Imagine you’re walking around Disney World, the magical place everyone dreams about as a child. You pass by a typical family walking around with a happily bouncing little kid, and you smile. This is what Disney World is all about.
But then you notice… lagging behind them is an angsty looking preteen who appears to be downright miserable. She has a mean scowl on her face and she glares at you as you pass.
That’s not what you expect to see in a magical place like this… Doesn’t she know where she is right now?
Yep. I did know where I was. And believe me, I was just as disappointed in myself as you probably would have been had you really been walking by and seen the scowl on my face.
I don’t remember how old I was when my family decided to go to Disney World for a second time. 11? 12 or 13 maybe? All I know is that I was miserable the whole time, and I’m pretty sure I made the trip miserable for everyone else too.
I’d already been there when I was little, and it was magical. It was everything my little-kid heart had dreamed it would be. But this time it was my little brother’s turn to experience that magic. And apparently it was my turn to catch my first glimpse of what nearly every vacation would look like for me as I got older.
At that age I was dealing with all these newly emerging hormones that were wreaking total havoc on my body and mind. I was… enormously self conscious. Meaning that I was conscious of literally every micro-move of my face, aware of every minor imperfection on my body, and obsessing over every clunky move that I made.
I don’t know if it was like that for other kids at that age, but for me, coming into teenagerdom was rough, to put it nicely.
Gone were the days of blissful kid-brain, not caring what I looked like, not caring if boys thought I was pretty… Once the hormones hit, the only thing that mattered to me was looking pretty and not looking stupid or weird.
And, unlike a neurotypical kid, my hormones came with the added bonus of newly evolving mental illness. Before the hormones my mental illness was probably already there. But it, like me, was still in its kid-form. When I began to evolve into my teenage form, so did my mental illness. And the teenage form of mental illness is not a pretty sight.
Hormones on their own are bad enough. Add depression, anxiety, and all the “fun” stuff that accompanies ADHD, and you’ve got yourself a miserable preteen who spends her entire Disney World vacation with a horrible scowl on her face.
As I went further and further into teenagerdom, I had the same awful experience over and over when the family went on vacation. I spent camping trips sleeping angrily in our van, refusing to sleep in the tent. I spent long car rides from North Carolina all the way to Florida to visit my grandfather, arms crossed and stewing in all kinds of angsty emotions…
And when my mental illness and I both finally began to evolve into our adult form, the vacations did not get any easier.
Just recently my boyfriend’s family all got together for a camping trip at their favorite theme park. We decided to go and to bring our dogs with us because you’re allowed to walk your dogs around at this park.
So we went, and right away I realized I was going to have some trouble. I tried my best to keep myself calm, to practice all the little breathing techniques and silent meditations I’d taught myself over the years… but none of it worked.
Theme parks are really loud and really crowded.
And my ADHD brain gets pretty freaked out by both of those things. This is because of the hypersensitivity that comes along with ADHD, which can make loud noises and lots of commotion feel very, very intense. Add to that the responsibility of walking two hyper dogs who keep barking at everyone and trying to pee on everything… It was just too much for me.
It only took about ten minutes before the noise and commotion started to become completely overwhelming.
I ended up hyperventilating, which quickly morphed into sobbing uncontrollably. It was humiliating. And the embarrassment I felt just added to the panic. All I wanted was privacy so I could calm down without a bunch of strangers staring at me with concerned looks on their faces.
My boyfriend and his brother looked freaked out and overwhelmed as they frantically looked around for a bathroom I could duck into.
I felt like such an asshole. I felt guilty for making them deal with my mental illness. Why couldn’t I just relax and enjoy a vacation? Why did I always end up losing it and humiliating myself? The guilt, embarrassment and overwhelming panic reached a peak and I ran and hid behind the wall of a tattoo stand that looked empty.
I slumped onto the ground, finally out of sight, and let myself cry my eyes out. I was shaking and still kind of hyperventilating.
After a couple minutes a girl came out from behind the tattoo stand, where I’m guessing she worked, and gently asked me if I was okay. I managed through hiccupy tears to tell her that I was pretty sure I was having a panic attack. She let me know that she had just had a panic attack the week before, so she knew how scary and overwhelming it was. She said there was a medic that could help if I needed it and told me where they were, but made sure I knew that I could stay where I was for as long as I needed to.
