Traveling: Sweating the Small Stuff

I LOVE to travel!

I love to explore and experience new things.  Getting off the main road and finding local gems is the BEST!  And I LOVE the idea of family adventures.

Well, my love for travel does not bode well for Ben and his anxiety.  And I mean anxiety with a capital A followed by many exclamation marks!

The short version of our story … Ben lives with autism, anxiety, and a mood disorder.  Soon after Ben came home from a residential treatment program, Jack – our “typical” son – withdrew from all the things he enjoyed, refused to go to school, and struggled with anxiety and depression.  After six months of family therapy and psychiatric hospitalizations, we made the very difficult decision to pursue a more therapeutic environment for Jack.

Jack is currently in Idaho.  We live in New Hampshire.

After six months of not seeing each other, Jack really wants Ben to visit him (which is huge progress with their relationship).  And Ben wants to see his brother.

However, Ben knows that traveling causes anxiety which in the past has led to all types of behaviors that are not TSA approved or condoned by the flight attendants.  

Ben would rather stay home then risk ruining the visit for Jack.

Over the years we have been held up in a TSA room, I have had to physically restrain Ben somewhere over the ocean, and we have been escorted off a plane.  Backpacks have gone flying and f-bombs have been directed at anyone who looks our way.

When I make the mistake of telling Ben about an upcoming trip, the anxiety, and related behaviors, quickly build up and often times result in a school suspension.

The aftermath of a trip has landed us in the psychiatric hospital.  Ben feels tremendous remorse for his behavior, becomes self-deprecating, and depression kicks in.  A vicious cycle.

Being the optimist in the family and refusing to let the anxiety win, I AM planning a family reunion in Idaho.

Jack has resented all the attention Ben received over the years.  It is important that he feels equally supported in the family.  A visit from Ben would go a long way in the healing process.

Ben is doing well and on a good mix of medications.  A successful trip and the opportunity to support his brother would do wonders for his self-esteem.

Planning a Trip and Sweating the Small Stuff

So this is what it takes to travel with a kid like Ben and minimize the likelihood of being noticed by our TSA and flight attendant friends.

On the first day of Ben’s spring break, we will drive to the airport under the pretense of going out for lunch.  SURPRISE, lunch is in terminal A.

Ben is 13 years old, he is not TSA approved for pre check.  He can no longer go through pre check with me.  Getting a passport in order to apply for TSA Pre Check is a whole other story!

I called the airport, explained our situation, and asked what time of day the security lines were typically the shortest.  I then booked a one-way fight.

Yes, a one-way fight.  We will fly direct from Boston to Denver and then stay in Denver for a few days to work through some of the anxiety before continuing on to Idaho.  There are no directs from Boston to Boise, Idaho and a layover is not an option.

I checked to make sure the rental car facility is on-site at the Denver airport and does not require a bus.  Waiting to get off the plane and then waiting for a bus that might make multiple stops followed by waiting in line for a car after flying for five hours is a recipe for an explosive disaster with colorful language.

While in Denver, we will visit some of the sights that I know Ben will love and celebrate the little successes along the way.  It’s about building the confidence and minimizing the anxiety before we continue on.

Time to road trip.  From Denver we will take two days and drive to Idaho.  Ben loves driving and the promise of at least one stop at Buffalo Wild Wings will do the trick.  The challenge for me will be no music.  Music easily dis-regulates Ben and when he is dis-regulated anger is not far behind.

My husband will meet us in Boise, Idaho.

When Ben’s anxiety is through the roof, he does better with one parent.  Plus, when we finally get to Idaho, I will be exhausted.  Hubby will be refreshed and ready to take the lead for the second half of the week.

We will keep our visit a surprise from Jack just in case something happens and we have to cut the trip short.  Jack has struggled with being excited to do something and then the outing abruptly ending due to his brother.  We want this visit to be a success for both of the boys.

The plan is to spend three days together and check out the local sights around Boise.  We will have the support of the therapeutic boarding school, if needed.  We booked a hotel with a pool and kitchenette.   Swimming is something the boys can do together.   Eating dinner in the hotel room will minimize all the sensory stimulation.

If I can pull this off with only minor bumps along the way, then we have A LOT to celebrate!

It is not lost on me how fortunate we are that we can plan to this extent and accommodate both boys.  

My husband travels full-time.  Although long weeks for me, the good news is we have airline, hotel, and rental cars points that afford us the opportunity to put a trip together like this.

What I have come to accept is that we are not like most families.  Our planning goes way beyond snacks and entertainment.  If I do not sweat the small stuff, then we all pay the price.  As I said earlier, I am determined to not let the anxiety hijack our family.

And by the way … getting Ben back home is the easy part!  He is always eager to get back to nesting in the comforts of home.

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