Natalie is from Scotland, but always felt this wasn’t where she would remain. So she hit the road, despite warning signs that there might be something very wrong. This is her story of psychosis and bipolar disorder on the road – and how she is overcoming them.
Can you tell us a bit about what life was like before you first headed to Canada from Scotland?
Living in Scotland, I always knew I would call another country home, although unsure when. I first took off at aged 17 to Australia with a feeling deep within me that I was running away from something. For a long time I was met with the labels of crazy, hypersensitive, too intense… sometimes even bipolar, but I never listened. They were just another bunch of voices going around in my head. That’s not to say I didn’t have a blast whilst in Scotland, but something was always lacking.
Had you always had the travel bug? What made you finally take the leap to head to Canada?
My mood was one of despair toward the end of my time in Scotland, so much so that on a weekend break to London, England, I applied for a job and swiftly moved my belongings within the week. I needed to get away from Glasgow, I needed to get away from my mood. My Canadian visa had been in progress for 4 months at this point and the day it filtered into my mailbox was the day I packed my stuff and headed for the hills.
What were you told you were suffering from when you first spoke to a doctor back in Scotland, and how did you deal with it?
I had seen a few psychiatrists in my time at home; I had even been admitted to a psych ward at one point. I wasn’t happy with the level of mental health care, and on more than one occasion was asked what I had to be depressed about. Again, my friends often brought to my attention that something was wrong, but until you are ready to see it for yourself it’s all just a case of finger pointing and blame.
How did things go when you first arrived in Canada?
When I first arrived in Canada, I met with a friend I had previously traveled with in Australia. I was happy to be in a new country, but I couldn’t quite shake the depression, and this was dually noted by my friend and his family. They said I was dull, boring, never wanted to do anything. It brought me down even more. I knew somewhere in me I was full of beans. When things got too much, I headed west from Saskatoon and set up camp on Vancouver Island. My demanding job meant I had very little time to be down; it did however rattle the other end of the mood spectrum but hey, hindsight is a great thing.
In retrospect, what was life like on the road across Canada with an undiagnosed mental illness?
Things started to slowly fall apart, my mind seemed to be making connections to unrealistic ideals. It seemed very obvious to friends, some of which even brought up the idea that I might be bipolar. By this point my grasp on reality was so far gone, that I believed I was in direct contact with god. I was undergoing a spiritual awakening and god, with his mighty direction, would see me alright. I sold off most of my belongings, packed the rest into boxes and prepared my car for a very long drive. New Natalie would awaken in New Scotland (Nova Scotia). I never looked at a map, I never planned, I never had an idea of what was going on or where I was going. I just drove, stopping in places that god had cleared for my arrival.
When was it that you realized that you needed to be hospitalized, and that something was very not right? How did you feel at that point – both in terms of your own mental state and the prospect of being hospitalized?
It happened often, I would loose hope, give up and cry incessantly. This one day however, I told myself that should I lose hope, a butterfly would loose its wings. I strolled back to my car from Timmies, happy with this new revelation and there she is, a dead butterfly laying outside my vehicle. This was one of the biggest signs from God I had received so far and I wasn’t even half way to Nova Scotia yet. A small part of me whispered that I shouldn’t live in fantasy but that’s all my brain knew at this point. This continued the entire trip, small signs, small meanings, all of which seemed colossal to me. After a very emotional drive across the Nova Scotia border, and the realization that these thoughts were not letting up, I knew it was time to call in the cavalry.
Can you give a brief overview of what exactly psychosis and bipolar I are for our readers?
Bipolar one is a mood disorder in which one fluctuates between a severely depressed mood and an intensely manic mood. For me, there is not much time spent in the ‘stable’ zone. Bipolar 1 differs from its counterparts in that those labeled bipolar 1 often enter into such an extreme elation that it becomes a psychosis. This is where reality breaks, thoughts and emotions are so far from the norm, they almost take on their own being. You have little to no control over what goes through your head, what you see, smell, taste and hear. You are literally disconnected from the world we live in.
Have you been on the road – for short or longer trips – since being diagnosed with bipolar I? If so, were there any things you had to alter in your travel style due to your illness?
Since being diagnosed I have been somewhat apprehensive about travelling, partly due to the bipolar but mostly down to my medication side effects and the panic attacks I so often encounter. My last trip was back to Scotland, having only told a few close friends and family at home about my situation, it was time for some much needed love and hugs from the faves. I struggled here and there, mostly because of the reasons I mentioned above but also I wasn’t completely in a stable place; symptoms of my illness were still very much prominent and it was hard to get past that, even being around loved ones.
Do you have any advice for someone who has bipolar disorder and wants to travel, but isn’t sure where to start, or is hesitant because of their disorder?
I would say grab the bull by the horns. For me at least, those unsure thoughts can morph and grow into a hideous debilitating beast. Don’t let it get that far or before you know it, it will be too far from your grasp and you will never do, never know. Maintaining self care strategies go a long way, and these can be done from the comfort of your own home or some far away land with ease. And looking at things from a different perspective can help you plan things out in a way that’s better suited to yourself. Just because sally go lucky has seen x parts of x countries in x days doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon or pressure yourself into unrealistic goals. Do what’s best for you, and you are the only person in the world to know what that is.
You can catch Natalie at The Bipolar Diaries to learn more about bipolar disorder, psychosis, and her experiences dealing with the two.
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