Throughout my travels, people have shown envy and wanderlust, oftentimes telling me they wish they could do what I do. While I suffer with depression and anxiety, I’m pretty able bodied and usually able to manage my messed up mind. Why shouldn’t absolutely anyone be able to travel the world?
So this got me thinking: there must be many travelers out there who have battled their own bodies or minds far more than I have, yet they still get out there and enjoy their lives. And so was born the Inside the Enabled Mindset interview series. The aim of these interviews with these beautiful souls is to show you that it’s all in your mind, and your dreams – whatever they may be – are achievable, no matter what struggles you encounter on a daily basis.
With that, I’ll pass the conversation over to our very first interviewee, the lovely CJ of Phoenix Writings.
Please give our readers a little bit of background about yourself, and where you came from.
I spent the majority of my childhood at Shiners’ Burn Hospital, which became my safe place, despite the pains I went through with surgeries; at least it wasn’t being thrown downstairs or choked until I passed out. The multiple operations, physical therapy, and dressing changes caused me to long for what was outside my window; the World. Even through it all, I have kept a positive attitude and became a strong person, learning a poor attitude will not make things better, and perception is what makes life. Now, that is just what I do; travel the world and see its Wonders.
What’s your style of travel? Are you more of a backpacker or more of a nice cozy hotel suite type?
If I had to name my travel style I would call it Local Style. I like to stay either with friends or rent a room/apartment, and experience places as if I lived there rather than simply as a tourist.
Do you tend to travel solo or with someone? Why?
I have done both. Solo can be kind of scary but empowering, and it tends to make things a bit more difficult. I like to travel with my soon-to-be-Hubby and his parents. It kind of takes a bit of the pressure off, and I don’t worry about my PTSD as much when I have my support network around. My panic attacks seem to last longer when I am alone, though mind you they feel like eternity in the middle of them either way. I am less likely to experience them when my fiance is around. Plus he tends to do most of the interaction with clerks and such, so I rarely have to deal with people hesitantly taking my money or pulling away when they see my deformed hands.
Were you concerned before your first trip that your physical problems as well as your PTSD might make traveling harder? How did you overcome these things?
Truthfully, I had plenty of practice dealing with the rudeness of people growing up in Florida. I spent tons of time at the amusement parks and let me tell you, whether home or travelling, people stare regardless. Some you can tell are simply curious of my story, others are just judgmental pricks being rude. I was burned as a child, so I have had YEARS of experience dealing with it. It was worse as a child as my scars were newer and more prominent. Part of the way I deal with these things is also with the support of my partner and friends. I know people love me for me and I do not need to worry about those so narrow-minded they judge on appearance alone.
My PTSD is fairly new, so dealing with that while travelling is still difficult. It causes me to have trouble sleeping, which we all know causes its own side effects. But before I was diagnosed with it, I thought it was just anxiety. I have learned that a lot of my panic attacks are conditional on certain things (such as being too close to an open flame, becoming too hot, sudden aggressive movements in others, and general aggressive people) so I tend to avoid these things when alone (if it is with in my control) or use my security blanket (my fiance or a small plush cocker spaniel that reminds me of my puppy), and try to focus on my breathing.
How has being a burn victim affected your travels negatively? Can you tell us about one of the worst experiences? How did you deal with it?
I don’t like the term burn victim, I prefer burn Survivor because that is what I am – a survivor not a victim. Mostly it affects the way people approach, react, or speak to me, and this can be negative even if they are not trying to be rude or mean. My worst experience, and I wish I could say this has happened only once in my life, but sadly it’s happened too many times to count. I was in an open market looking at pretty bobbles. I picked up a piece and the clerk (who was staring at me in disgust the whole time I was looking) told me that since I touched it I have to buy it. I was a little taken back by her rude tone and my heart started racing (confrontation and PTSD… not a great match), but I argued that it was not posted anywhere that “touch it you bought it” was her stall’s policy. She then glared at me and very bluntly stated my ugly hands have tainted it by touching it. Now, coming across people who look at me like I am some freak who injures their eyes by looking at me and should be locked away from society is nothing new… but that… that struck a chord that no one had ever done before.
