I’ve been quiet for the last couple of week because I have been away on holiday. As some of you will have seen on Twitter, I was pretty anxious before we left. I knew my partner had taken great care to craft a trip that would be as different as possible to last year’s ordeal (just the two of us, travelling around Switzerland and getting some exercise on alpine mountainsides, as opposed to a group of ten friends and relatives spending two weeks in a villa together), but the anxiety remained. He’d planned everything, from the flights and the accommodation, to restaurant suggestions. As the trip neared, he encouraged me to feel more involved by reading up on the places we would be visiting to identify things we could do there. This is normally the kind of thing I love, but somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to; in fact, I only started thinking seriously about the holiday when it was so close that I had no choice but to shop and pack.
I’ve been back for four days now, and I’m happy to report that all my fears were groundless. I had a blast. I ate great food, met great people, and saw more mind-blowing scenery than you could shake an alpenhorn at (I had a go on one of those, too, actually). I’m not saying it was easy. It wasn’t uncomplicated, the way travel used to be, before what I am only just learning to call, “the bipolar episode I’ve recently recovered from.” There were still issues around timings of meds. Meals were dominated by trying to get enough fibre to help combat the effect of antipsychotics on my intestines, and by trying to take on board sufficient water (we’d often been hiking, temperatures were in the high 20s and it was humid) that I didn’t have to worry about lithium poisoning. I had to take extra care to avoid sunburn and sunstroke, as quetiapine increases the risk of both these, so I wore a dorky hat and spent 20 minutes in the bathroom every day coating myself with SPF50 before we set off.
Occasionally, I felt overstimulated. I have learned that for me, there can be such a thing as too much beauty. Sometimes on trains, our primary means of travelling around the country, I had to just disconnect from the scenery for a while by reading or closing my eyes. I got to a point where I still saw mountains and glaciers, even when I was lying in bed with my eyes closed and this, along with the heat, affected my ability to sleep. My most difficult day occurred after I ended up popping an extra 25mg of quetiapine in the early hours of the morning, just to try and get some rest. The next day was one of our most complex train journeys, involving two changes, and I did not cope well. I fell asleep everywhere I sat down: on the side of the bed before we left, on the side of a container of flowers on one train platform, on a bench on another, surrounded by an array of bags I was supposed to be keeping an eye on. Each time I boarded another train, I asked my partner, “How long have I got?” All I was concerned about was whether this leg of the journey would be enough for me to snatch a decent nap before our next connection.
But it was manageable, all manageable. The med issues were mildly irritating, but in no way disrupted my enjoyment of the trip. I visited three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: a fantastic ancient library/scriptorium, a unique spiral railway and a high Alp area with glacial lakes. I had an opportunity to experience the peace of mountain pastures as well as the atmosphere in Basel, Montreux, Lucerne and Lugano, sampling the different moods (and foods!) of French, German and Italian-speaking Switzerland. I saw glaciers. I strolled across flower-strewn meadows, crossed little wooden bridges over waterfalls and touched snow fields (snow fields, I was disappointed to discover, feel just like the ice inside your freezer when it needs defrosting). I stayed in a family guesthouse, a tiny family-run hotel, Swiss equivalents of a Travelodge and one hotel so posh it asked us to select from the toilet roll menu in advance. I travelled on double-decker intercity trains, regional trains, glass-sided panoramic trains and little local trains that stopped every two minutes. We went on local buses, trolley buses, trams and PostBuses. We took a coach across northern Italy alongside the lakes. We enjoyed two boat trips and used five cable-cars, one furnicular, and the world’s steepest cog-railway to access our mountain walks.
And I was capable of enjoying every bit of it. The tiny mood fluctuations and the sleep and medication issues probably aren’t going to go away any time soon. But they have become background issues, something to be accepted – like the weather. Everywhere I go, I have to take this microclimate with me. But I can still lead a full life, whatever the weather.