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Seaneen Molloy

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Seaneen is the three-quarter sized Irish writer behind The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive blog. In her spare time she enjoys tea, hurling insults at the television and tutting at those who tut at others on public transport. She lives in London with two cats and eight million other people.

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A holiday survival guide for the mentally interesting.

14th August 2009

I currently have about as much capital as a recently mugged church mouse, so the closest thing I'll get to a holiday this year will be passing out under a heat lamp in my friendly local beer garden. But maybe it's for the best. Because as much as I like to get away, I sometimes find holidays about as relaxing as being nailed onto the bonnet of a hot car. And I'm not alone. Discussions with my mentally interesting brethren reveal that they also find the whole thing stressful.
Seaneen on holiday
When I do scrape enough pennies and lint together to take a trip, it's usually in July. I'm afflicted by a bizarre reversal of the classic seasonal affective disorder that often strikes people down with depression in winter. The summer is my depressive season, and by the time July rolls around with its oppressive sunniness and inhumane humidity, I’m usually swaddled in the shadows of despair. So I'm in no mood whatsoever to be taunted by the carefree laughter of half-dressed gits, infinitely happier than I. But I'm imbued with the adventurer spirit so I cram sunglasses, passport, flip flops, antipsychotic medication, social worker's phone number etc. into a battered suitcase, and off I jaunt.

Holidays are, by their nature, breaks away from normal life, unless your normal life involves room service. But as well as having a hotel door for “Do Not Disturb”, they should also give you one to hang up which says “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MUST YOU BE DEPRESSED OR IN ANY WAY MOROSE OR STRANGE”. The rules dictate that you must be happy. And as we often go on holiday with families, lovers or friends, the pressure to be happy is more acute than in our ordinary lives, where we have our favourite corners to hide away in if need be.
The seaside at a holiday destination
On top of this, the hedonism of holidays can pose a bit of a dilemma for some people with mental health problems because we need the ability to employ a staggering degree of self-awareness to get by. When this fails, for whatever reason, we rely on being watched by those around us.

There are medications to (forget) to take, appointments to attend, sleep to catch, jobs to go to (or not), alcohol to (sort of) avoid and so on and on and bloomin' on. In general, in order to not be tutted at by your doctor, you have to behave.

Routine, coupled with avoiding stress, is often cited as being one of the best lifestyle adjustments you can make if you suffer from mental illness. Unfortunately, routine tends to wave cheerily at you from the skidding tarmac of the airport runway as you leave for your well earned break. There's late nights, early mornings, excess drinking, eating out, people to see, ruins to visit, crabs to eat and starry-eyed sighing to be done. The little things, like taking care of yourself and being well behaved, tend to fall by the wayside somewhat.
Seaneen on holiday, kissing a statue
I try to deal with going on holiday without going mad by being mindful of, but relaxing, the self-imposed rules I abide by in order to manage my health. So if I miss a dose of medication, it’s not the end of the world, but I make sure I take the next one. If I feel a
little low or anxious, I let whomever I’m with know in a gentle way, so I don’t sit in silence feeling terribly guilty and forcing a rictus grin.

I attempt, with varying degrees of success, to abandon all my worries before leaving home. I drink if I feel like doing so, eat a little more than I usually would, and try to embrace this break from my day to day reality - even if it’s just being amused by the different regional news programmes on TV in the hotel room.

Maybe the best way to deal with holiday stress is to throw yourself into your days away as much as you can, whether it’s a relaxing short break or a wild week. But if you don’t feel able to, there’s no point in being hard on yourself.
Clouds
Looking out at the grey slate sky of this mostly disappointing summer, I’m considering having a rummage down the sofa cushions to see if I can manage a weekend in Weston-Super-Mare. Alas, probably not. If you’re off on holiday, enjoy yourself, smug in the knowledge that people like me are getting carpal tunnel syndrome from refreshing BBC Weather every fifteen seconds in the vain hope that staying at home this year will pay off.

Comments

    • 1. At 6:49pm on 17 Aug 2009, Citron Shake wrote:

      Glad to know I'm not the only one who finds holidays really hard.

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    • 2. At 09:50am on 24 Aug 2009, RoseRodent wrote:

      I am busy packing to go away on holiday (my husband's idea - take the kiddy out of a paid-for nursery place and cart her across the country to be needy for a week, yum, much as I love her) and OMG the equipment. We're going to a "normal" venue, you see, so I have to take my own kit, not just a couple of wheelchairs and a stick for all occasions but ramps, mattresses, bath lifts... And then we have to pack for a toddler - cots, nappy changing facilities, all her own crockery and cutlery. Cripes, why are we doing this to ourselves? Our house is already set up with these things, but instead we are driving across the country to live in a caravan just to see a different set of Boots, McDonalds and WHSmiths from those we have back home.

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