That girl was such an angel for me. I think just having someone truly understand what was happening was enough to bring me out of it. I can’t even express how grateful I am to her. I sat there for few more minutes, breathing and getting my head together. Honestly it wasn’t my last freak-out during that trip, but it was definitely my worst one.
It’s experiences like this that make me dread vacations. I want so badly to like them. I want to feel excited about them. And sometimes I do get excited, but usually I end up with a crappy experience anyway.
I don’t like being the person that can’t relax and enjoy herself. I don’t like being the person who has panic attacks if there are too many people around. I don’t like being the person who ruins vacations. And no matter how many times my boyfriend or anyone else tries to tell me I don’t, I really do believe that I make vacations miserable for everyone.
I wish I knew how to chill. I wish I knew how to have fun in the ways everybody else can have fun. Maybe I will figure it out one day. I hope so.
As of right now, I’m hoping medication can help me.
If you’ve been following the blog since the beginning you may know that I’ve been on ADHD meds for maybe a year now. Which was a kind of scary decision for me, being that I’m a hippy at heart and would love to just do everything the natural way.
But those meds have helped me get my life together in big ways. I went from regularly overdrawing my bank account, barely affording food, etc. to being a literal budgeting master, paying my bills on-time, and even making and keeping doctors appointments! Not to mention, I always have food now. So that’s pretty cool.
And, if you’ve read any of my recent articles you may know that I’ve been slowly but surely coming out of a super long and very intense depression.
I’ve been officially diagnosed with ADHD since I was a kid, and when I was a teenager I was also diagnosed with Bipolar. I spent a lot of time assuming that I had been misdiagnosed when it came to Bipolar, because ADHD looks awfully similar to it.
But… after going through this recent depression, I’ve been forced to rethink that assumption.
ADHD often causes rapid mood swings which are short lived, even occurring within the span of 24 hours. This is a symptom that is often overlooked, and is frequently the reason for a misdiagnosis. It’s fairly common for someone diagnosed with bipolar to actually have ADHD. But a depression lasting for several months is not a sign of ADHD. That is a classic symptom of Bipolar. So it seems to be true that I have both disorders after-all.
After experiencing a few too many brushes with suicidal ideation, I forced myself to accept that there was more going on than I’d wanted to admit, and that I needed to find some real help beyond exercising regularly and eating right.
So I made the decision to start on a medication for Bipolar Depression. It’s now been a little over a month, and I don’t want to jinx it, but I feel way better.
I find myself existing in a generally good mood for no particular reason… where as before I’d always need a reason for a good mood and if there wasn’t one, I would feel depressed.
I’m really hoping that maybe this medicine can help with my secret dread when it comes to vacations. Maybe I can learn to like them? That would be beautiful. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll continue to keep you guys updated on how the medication goes.
For now, I’m just happy to be happy again.
I wanted to share a quick tip from my therapist for anyone else who suffers from similar panic attacks to the one I had at the park:
My therapist made this suggestion to me when I told her about my panic attack.
She said I should have a code word I can say to my boyfriend when I feel the panic start to come on, that way he can quietly help me search for a bathroom where I can hide until the panic passes.
That would have probably worked a lot better. What I did was keep my feelings of overwhelm to myself because I didn’t want to be annoying or to ruin anyone’s good time. So the overwhelm built up and built up until I couldn’t contain it anymore, and I began to hyperventilate and cry.
By that time I wasn’t able to coherently ask for what I needed. The only words I could manage to get out were “A bathroom, quickly!”, and because I was embarrassed, my voice tone sounded kind of mean I think? Which made me feel even worse and made my boyfriend feel crappy and confused too.
If we had an already established code word that I could tell him at the first signs of overwhelm, maybe the whole thing could have been safely avoided.
What about you?
- Do you feel like your mental illness negatively affects vacations?
- Have you ever gotten super panicky in a large crowd of people?
Tell me about it in the comments 🙂
Until Next Time,
Keep Calm and Grow On