Before my injury, I used to travel to England regularly to visit my relatives. But after one of my Aunt’s died, the one I visited without fail, I couldn’t stomach the thought of going there, never mind alone with my injury making navigating difficult. Yet there are few people I travel well with. I take too long in museums; I like to do things most people I know don’t; I like to walk around and explore. I get irritated. So being able to travel alone is important. Having said that, I also thoroughly enjoy hours-long conversations with my British relatives. Canadians are phlegmatic in comparison; going to England is time to let the vocal chords loose.
My neurodoc thought I could travel to England alone when I told him that when he left for his March Break holiday, I wanted to get the hell out of town and visit London. I was pretty nervous, but we talked a lot about how to manage. And he said money will always get you out of trouble. Well, if you don’t have a budget, I thought to myself sarcastically. And then realized when I looked at “cheap” airfares, I was going to blow any budget of mine out of the water, so what the hey. You deserve it, treat yourself, my health care team told me. You work so bloody hard, one said. Okay. Not sure if that means I deserve it, but it’s been 18 years since I’ve planned my own long vacation and 13 since I went to England for my Aunt’s birthday, which had also encompassed visiting relatives.
This time I had orders to visit only “positive, nurturing” people, to revisit only good memories, and to create new ones for myself. That changed the focus of my trip from the usual visit-relatives shtick with some sightseeing thrown in to one of visiting London, the place of my birth and where no one else wants to spend time in, with a spot of relative visiting. And, of course, to finally meet my long-time Flickr friend and his family in person.
I maxed out the length of my trip: 12 days. Not enough! I began in London. I visited my just-turned–90 Aunt, and for the very first time, met my oldest cousin and most of his family to boot. I moved on to hang out with Andy and co. and to visit Cambridge.
And I then ended my trip with a last half day in London. It was too short. But I obeyed orders and had a blast. It was what I needed.
Although I couldn’t escape my brain injury and PTSD – it’s not like you can put them on hold – I was able to escape the routine of care, to exchange the structure of my life for a new one of vacationing and breakfasts in bed, to enjoy a mature, well-functioning public transit system, and to visit where I began life, something I’ve wanted to do since the time I was ten when Dad drove us past at high speed while pointing and saying: that’s where you were born.
I love to fly. I got a window seat on the way back, and the universe opened up the clouds, allowing me to ogle the geography of our planet. And take a bazillion iPhone shots.
(The coast of Labrador, flying toward Goose Bay.)
But I wasn’t happy about returning. I had to get a pay-as-you-go UK nano-SIM card because my international roaming tanked. Texts got received but not delivered; phone calls went nowhere. And when you’re trying to meet up with a relative you haven’t seen since a child while navigating a bustling city, you need a functioning mobile! No fear, carphone warehouse set me up in no time. I used it right up until we had to put our mobiles in Airplane mode in preparation for takeoff at the end of my trip. And then I dallied switching mine back in.
First off, I wasn’t sure how. Second, when I did, it meant my vacation really was over and people here in Canada could reach me once again.
I learnt a few things while I was away. I can visit a place I know but is foreign and do fine. I love to explore. A PTSD service dog is a good idea. Having poetry read to me might help with my reading. There’s a reason I find trains soothing. Seeing my oldest cousin gave me an idea of what my Uncle must’ve looked like. I don’t want to move to England, but if I could afford it and could tolerate regular air travel, I’d go there again and again. And what you expect never happens.