Travel: a state of mind.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
We are just returning from an over 2-week vacation in Ontario, Canada, about which I wrote some travel log highlights in recent columns. Highlights by their nature are events that affect one in a particularly strong emotional or intellectual way. However, highlights miss so much else of value: other cultural events, meeting strangers, food, and scenery, among them.
My favorite travel writer is the British writer Alain de Botton, although Pico Iyer comes close. De Botton’s 2002 book, The Art of Travel, has been a mainstay. This time, I ended our travel by rereading the last chapter.1 In it, he focuses on how important even very restricted travel can be. In 1790, he presents how the 27-year-old Frenchman named Xavier de Maistre travelled at night to venture out as far as the window ledge in his bedroom. This was a staycation way before we even used the term, and much more limited in its physical travel. More recently, de Botton helped found The School of Life with other writers and educators, which is the best popular presentations on everyday work and relationships with which I am familiar.
Really, the book’s conclusion is that travel is a state of mind in its essence. In its widest implications, I would consider it to be an exploration and interaction of outer and inner space. What we usually think of travel is physically going to a distant and unfamiliar place that elicits some anxiety and anticipation. That emotional impact usually makes it seem more memorable.
It can matter whether you travel alone or with someone you care about. In recent months, though, it has been dismaying for me to hear about so many couples who cannot be together in a car for any length of time due to disagreements about how one is driving or reacting, often leading to arguments.
If travel is a state of mind, we potentially can be traveling every day in our clinical or other work in psychiatry. How far has a patient travelled in understanding themselves and changed as a consequence? Do steps forward need to be retraced sometimes, as often happens in substance abuse treatment? How about us? Are we traveling in this epidemic land of burnout? Can our state of mind accommodate to obstacles to our healing ability, for better or worse?
Roadblocks, detours, unexpected beauty, stops and starts, and returning to a different appearing home are part and parcel of psychiatry. So is life outside of our work.
As the opening lyric to the song “Happy Trails” goes, “happy trails to you!”
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.
1. De Botton A. The Art of Travel. Vintage; 2002.