What have you had to overcome and face within yourself in order to be able to enjoy traveling despite sometimes getting looks and the like?
I have to say, you would think that being in 2016, treating people with disabilities or deformities like freaks who do not belong with “normal” people would be an outdated mindset. Sadly, it’s not. Because of this, fear was a huge obstacle I had to overcome. We all have low self esteem at some point, but mine for the longest time kept me locked away. I was afraid to leave my comfort zone out of fear of being judged, fear of confrontation, fear of strangers. I would have NEVER dreamed I would leave the US (even though I wanted to see the world) let alone travel by myself occasionally. I still get the racing heart beat and rapid breathing when I enter a journey. But I mentally steel myself and smile, knowing no one can do anything that I can’t handle. Hey, if I could bounce back from ash, I can do anything.
What differences do you see in the way people react to you as a traveler versus someone who doesn’t have to battle the scars and PTSD that you do?
I tend to get two reactions that average people don’t tend to get: Rude remarks and stares, or shock/pity, which honestly annoys me almost as much as the rude/mean. I tend to get more people who are curious about my story, I have found, more than say my average looking companions. I think this is because a story is clearly written on my skin for all to see.
Can you tell us about some of the best travel experiences that have come out of your conditions?
I have had perfect strangers invite me to dinner, offer me drinks and have in many countries received random flowers from people saying I am an inspiration without even hearing my story. Even though I am Agnostic, I do tend to get blessed a lot… not really sure the deal with that. And truthfully, there have been times that my PTSD has hit me particularly hard and I feel super weak, but it never fails that I will have at least on person come up to me and tell me how strong they think I am. It’s usually the boost I need to be like “You know what? You’re right I am strong as a MoFo. Thanks.” I have also had random strangers just out of no where tell me I am beautiful… but truthfully, I never really believe it as sometimes it sounds more like pity than a compliment.
Have there been some countries that were harder for you to travel in than others due to your conditions? Why?
Well, hotter climates are always an issue with both my PTSD and my disability. I can’t sweat like an average person can, so I overheat easily. So when travelling, I have to keep close eyes on the climates. India in the summer? Yeah… that’s a no go. The upside is growing up between Ohio and Florida, I am acclimated to some heat (thanks, Florida) and humidity, but still, I can only handle so much before AC is needed, or a pool/water source.
Likewise, have there been countries that you find easier to be in with your conditions?
Colder climates are definitely easier, though I do have to use plenty of lotion; my skin doesn’t hold in moisture well. Dried, cracked skin… no thanks. The easiest place I have been to is the UK, which is probably why I have chosen to make it my second home. Hardly anyone stares and really don’t seem to give two shits about deformities of any kind. Sadly, my own home county has been the worst when it comes to shallow, judgmental people.
What advice would you give to any other travelers with similar conditions, who might be worried that their disabilities are holding them back from their dreams?
While this may come off as mean, I say SUCK IT UP. The only thing in the WORLD that holds you back is yourself. Fear is a crutch that no one needs. Any obstacles you may have – if you want it enough – you can find a way around or through.
Any final thoughts?
Don’t let others or even yourself hold you back. If you want it, grab it, work for it, achieve it. People think that because disabled literally means unable to do things, that following your dreams is not possible. But the truth is, being disabled makes you resourceful. Just because you are unable to do things one way doesn’t mean there is not another way to do it. Just because you’re deaf, doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy sound… you feel it. Just because you are blind doesn’t mean you can’t see the world… you can sense it on so many other levels that others never would think of. Never let a disability prevent you from experience the world. In the end, you will regret it.
If you’d like to be my next interviewee, contact me for more details!
And be sure to check out more interviews with people who don’t let anything hold them back – click here!