A general life update

I haven’t posted any blog entries about myself in like six weeks, partly because there’s not a whole lot going on. But I actually got a few emails as of late asking how I’d been so I thought I’d post something.

Here’s one thing that’s been in the works for quite awhile but which I haven’t mentioned on here before — unless something unexpected happens, Michael and I are going to visit Poland in the spring. I say “unless something unexpected happens” because something unexpected DID happen a month or so that nearly forced me to cancel the trip, and the plane tickets have not yet been purchased, so it’s still possible that we might not go. But we plan to go, are expecting to go, are preparing to go, so that’s that.

This is my trip, not Michael’s. We’re going on a tour of the great Holocaust sites of the country. He’s not all that keen on that sort of thing — very few people are — but I can’t travel without a babysitter. I tend to get in a world of guano when I try — remember in Nashville where I was almost thrown out of my own hotel at midnight due to a misunderstanding between me and management? And then there was that other thing, when I went to Washington DC? I tend to decompensate rapidly and dramatically while under stress, and I’ll be under that much more stress in a place that’s further from home than I’ve ever been, and where I don’t know anyone and most people don’t even speak English.

My dad has been FREAKING OUT for months, ever since I told him I was going on this trip last year. He told me he would not absolutely forbid me from going, but begged me to take caution. I had to bring a travel companion/babysitter (done), I had to get permission from my psychiatrist (done), and I had to maintain my mental health and not have any psychiatric crises for months before I went (done, so far).

The last one is the most difficult, because basically I’m doing everything I can do to keep my bipolar disorder under control but sometimes it’s just out of my hands and I develop a bad case of stark raving mad. Dad worries that something like that will happen while I’m in Poland and he won’t be able to help me — and what can I tell him? I can’t guarantee that won’t happen. The possibility is miniscule, but the consequences, if it does happen, are so catastrophic that I don’t blame him a bit for worrying. I refuse to worry about it myself because there’s nothing I can do to prevent it, besides what I’m doing already.

Dad feels somewhat better knowing Michael is going with me. And Michael and I have established a few ground rules for general safety, such as:

  1. Neither of us is going off anywhere on our own, not even for a short walk.
  2. No consumption of anything in the way of substances, not even alcohol. (Especially not alcohol.) An exception has been carved out for Antidol, which is the Polish equivalent of Tylenol 3 and is available over the counter there. Chances are our feet will be hurting a lot from all the walking we’ll be doing so I do want to snag some of that.
  3. No matter what happens, Michael is NOT going to seek out psychiatric care for me while we’re abroad. I don’t care if he has to tie me up and watch me 24 hours a day, if I have a mental breakdown I do NOT want to be stuck in a mental hospital in Eastern Europe.

I called up the Polish embassy to get the Polish words for “autism” and “bipolar disorder.” Michael and I are also studying the Polish language via DuoLingo but so far I’m only learning useless sentences like “The elephant is drinking milk.” The language is kind of terrifying to me. I’ve studied Romance languages like Spanish before and their words look close enough to English that you can sort of guess what they mean. Not so with Polish, usually.

So anyway, we plan to hit Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno, possibly Lodz, and various Holocaust sites in Warsaw, as well as two non-Holocaust places: the famous Wieliczka Salt Mine museum/spa/hotel, the Katyn Museum (read about Katyn here) and this totally METAL Skull Chapel in the town of Czermna. I would have also liked to visit Sobibor, but their website says they’re “closed until further notice.” I might not have had time to go there in any case, though. Sobibor is quite a bit out of the way, hugging the Ukrainian border, the most remote of the four death camps. All of them were kind of in the middle of nowhere, for obvious reasons.

(The death camps I’m referring to are Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno and Sobibor. Auschwitz is often called a “death camp” but it actually wasn’t one, at least in my eyes.)

Other stuff: not much really. My grandpa — my mother’s stepfather, the only grandparent I have left at this point — was admitted to the hospital for the thousandth time, suffering from a condition called “being 86 years old”, and they think it will be the last time. We’ll see. In a way, I almost hope it is the last time. Grandpa has basically zero quality of life and has said he’s ready to die.

That’s all.

14 thoughts on “A general life update

  1. diamondlil16 March 13, 2017 / 2:27 pm

    Meaghan, I’m happy for you, as I know you have wanted to visit Poland for a very long time.

    Do you plan to try to get a local to help as a tour guide/driver?

    Do you carry some sort of medical alert card anyway?

    Both you and Michael need to start preparing for the walking by taking walks now. That’s what I’ve done the times I’ve been to the UK and it does help to have built up the stamina ahead of time.

    Take the comfort items you need, be it a small pillow, toilet paper, washcloth, and shoes that have already broken in. And of course the converter plugs to charge things. Hand sanitizer as well. Nothing spoils a trip like getting a cold.

    And take a few of your charley project business cards. You never know what interesting people you’ll meet that will take an interest in you!

    Sorry to hear your grandpa is in poor health.

    • Meaghan March 13, 2017 / 2:57 pm

      I’m trying to look on the bright side. My mom’s boyfriend just got T-boned by a semi this morning. He’s uninjured but his car is basically squashed in half and if Mom had been in the passenger seat she’d be dead now. They’re practically inseparable and the only reason she WASN’T in the car with him was because of the situation with Grandpa. Be grateful for small blessings, I guess.

      Michael and I are planning to do the whole trip ourselves. We might rent a car to go to the bone church — there doesn’t seem to be any other way to go there — but we plan on taking the bus and train and walking and stuff most of the time.

  2. Catherine March 13, 2017 / 3:49 pm

    I’m glad you are going to go. I broke free of years of travel anxiety and went to Europe for 36 days with my husband. That is with no travel experience on our own. If you want/need tips, feel free to let me know, otherwise I feel like of course you are very capable of your own research. I recommend Rick Steves to everyone. He has no nonsense, affordable, culturally fantastic travel advice. Good luck, and I really hope you both do go. https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/poland

    • Meaghan March 13, 2017 / 4:10 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Perl March 13, 2017 / 6:24 pm

    Well this was weird. I was going to say something earlier about jet lag and how it can affect mood (especially in those who already have a mood d/o) but couldn’t think of anything coherent to say with the migraine hangover that I have right now. So I was just reading the news and saw this article – decided that I needed to pass it along. It has a few tips but if you wanted to investigate more I’m sure there are a ton of tips out there like those mentioned in the article.

    It sounds like you have a plan in place and are ready for this adventure!! If it all works out, I hope you and Michael have an amazing time and show us lots of pictures 🙂

  4. Summer March 13, 2017 / 8:01 pm

    Hi Meghan, I’ve never posted before, but am an avid reader of Charley Project. I’m not too far from you down here n Licking County Ohio. My 14 year old daughter is in Europe right now so I’ve recently helped her prepare & I’ve traveled quite a bit myself. I also have a very high functioning autistic nephew so I have some experience in planning to avoid potential problems. Here are the things I recommend (many you probably know);

    Purchase a supplemental travel health insurance policy. They are very cheap & although I know you do not want any type of care while there having an American based health insurance company in your corner while abroad reduces some of the stress associated with possible medical situations. Some policies can even cover emergency return to the US.

    Laminate a card with the name & address of your hotel along with the phone number. Make sure you have Polish & English versions. Don’t carry it in your purse, stick it in your pants pocket each morning. Things can get lost or stolen and getting safely back to your home base is vital for peace of mind.

    Carry a purse with a wide strap to reduce shoulder stress & long enough to wear cross body. Pickpockets do work in tourist areas & your bag over hour shoulder & in front of your body makes you a less appealing victim. Don’t keep your phone in a back or jacket pocket. Also, don’t hang your purse on your chair when eating, keep it on your body or on the floor with the strap around your leg.

    Don’t carry a backpack, many places prohibit large bags especially in Europe where there are terrorism concerns.

    Speaking of crime, always trust your gut. Always! If something or someone feels off or makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, remove yourself from the situation. If for some reason you can’t don’t be timid, square up your shoulders to the person and make eye contact. Even say hello or verbally acknowledge them. They need to know you can identify them & you’re not an easy victim. I have used this once and I do believe it saved me from serious bodily harm.

    No expensive or expensive looking jewelry should be warn at any time.

    All prescription medications should be in their original bottles and in your carry on.

    Many local banks can exchange money ahead of time. Get enough to last a few days just in case you have any issues with your bank card. Also, do not use a PIN which starts with 0, it may not work in Europe.

    Amazon has a large selection of cheap plug adapters. Order two so you have a backup.

    Since you wear glasses consider taking a back up pair to avoid the stress of potential loss or damage.

    Check with your cellphone company, many companies now offer short term international plans for under $50 added to your existing plan.

    Leave copies of important papers with your father so they can be emailed or faxed if needed.

    Research etiquette before you go, will help reduce social misunderstandings.

    Drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration, very easy to forget when traveling. Can lead to headaches & fatigue which can become very serious.

    I did this in Thailand, I found a meal I absolutely loved but had a hard time identifying it on many menus. Take a picture of the actual meal & the menu description which can be shown to a waiter/waitress to help in getting what you want.

