6 Tips for Traveling With Bipolar Disorder #HAWMC
Is it really Day 20 of the WEGO Health Activist Writer’s Month Challenge? Today’s question is:
Travel Time: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Maybe you’ve already traveled to an exciting place and want to go back. We know travelling with a chronic illness can be challenging, so any tips for others that you can share would be great! #HAWMC
To be honest, I haven’t been on a vacation since I got Myasthenia Gravis (my neuromuscular autoimmune disease) in 2008, which is why I “vacationize” my hospital visits. But I do travel for work. Traveling with bipolar disorder can be hard. The change in timezones, accommodating other people’s plans, and the disruption in your routine are all difficult.
Related: 5 Tips for Traveling with an Illness or Disability
6 Tips for Traveling with Bipolar Disorder:
1. Tell your companions about limitations: If you’re traveling with friends, tell them you can’t stay up late. Staying up late and not getting enough sleep are triggers for bipolar episodes. If I stay up past my bedtime several days in a row, I get depressed. My friend Don gets manic when he hasn’t had sleep. You don’t have to tell people your diagnosis if you don’t feel comfortable. You can say, “I have to be back in my room by 11 pm.” I used to worry I would miss out on exciting things by sleeping early. But what I’ve learned is: Exciting people are exciting at 1 pm and 1 am. And boring people are boring no matter what time it is.
2. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: It can be really hard to recalibrate the body with the change in time zones. Anticipate some changes in your moods but be proactive. I use a lightbox both to deal with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is common among people with bipolar disorder but also to regulate my circadian rhythms. A combination of light therapy (staring at a box of light) and exercising makes me sleep on time and wake up on time. This is the lightbox I use from Philips–it’s portable and comes with a neat case. I stare at it for fifteen minutes every morning. See a psychiatrist before buying a box. In the past, the lightbox used to be as big as I am and it was really cumbersome to carry. We’ve made progress!
3. Exercise: Exercise is also important in maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Because of the pain from polycystic ovarian syndrome and fatigue from Myasthenia Gravis, it’s hard for me to get the energy to go down to the hotel’s gym. This is why I pack DVDs and a light yoga/Pilates mat. Whether it’s going for a jog or doing aerobics, find a way to exercise. Even fifteen minutes of exercise is better than nothing. Exercise releases endorphins, the feel good hormones, which help us fight stress and manage bipolar disorder.
4. Pack medications, snacks, and water: Because luggage can get lost, have some of your medications on you. Don’t forget to pack snacks and water. Check out the My Medications App (from the American Medical Association), which can help you remember to take your meds. Buy the app for 99¢ here on iTunes.
5. Chart your moods: I have a mood chart on my iPad. It helps me track my moods and I can see if I’m about to head into a depressive or manic (hypomanic for those with bipolar 2) episode. If I am, I can call my therapist. I can also modify my behavior to fight the depression by exercising more or sleeping earlier. You can buy the MoodTrack Diary Private App here for 99¢ on iTunes. (To learn more about mood charts, see 3 Tips for Making Mood Charts Work.)
6. Bring copies of medical information: Bring a list of your medications, your doctor and therapist’s phone numbers, and insurance information. Consider web therapy. When I can’t leave the house because of my immune system, I see my therapist over V-see, which is like Skype.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno