When leaving Berlin last time, I forgot my laptop charger. I was so extremely focussed on not forgetting to put the laptop into the case and the case into the bag (seems that’s sufficient executive function complexity for my travel stressed mind) that I forgot to routine check where the charger is.
I don’t like to see myself as dependent on electronics. At all.
But showing up in the middle of nowhere, where I’d planned to write and perhaps work without my main work tool unsettled and ungrounded me completely.
Well ok, at first I thought, no problem, I’ll do without until I’m in Berlin next time.
In times past, people read books, right? And I’ve got drawing tools. And I’ve got things to think about. Places to walk, perhaps. While the friend I’m visiting works a large part of the day.
But after approximately a day I started crawling out of my skin.
Looking back, it turns out my laptop – embodying the ability to write, and earn some occasional money on and off – was an anchor without which I went out of my skin.
Small pillars of stability
I don’t like to freak out because of relatively minor random events.
These are bound to happen when traveling, and I would like to travel more soon.
I always lose stuff, break stuff, there is the unexpected – and I’m not the most flexible or easygoing person, probably as far from that as it goes; the wrong sensory stimulation wrecks me (noise, perfumed sheets, bad energy … read articles on autism if you are interested in that, also plenty of aspie articles here tho they are more for people who already know the topic). Random minor everyday decisions wreck me, not to mention when they are time-sensitive and there are many unknowns and unpredictables.
And “wreck” here means basically paralysis – inability to decide, sometimes to act; getting even more sensitive, and usually triggering in response some emotional episode like a depressive one. It’s fun to have these when already in sensory overload and needing to take care of minor mind-knotting practical things that are already overwhelming in themselves, while figuring out how to fulfil physical and sensory needs in a novel environment. Not to mention emotional ones.
So, this officially sucked. I got into random fights with persons (out of being in overload; people on the spectrum should get that), I got depressed, my mind went down the “what’s the point of living anyways” avenue (yes, from minor nonsense like losing equipment: on the upside, this happens so often that I’m developing a sense of warmth and humour about it, and find it far less scary).
Someone said how I acted was totally unacceptable and offensive given social norms, but they have the kindness not to be offended. That offended me back. Though I have (presumed autistic) friends about whose behaviour I have formulated the literally identical thought (in as far as I’m privy to mainstream social norms). That’s perhaps a bit humorous, if aspie or other readers get it.
I am still struggling with the fact something sucked – trying to at least extract teachings from it. That won’t happen too quickly though. Not within a day.
What I learnt is that writing and expression stabilises me.
I freaked out cause I couldn’t write. I forgot how to write on pen and paper, perhaps because I need at least the virtual feeling that someone reads me, or could read me (whether they actually do or not – it’s the potential that counts?) – a virtual line of connection. Writing in a journal doesn’t do that.
Thought: can I fulfil what seems to have become a basic need without electronics? What would I have to do? Write paper letters? Draft a book? Write articles with the thought of submitting them? To get that same kind of grounding feeling … that apparently comes just from putting content – frankly sometimes more content, sometimes less – online.
Expression as a basic need
It’s also the same freakout feeling that I used to get in earlier years, when I was making more music, whenever I was in a place without access to an instrument (really, any would do, but piano or guitar were preferable).
This makes me think – that perhaps the common denominator for mental survival here is expression. Some avenue of expression or other has to be open and available to prevent this spiral.
I don’t like to be dependent on one thing – one concrete object, that, if I lose or break it (as is common, and as will happen on travels), sends me down into chaos and meltdown (though there were additional factors this time, but this was a major one).
That leads me to the following question to contemplate:
How do I diversify my avenues of expression for the next time one of them breaks down?
Does that mean I have to carry a laptop, a guitar and a painting kit?
Are there some avenues of expression through creation that are always available to me, irrespective of the objects I may carry, own or lose? Does it make sense to invest more in developing these as I am planning to change places more often and without less disaster?
What are basic ways, as place- and equipment-independent as possible, of taking care of basic sensory and psychological needs? Of having a life where you are?
Things that come to mind are movement, and singing (at which I suck officially, too). Speaking, contact with the outside world, turning that into an art form (at this point couldn’t be further from that, either … frequently no capacity for it, but maybe dressing it up as art, in which eccentricity is a valid way, endowing it with meaning would help?).
Travel meltdown emergency procedures
Finally, what are the emergency procedures for when this happens next time?
One biggie that I totally forgot about was grounding.
Sometimes, there’s chaos. I’m tired, sleep deprived, hungry, overwhelmed, in extreme sensory overload, sometimes then some pleasant social situation adds emotional overload on top of that, and then sometimes my computer and phone break down, I realise I don’t have money in the right currency, I’ve registered the wrong phone number to make a transfer, I can’t sleep because the place isn’t fit for it, I can’t eat cause there’s too much noise and my stomach is turning from the emotional distress of knowing I’m judged for the fact that I can’t keep up a socially acceptable face when all this happens.
Yes, I complain, I lash out, I become helpless, I expect others to take care of me because I feel like a helpless child (and forget I’m theoretically not, or at least I don’t look like one).
But that happens.
And it doesn’t necessarily lead to something really, really bad.
Sometimes, the situation turns and becomes whole.
I think the decisive factor that screws it up is when I sell my soul for conflict avoidance, confrontation avoidance, general life avoidance – the avoidance of tears, the avoidance of being as real as I need to be to get out of the chaos and regain the thin red thread of sanity.
Yes, I do think it’s better to lose face, be misunderstood (but at least say what you mean), irritate someone, be judged than stay in that state for days. It’s better to reconnect with self and take the shit that probably comes, than to disconnect from self, try to hide, and still get the shit as well as serve it. It’s a simple calculation that probably deserves to be tattooed on my forearm to remain in plain sight all the next times that will come.
Grounding: here I mean staying in the body (here and now, feeling) and facing the truth of what’s happening, including the chaos and pain, rather than disconnecting and becoming absent to what’s happening. That can’t always be done, but I can do it at this point. Staying in the loop and as true as possible, even if it looks ugly and feels confusing, paradoxically seems the better pain avoidance strategy.
If anyone reading this is familiar with the topic of travel meltdowns, has ways, reflections or just experiences, I’d be super interested in reading comments.