This blog has been kindly written by a guest blogger, to share their experiences of travelling when autistic.
Travelling by tube and train and meeting friends at destination points in London was something I got into late in life and it’s obvious by the anxieties I experience at such an advanced age in my 30’s.
I see Aspergers coupled with my inexperience in life as the reason why travelling is something that causes me anxiety. I turn into a lost child unsure of what to do. When ever I travel there is always some sort of trigger. Something that makes me either anxious, frightened, or overwhelmed. I’ve even called my mother to ask for help.
When I’m lost and I’m trying to read a map it is always what I call a “traumatic” experience for me. The only thing visible in my mind is the map jumping out at me as I try to work out how to get from Point A to point B. I panic and I want to cry. This tends to happen if time Is approaching to meet a friend and I don’t want to keep them waiting, or if I have a job interview or an appointment and I’m worried I won’t get there in time.
Train stations are a huge trigger point when it comes to hightening my anxiety and overwhelming me. Stations are always busy with people. The arrival and departure boards with rows and rows of yellow numbers and writing jump out at me, confusing me. There is the loud tannoy announcements. The bright lights in the station. Add these to my constant need to observe what’s around me and my brain has a meltdown. My mind is concentrated on a dozen different things going on at one time. So much so that I don’t know which to focus on. The anxiety I have felt as I try to read the arrival board and work out which platform to enter is an exhausting experience.
Directions. A simple direction from a friend over the phone such as ‘turn left, follow the roundabout, continue walking to your right and then take another right turn’ is not only stressful for me, it is stressful for the person on the other end of the phone. As soon as the directions are given I start to panic, my brain goes into overload. I start to breath heavily, I pick up the phone, call my friend and start shouting down the phone asking which roads to turn. This increases the anxiety level for my friend/s who sometimes end up having to walk down to get me.
International travel or travelling to other places in England such as Manchester or Brighton alone is a big no no. My friends would never suggest it to me knowing my anxiety and my mother would advise against it. Travelling the world opens us up. It’s liberating. Unfortunately I’m not yet ready to take that step.
There are always ways to try and cope with any situation we are faced with. It will take me time to learn how to map read without starting to feel overwhelmed. If I am at a train station I try to stay focused on one thing. I look at the arrival/departure board, I listen very carefully to the tannoy announcement, though it isn’t easy. In extreme cases I approach one of the station staff for help, though I do not like doing it. It has for the most part worked for me and the anxiety isn’t as dibilitating, though I still have my moments.
I have now started to understand why I experience so much anxiety the way that I do and why I react the way that I do in certain situations, especially when it comes to travelling. It’s somewhat comforting to understand the trigger points. My brain is very rigid when it comes to time. I always feel anxious when travelling to places I do not live, that’s just a part of the spectrum. I phone my mother or a friend when I feel lost or overwhelmed because I’m reaching out for comfort or reassurance. I am unable to understand basic instructions or directions, not because I’m stupid, but because my brain processes information very differently from a nuerotypical brain.
Most importantly, for me to cope with daily travel I need to remember to try and stay calm.