I want to tell you about my experiences of travelling with Post Concussion Syndrome. I have stories to tell and advice to share.
If you are coming to me as some one who has suffered a head injury and is wondering about travelling. My words are not professional and have no medical, intellectual, or scientific backing. They are merely from my lived experiences.
We all suffer head injuries differently, your symptoms and limits may be entirely different to mine. Maybe they’re not, maybe this could help. You are the only one who can judge that.
Anyhow, let’s get on with the stories. I’m going to begin with the ‘bad’, that way things can lighten up as the story goes on and we can wave goodbye with cheeriness and smiles.
So just for anyone who doesn’t know, here is some context:
I hit my head October 28th, 2017. My accident gave me a concussion which developed into Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS).
PCS is essentially where the symptoms of your concussion don’t go away. Most people recover from it after around 3-6 months however for some, it can linger for years. At the time of writing this, it has been three and a half years.
My symptoms include headaches, dizziness, impaired memory, visual disturbance and troubles with concentration.
It was always my intention to travel. Before the accident Harry and I had a holiday booked, to go to Ljubljana in December. We had also planned to backpack Asia together. We left for China in June 2018.
A couple things spring to mind when I remember how the accident affected my travels. In Ljubljana, my symptoms were still at their worst. Most nights we had to take taxis home because I couldn’t handle the walk.
We missed out on ice skating because.. well there was just no question about whether or not I could do that..
The early morning flight and overnight-airport stint really did a number on me. Just in case you’re tempted to think ‘well those are tough for everyone’. No. I remember how it felt doing overnight travel before and after. It is not the same feeling.
I couldn’t drink alcohol, which I know is quite a small sacrifice.. but I was 19. I was on my first holiday abroad with my new boyfriend. I wanted to drink mulled wine in the outdoor bars late into the evening. I wanted to enjoy a beer with my meals.
When we were backpacking Asia, my symptoms were much more eased. This was half a year later.
I did still experience some troubles though. I missed out on some of the hikes- I wasn’t confident I would cope with the distance.
I always rode on the back of Harry’s scooter even though I desperately wanted to try driving myself. This made me feel a huge lack of independence. I felt like I was a half person.. like I was ‘less than’ everyone else who could drive themselves.
I couldn’t really walk far without headaches and dizziness, so when we were out and about we would have to take extremely regular breaks. Which wasn’t so bad actually, most of the times these were in nice cafes with tasty coffees. Definitely didn’t make budget travel easy though..
I had a sense of missing out. I wanted to be doing more and experiencing these destinations fully.
I also felt such guilt when my limitations would change the way Harry would do things. For example, taking taxis, when walking or public transport would be a better experience. Or not being able to hike as far. I worried that I was holding him back.
I didn’t really know how to work through those anxieties then. I guess the fact that our relationship was still very new made it harder to communicate them. I think they are natural worries to have. You just need to work through them in a healthy way.
Essentially, there have been limitations to my travels. I can’t do everything the same as I used to. However I am learning to love an appreciate the things that I can do so much more.
Okay, let me lighten the mood. My concussion has been tough. It has also been a fact of life, for most of my adulthood. If I were to only focus on the times it has made things dark, I would not be the strong woman I am today.
My concussion has forced me to grow up, maybe more than I liked sometimes. It has caused me to redefine my idea of ‘strength’. Which before, I associated with abilities- speed, muscle and stamina. Now I associate it with a strength of character.
I’m going to use one day of our trip through Asia to explain this. The day we climbed the Great Wall of China.
At the beginning, we were adamant that we would walk up and walk down. That was where the adventure was for us. The idea of taking the tougher route also gave me some sort of foolish sense of superiority. I didn’t want to ‘give up’ and use the cable car when we were capable of the hike.
Now let me tell you, when it comes to this wall, ‘Great’ is no exaggeration. This truly is one huge wall. It It is no easy feat for anyone. The climb was steep. I was feeling dizzy. My head was hurting and my brain, had decided it would be all the more fun, if the steps transformed into a swirling, marble, optical illusion.
I can confirm, tears were shed, a vast amount of sweat was pouring and many moments of self doubt arose.
Throughout nearly every second, I was anxious about falling. It made my chest tighten, my heart beat fast and caused me to lose control of my breath a bit. I had no trust in what my limbs were doing, how they were moving and if my feet were secure where I placed them.
Despite these obstacles, with my stubbornness, Harry’s support and the fantasy that we would get ice cream at the end. We reached the top. We walked far too. After starting in Mutianyu, a magnificently restored stretch of the wall, we kept going until we got to a part that was only half restored.
These steps were even more of a nightmare for my concussion but I loved how wild this part of the wall was. It was more connected to the surrounding nature.
The Great Wall was an experience I will never forget. It truely is remarkable. Normally I don’t get my hopes up for touristy things but this was so much more than a tourist destination. It is one of the wonders of the world after all.
Our accomplishment in climbing the wall was huge. I was proud of myself for persevering. However I was even more proud of myself for the moment I said that I need to take the cable car back down.
I had reached my limits. I knew that my mind and body would not cope with the climb back down. I had to turn my back on our wish to walk both ways. Initially I felt that this was me giving in. Now I know, I was just finding a new kind of strength. One that grew to me being comfortable with my limitations and proud of what I achieve within them.
Strength and power comes from respecting your limits. It comes from being proud of what you are able to manage, and not comparing your abilities to some one else. These are things that I had definitely not known before my concussion.
Our views from the cable car were breathtaking. I was then rewarded by feeling rejuvenated for the evening. We ate a fantastic dinner, which I was stable enough to appreciate fully. Had I pushed myself to walk down, I don’t think I would have been capable of anything at all for the rest of the day, and probably the next.
Looking back on that day, I am so darn proud of lil’ old me.
The advice I have..
All of the trips I have taken in the past three years have been sensational. I have truly loved them. Even Ljubljana, when my symptoms were at their worst, gave us so many fond memories.
There were tough moments but to be honest, these moments were normally no harder to manage than when I was at home. The only times I felt like travelling made things more difficult were the actual travel days – buses, trains, flights. So make these days as easy as you possibly can for yourself.
If you have the money, airbnbs/hotels make things easy when you need quiet space to retreat. If you’re budget or want the social experience of hostels, go for smaller ‘family style’ hostels. They normally make a better experience anyway.
Okay, I am going to some up all of my advice below. Some of this might be more specific to those with acquired head injuries however, some might apply to you for a different reason. These are the coping strategies I have picked up through my travels in the past three years.
Avoid early morning flights that will cause you to do an all nighter- sleep is your friend.
It’s okay to get a taxi or a cable car if you don’t feel up for the tougher route.
Find a healthy balance of pushing yourself whilst respecting your limits.
Don’t try and fit too much into one trip- you want to take it slow, allow plenty of time for rests.
Don’t compare your abilities to others- that will bring you nothing but negativity.
Avoid party hostels- they’re not all that great anyway and your sleep pattern will thank you.
Bring an eye mask and ear phones- sometimes on noisy transport I find listening to calm music eases my headaches as it drowns out the hustle.
Always carry plenty of water- dehydration is your enemy.
Be kind to yourself.
Thank you for reading!
Have you climbed the Great Wall? I would love to hear about your experience!
Or, have you travelled with PCS? Do you have any tips on managing symptoms? Drop them down below.
I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you for being here! Whilst you wait for the next blog post you should subscribe to my digital magazine- Rose Paloma. It is entirely free and released with every season. There is even a copy of the previous issue attached to the welcome email, so you don’t have to wait until summer.