DISORDERS, TRAVEL AND PLEASURE
Recently a documentary film about me and my family (named Because We Have Each Other) has been released to the world, and in April/May of 2023 we travelled to Toronto for our screening at the HotDocs International Film Festival. As we live in Brisbane this was my longest journey since the “pre-pandemic days”. In fact the last time I visited a destination that far away was when we travelled to Florida in 2011. We’ve visited California countless times, yet the North American east coast is another six or seven hours of flying from there.
As I have only just returned home from a long (but very exciting) trip/holiday, I have decided to write about how all that went for me in this month’s blog. Another difference with this piece is that it’s written in a format which is more of a memoir. The purpose of this is because it enables me to express my exact feelings in a much easier way.
Prior to our departure on April the 22nd I did a lot of mindfulness exercises to calm my mind. This did reduce my meltdowns at home. Though one problem was that I had been convincing my mind that it was merely a local car journey; which meant that once I realised that I was in an airport on the evening when we left I suddenly felt very overwhelmed. I needed to act fast to prevent a meltdown from happening, and I came up with an idea of buying a mindfulness colouring book. Luckily that worked successfully.
Later that night our plane to Los Angeles had taken off and I enjoyed watching everything that happened through my window. However it wasn’t long before we had to close our windows and hours and hours went by. After having watched every show and movie that I liked, my heart sank when I saw that we still had another six hours of flying to go. I expressed to my mum that I was fed up with being stuck in a small vehicle with lots of noise, and that I had a strong urge to simply jump out of the plane. Mum then explained to me that it wasn’t possible for me to do that and I just burst into tears. But after she gave me a Valium tablet and spoke to me for while, the other half of the flight passed much more quickly.
Eventually we landed in a city that I am very familiar with, and it’s a place which always gives me a lot of happiness. So despite being extremely tired, my whole body was beaming with excitement.
For our first week in California we spent our days and nights at the Disney parks. It was my support person’s first visit, which meant that I got to show him all of the attractions that I like the most. Due to the parks being very busy I did experience three meltdowns that week, and when I thought that I’d lost my beloved therapy plush toy (of Gingy from Shrek) I was so loud that some nearby staff members came over to help. I didn’t realise how severe and loud my meltdown had been, thus I was extremely embarrassed. Though I was reassured that losing my limited edition plush Gingy (that I crucially need for therapy and no more of him are currently being made) was justifiable, and my support person had found him in Starbucks where he had fallen out of my bag.
Our second leg of the trip was in the city of Toronto where our film was screened at the festival. We were absolutely delighted that a few hundred people had come to see our documentary, as well as our Q&A session! Toronto is also a reasonably small city (compared to Los Angeles at least), so it was a great place to just unwind and enjoy a new environment for a whole week. The Niagara Falls were fabulous to visit and we even got to see The Cursed Child play, which none of us (mum, me, my sister and support person) had yet seen.
Prior to returning home to Brisbane, our final phase of the trip was spent in Los Angeles. That was when we visited Universal Studios and Hollywood Boulevard. When we were in the section where the Walk of Fame is, I was extremely stressed by the loud music and people grabbing hold of us in the street to sell things. But luckily there are also shops that I like in that area, including Hot Topic. So it was mostly a very enjoyable experience.
At Universal Studios I did of course visit Harry Potter World. Though Super Nintendo World had also just opened, and the 4D movie where Gingy has an appearance was there as well. Thus for the first time my sister and support person got to finally see Gingy’s funny acts that they had heard me talk about for several years beforehand.
By the time it got to our 14 hour flight back home we were all very tired and worn out after such a fabulous holiday. Mindfulness works on most occasions, yet there are moments when a meltdown just arises suddenly, unexpectedly and uncontrollably. As I was going through the x-ray scanner the alarm went off because my trousers had a metal zipper. That meant that I had to have a pat-down, and I had an intense feeling of discomfort when I was being physically touched in sensitive areas. There were also memories of a traumatic incident from my childhood that came to the front of my mind. This caused me to have a severe meltdown which required us to need help from the customs and airport staff. They were very kind and helpful to me, but I did still feel embarrassed afterward when my mind eventually became settled and rational.
Now I am back at home, despite being very busy with interviews! It is true that due to my autism and anxiety it’s essential that I pace out long overseas journeys, with at least an eighteen month gap in between. However there hasn’t been one trip that hasn’t involved at least two meltdowns, and at home I have a lot more. So I need to accept that these incidents can occur anywhere, and that I can’t just shut myself away from the world. Subconsciously though, I know I have already accepted this fact because I’m never discouraged about taking opportunities to visit my favourite places when they occur!