H is for Having a Plan

I recently had a nasty little short-lived (thankfully) virus or something that caused me to puke violently. It didn’t last long and I felt fine the next day, but it did get me thinking about what would happen should either of us suffer from a serious case of seasickness. I don’t enjoy hurling even when I have a regular toilet to flush. The idea of having to throw up on my boat is kind of, well, let’s just say I don’t want to.

Not too bad, really.

Neither of us has ever been seasick (knock on wood).  We’ve certainly had the opportunity. We’ve been in conditions that have made us feel washed up and spit out. We’ve traveled through the dreaded haystack waves off Cattle Point. When we brought Galapagos up the coast from Astoria, the sea state was what could be called ‘washing machine’ until we got far enough off the coast. Even in our heavy boat, that was pretty nasty. I remember making the comment that if we were ever going to get seasick, that would be the time. Over the years of cruising locally, we’ve both felt like we’ve been on the edge of seasickness, but we’ve never fallen over that edge. We’ve always been able to keep it at bay. But what if we can’t? What if it happens?

Many experienced sailors say that seasickness is something that every sailor experiences at some point. That makes me slightly nervous. I mean, seasickness can be very debilitating and for some people it can last for days. You could deal with dehydration, which could be serious. That doesn’t sound like something I would willingly choose.

Moonrise crashing through the sea. No seasickness in sight.

Moonrise crashing through the sea. No seasickness in sight.

Still,  my friend Fran ‘The Frontal’ Cortex is in charge of this one, fortunately. The Fear-o-Meter registers mild anxiety, the kind that can be thwarted by getting more information and good planning. That’s key: sometimes people get mildly anxious about something because it’s ‘unknown’. In fact, this is a normal part of human experience, right?  Frankly, I’m not even sure it qualifies as anxiety unless you just let it sit and do nothing about it. So, if people can make it ‘known’, and have a plan for dealing with it, the anxiety goes away. Whew.

Let me give you another example from the archives of my memory. I once worked with a woman who came to see me because she was feeling panicked whenever she had to drive on the highway. She professed she had been driving for years, had never had an accident and that this panic had come upon her suddenly.  She thought there must be something dreadfully wrong with her and she was worried she had Panic Disorder.

During the first session I questioned her closely and determined that she seemed like a well adjusted and even-keeled individual. I felt confused by her alleged panic. She had no traumatic incidents regarding driving, no prior history of trauma, no prior history of anxiety, no ANYTHING that seemed amiss except for her fear of driving on our roads.

Upon further questioning, she revealed that she had just moved to the Puget Sound region from a small town in the midwest; a town she had lived in for her entire life. There was no traffic there and only really one major road. She also didn’t know how to read a map because she had never needed one.  Her fear about driving on the highway was not one about being in traffic or having an accident. She was afraid that she wouldn’t know where to exit. And that’s as far as her thinking went.

So often when people feel afraid, they just stop thinking things through. They don’t ask this one  critical question: And then what?  They just hit a kind of wall and then the thinking stops. So when I asked this client what exactly she was afraid would happen when she drove on the highway, she said to me, “I’m afraid I will not know where to exit the highway.” I replied with that old therapist standby, “And then what will happen?”.

She looked confused by the question and said, ‘I don’t know.”.  That’s a sure sign that an unconscious belief is at play. She said nothing and continued to look confused so I rescued her.

“I mean, what will you do? Will you just keep driving forever and ever? What will you actually do?”

Knowledge dawned on her relieved face.

“I guess I will just get off at the next exit and go back! I never thought of that before. Of course I won’t just keep driving forever. ”

Yes! That’s really all it took to relieve her mind. She was just stuck at the point where she felt afraid. Even though she did not have an anxiety disorder, she did not actually realize that she had not thought it through. Perhaps she was just too afraid to think, since we know that Fran ‘The Frontal’ Cortex doesn’t work well when Amy G. Dala starts having her tantrums.

I had her bring a road map to the next session. We spread it out on the floor and I taught her some basic map reading skills. We therapists have to be Jills of all trades sometimes. Her homework assignment was to find the mall on the map and drive there. (Yes, this was before smart phones. I’m that old.) She would come back and report to me how that went.  Our next session she arrived beaming with success. She was ‘cured’ in three sessions. I love when that happens.

