Mental Health Awareness: Travelling with mental illness or physical disability

Flying is my worst nightmare even though my family live abroad I still find it a very hard experience. The getting to the airport, finding the correct place to be […]

Flying is my worst nightmare even though my family live abroad I still find it a very hard experience. The getting to the airport, finding the correct place to be and checking in, getting though the stress of security. It’s my Grandfather’s 80th birthday this September so I’m flying out to see him and it’s my birthday 9 days later and I’d like some sun this year.

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Myself and Grandad on his 80th

This trip is different in the fact it’s the first one where I will be using my walking stick and coming to terms with my physical disability has been incredibly hard for me to deal with, I’m not even sure I have yet. As soon as I get to the airport I will be treat differently, looked at, people wondering why someone so young uses a walking stick or possibly a wheelchair if I throw my back out. Which I did.

(One thing I would like to note that impressed me, East Midlands airports disabled bathrooms have a sign above saying ‘not all disabilities are visible’ MAJOR kudos for that, just a shame disabled facilities were so few and far between).

I ALWAYS take my full supply (plus a few spares) of medication hand-luggage. I do not want my suitcase getting lost as it has on a few occasions and losing irreplaceable medication which could cost a lot to replace in the country you visit, or in my case begin to withdraw from the myriad of opiates I take, think Trainspotting. As long as any liquid medication is in 100ml or less bottles (most pharmacies will decant into smaller bottles if you explain you’re going on your jollies) unopened in a clear Ziplock bag and tell security when you get there you have medication, I’ve been pulled for opiate residue on my hands on a ‘random drug search’ because I forgot to mention and take out of my carry on said medication. Also when you get to the person who checks your boarding pass or at customer services you tell them you have anxiety and/or invisible illness they will often escort you through the quiet lane which means you don’t have to rush as much and deal with the bottleneck of people.

Next once I’ve cleared customs I will find a sandwich deal from Boots/Superdrug/WHSmiths and a magazine or two, put my headphones in but not listen to anything and walk through duty free, (it’s rare I buy anything but a girl can look) also, most airports have a ‘quiet lane’ that bypasses all the shops and basically the bulk of the people which is good for those with anxiety.

Then I’ll find my gate, sit there and not move until I see the airline staff to whom as soon as possible will mention any anxieties (most airlines that don’t use priority boarding I.e budget airlines will allow you to board first, especially if you have medication to take and take ages to get comfy) it’s worth a shot. It’s best to let the airline know BEFORE you get to the airport so they have advance notice. Disabled people are always seated at windows on most airlines and this is usually a rule you can change due to evacuation procedures in an emergency, more and more airlines are becoming aware of mental illness and anxiety so they are much more understanding.

My view from my wheelchair

Once on the plane I tend to settle in and keep a book and my tablet with movies on it on my lap so I can read while people are boarding or look out the window, once the safety announcements have been made and we’ve gotten to the ‘seat belt sign off’ point, my tablet goes on (in airplane mode of course) and I entertain myself with movies or a TV series on my memory card or play games and this passes the time nicely. Plus being in a window seat you don’t get disturbed by someone needing the bathroom every 25 minutes.

Once you’ve safely reached your destination disembarking procedures vary, I will usually try get off the plane as fast as possible and get through customs and get my bag (which is almost ALWAYS last off) and hobble the short distance to my waiting Grandparents, we have a decades old tradition of waving at the top of the stairs where you can see into the arrivals hall you’ll wave. Then we get a trolley for my bag and depart off to the car.

So that’s my handy guide to travelling. I may have mangled to film part of my holiday and if so will be uploaded with any further tips. If I can smuggle my Go-Pro on my bag I can try and film the boarding of the plane. Either way there will be some pictures. (EDIT; ended up being delayed 3 hours and stuck in a wheelchair so didn’t get pics or any filming!)

Worth it for this blue sky

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Joey Holmes

About Joey Holmes

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