We share Mair Elliott’s latest blog on living with mental illness and autism. In this post Mair shares her experiences while travelling abroad this Summer.
“So I did it! I managed to not only survive, but to experience and enjoy travelling to its full extent (low points included).
To many travelling around Canada for roughly 6 weeks might seem like no big deal, just an extended summer holiday. But for someone like me it is a momentous achievement. If you’d have asked me even a year ago of it was possible for me to do something like this I would have said no.
When I say ‘someone like me’ I am referring to someone who on a daily basis faces barriers, someone who consistently has to fight to keep their head above water. Someone that finds the external world confusing and sometimes terrifying. Someone with Autism and Mental health problems.
In the weeks leading up to departure I could feel the anxiety whipping up a storm. Already the idea of a lack of routine for 6 weeks was affecting me both mentally and physically. As we were making final plans a deep feeling of dread and uncertainty was rushing through my veins. Excitement and the need for adventure were also thrown into the emotional cocktail, leading to an overall confusing and overwhelming mixture.
Having made it to Gatwick and flown to Toronto airport I suddenly found myself with my head in a toilet bowl watching my stomach contents spill out of me like a fountain. I was told I wasn’t allowed to fly to our final destination, Vancouver, and so myself and my friend spent the night trying to sleep on the airport floor. It makes a good story, but at the time I was trying to figure out why I had fallen so ill, was it food poisoning? Had I eaten something I was allergic to? Was it a stomach bug? It is only now, nearly a month later, that I’m realising it was probably anxiety.
Staying in hostels was interesting to say the least. I am not someone who can handle close proximity to other people. People I know well, like family and friends, then it’s fine – strangers are another matter. Having said that, I felt I dealt with the hostels in Vancouver, Jasper and Quebec city with some grace and patience. The hostel in Montreal may have been weak point. Being a light sleeper would be an understatement for me, so when we were in a dorm with a lady that snored louder than a horse with a cold I may have lost my temper. I removed myself from the situation before I blew my top, but staying in the hostel was no longer an option. Luckily, I had stored some emergency money away and I used it to book a hotel room for myself and my friend for the remainder of our time in Montreal.
There were sleepless nights (thank the pharmaceutical industry for Zopiclone!), lack of an eating routine, stress, anxiety, generally feeling unwell a lot of the time and a few times I just wanted to fly home. You may ask why I would put myself through all of that, or was it even worth it. And in truth, it was difficult, but my god it was worth it. All of the negative things I experienced were nothing to the places I saw, the beautiful scenery, the great stories and adventures, the interesting people I met, the magnificent creatures I witnessed and the sheer achievement of knocking down those barriers and proving my doubts and anxiety wrong.
I am so proud of myself, especially looking back on where I started. Almost exactly three years before we flew out I was discharged from the Psychiatric unit. In those three years I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, from creating the S4C and ITV programme with the team down in Cardiff, speaking at events of all shapes and sizes, becoming a trustee of an amazing charity, to learning how to look after myself and manage my mental health problems.
I am not prepared to allow the challenges I face to stop me from doing the things I want to do. I am willing to put the work and effort into overcoming the barriers which potentially could disable me. I also have the patience and endurance to survive the more difficult times. After being so unwell, having been incapable of looking after myself, having not been able to see how truly beautiful this world is and having contemplated mortality from the darkest of corners, I am more aware than ever that I only get one life – I am not going to let those demons which once controlled me to ruin or take my life away from me. And I hope that I can prove to anyone who faces difficulties, whether it be Autism related, mental health problems, or even just day to day issues, that firstly with hard work, perseverance, bravery and some grit you can overcome any barrier you face. And secondly, things can and do get better.
It’s onwards and upwards for myself, the next challenge is completing a year long college course. And of course, I will be doing a few campaigning bits and bobs in between, including speaking at a reception in the House of Lords in October”.