    Establish a safe word, a word you can easily remember & can be used to alert Michael to a potential problem. For example, my daughter doesn’t like crowds but I can’t always tell the difference between annoyance and anxiety. We have a word she uses to let me know the situation is serious.

    Take earbuds everywhere, if you find yourself overwhelmed pop them in & listen to something soothing to you. It’s an easy way to diffuse stress when you can’t remove yourself from the problem (trains, sight-seeing groups, loud sounds).

    On the ear issue, take earplugs. It can be hard to sleep in hotel rom let alone a hotel room in a foreign country. They will help drown out noises could keep you awake at night.

    Decide in advance a plan just in case you get separated. It may be as simple as return to the hotel immediately or if you’re at a museum or other type tourist location the plan could be to always meet at the entrance.

    Establish a photo print website account such as Snapfish. When you’re on WiFi upload your photos to reduce the risk of losing them via camera/phone malfunction or loss/damage.

    If you’re attached to a certain brand of feminine products, check to make sure they’re available for purchase. Trying something new while traveling can ruin your day & clothing.

    Consider wool or synthetic socks. I’m a big than for their antibacterial properties, ability to regulate temperature & wicking of moisture. Same goes for clothing, check out synthetic materials to help with quick drying.

    If rain is in the forecast invest in a decent raincoat. It should be breathable & have a hood with elastic cinching. Do not go with emergency ponchos, they’re mini saunas if it’s warm outside & you’re sweaty.

    Sorry for the novel, I’m very passionate about travel & planning ahead so trips are enjoyable.

    Everything you do ahead of time to prepare will make your trip less stressful & more enjoyable. You are going to have an amazing experience.

    • Kat March 13, 2017 / 11:09 pm

      This is an awesome list, I’m marking many of these things even for travelling in the US, I’m a major overpacker, which means some common sense stuff gets overlooked. I would also recommend to go with the ear plugs a sleep mask. I was ok till I got mono in my mid twenties,and ever since then I have to have quiet and dark when I sleep. I always have one when staying with friends/relatives or hotels.

      • Summer March 15, 2017 / 2:35 pm

        Thank you. I believe wholeheartedly that if you can travel you should. It opens the mind and heart to beautiful global communities.

    • Perl March 14, 2017 / 4:40 pm

      Summer, you are the travel goddess! These tips are awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to share them!

      • Summer March 15, 2017 / 2:40 pm

        Thank you Pearl. My significant other makes fun of me when I’m in trip prep mode, but it doesn’t bother me, I love planning. It’s such a good feeling to know I’m prepared for whatever the day may throw at me.

  5. Pogo-a-Gogo March 14, 2017 / 8:01 am

    2 pieces of advice.

    1. Register for the US State Department’s STEP program: https://step.state.gov/step/ Even if your stay is going to be brief.

    2. Consider purchasing one (or even two) throw away cell phones. In Eastern Europe their cellphone system is different that in the US. You could probably purchase two old Nokia phones, along with 2 SIM cards for under 60 dollars. It can all be done in cash. I live in extreme Eastern Europe (the Black Sea region) and in almost all of the countries around me, you purchase SIM cards for like 5 dollars. You can then use pay boxes to add money for text messages/local calls.

    I’m not sure if your local cell phone will work in Poland, so a couple burner phones might be a good idea.

    I don’t know much about Poland (other than their women are beautiful). I spent a morning wandering around the suburbs of Warsaw once.

    There’s also supposed to be one of Central and Eastern Europe’s only deserts:


  6. Ana March 16, 2017 / 8:27 am

    Well,I’m from Poland and it would probably be good and preety comforting if you read a bit more about us. Like for example that we are one of ten countries in the world where knowledge of English is most common (of course English-spraking countries excluded) 🙂 In bigger cities you shouldn’t have any problems with finding English-speaking doctors or therapists (like myself :)) And consider visiting Warsaw Uprising Museum.It’s amazing.

  7. Dawn March 19, 2017 / 7:35 pm

    I’ve always wanted to visit the sites you mentioned in Poland. I’ve wondered about the emotional toll it would take to actually be there, in the actual place. Some are more sensitive to being overwhelmed by feelings than are others. I found that being prepared is important and that rest is vitally important, even the most stable people suffer when sleep deprived. Just something I found to be important.

    • Meaghan March 19, 2017 / 7:44 pm

      I’m going kind of for the reasons you speak of: I want to know what it feels like to stand on a piece of ground where half a million people have died.

      I found out why Sobibor is closed: they’re doing some construction/archaeological preservation on the site. It’s about time they cleaned up the place. I’ve read that right now, at the site, there are still bits of charred human bone just lying around on the ground.

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