So when I feel the bit of anxiety about getting seasick, I ask myself,  ‘And then what will happen?”. And I ask again and again until there are no more answers. This allows me to research what I need and come up with a plan. So what’s the plan for mitigating sea sickness? OK. Here’s all the book learning I have so far:

Stay well hydrated. Start out the trip well hydrated.
Stay above deck when below is uncomfortable.
Don’t get over heated. Stay out of the sun.
Keep your eye on the horizon. Stand behind the wheel if it helps.
Adjust sails to make the ride more comfortable if necessary.
Take medications at the first sign of nausea.
Keep a supply of powdered electrolyte replacement on board.
Get enough sleep. (Ha, that could be tough.)
Remember that this should pass.

Got some other tips?

Unless we get some kind of serious sea sickness that just doesn’t go away, I think we’ll be able to handle it. Sometimes anxiety is really just a need for a plan and for information. It’s just your brain, doing its job to mitigate some possibility that is actually based in reality in the physical world. If the information and plan is enough to alleviate the anxiety, as in this case, then well done, brain. Nicely played.

Just joined us for the A to Z Challenge and want to read from the beginning? Here’s a link to the first post. Just click on ‘next’ to go to the next post.

A little 'Boat Yoga' aboard Moonrise. Never got sick even once. Damn that was a fun boat.

A little ‘Boat Yoga’ aboard Moonrise. Never got sick even once. Damn that was a fun boat.



16 thoughts on “H is for Having a Plan

  1. With your previous sailing experience, it seem unlikely that you’ll become completely debilitated by motion sickness, particularly following the steps you’ve outlined in your post. Bashing back from Cabo, we had a non-sailor who became violently sea sick. The cure was to make a detour to an anchorage at Magdalena Bay (48 hours away) and give the individual two days to reset and then administer intimation meds before heading out again. My concern for this person was dehydration. It might be worth looking into suppositories for treatment of severe mal-de-mer when a calm harbor is out of reach.

    • Dehydration can be a very bad complication so I’m glad you were able to get the person to shore for a couple of days. Suppositories are an excellent idea, in addition to the patches and pills. Thanks for posting that. Excellent.

  2. Great post of course! A couple thoughts though.
    Lots of people deal with seasickness EVERY TIME THEY SAIL, for the first couple days. Line Pardeys might be the most famous. 200,000 miles and two circumnavigations, but she was always sick the first couple days out.
    Which is proof that seasickness has levels, and even if you get sick, chances are it won’t be completely debilitating. Nasty uncomfortable miserable, yes, but you can still function.
    And to be effective, you must take medication well BEFORE you feel nauseous. It needs time to be absorbed into your blood, and if you do hurl within 30-40 minutes of when you swallowed it, you won’t get the benefit.

    • Dani of the blog Sundowner Sails Again, is one of those who suffers dreadfully from seasickness everytime they go out. She found that taking the medication before leaving the dock helped her tremendously. I believe it was very debilitating for her. I’m thankful that neither of us seems to be prone to it. Based on another comment, we’ll be taking a full regiment of medications on board, including the patches. I believe we should try all medications before we are in the conditions to need them so we can make sure we do not have adverse effects from them.

    • I think I forgot to put those on my list, but we will be taking them for sure. That’s a good idea to go ahead and just apply them before going offshore. I remember reading that you have to take the medication before you need it. So, those will go on the list.

    • When we were coming home from our first trip to Barkley Sound, our son, Andrew, was feeling nauseous. I think it’s because he spent the day in the sun and didn’t drink enough water. Once I got some fluid down him and got him up into the cockpit, he was better. The sun is a real threat when you are not used to it!

  3. Generally I don’t get seasick, and count myself lucky. I’ve been seasick (actually vomiting) once and have felt queasy several times, always when it was windy and with some pretty good wind waves. Having crackers on hand to help settle the stomach (probably the salt is doing it) is a good option. A nice thing about crackers is that they have so little taste that you won’t remember how ill you were when you next eat them. The one time I was miserably sick I’d had cherry pie for dessert. It was about fifteen years before I could consider eating cherry pie after that episode.

    Another thing to consider is the bands that provide a small amount of pressure on your wrists. We carry them and don them if it looks like it’s going to be lumpy. They aren’t expensive and take little room on board. Ginger is also supposed to be good for seasickness, but don’t drink ginger ale. Carbonated beverages and seasickness are not a good combination.

    I’ve seen people talk themselves into seasickness, so having a lot of anxiety about it can bring it on. I have been successful in talking myself out of being seasick, though not being out of being queasy.

    • I’m going to look into those bands, and I agree with the crackers sentiment. I remember when we were sick as kids, mom would let us eat saltine crackers. It’s probably a good idea to have those on board. I will put them on the list. I’m also going to look into those bands as I’ve seen them referenced on a couple of blogs. You make a good point about the psychological component of seasickness. So far, we’ve avoided it. The mind/body connection is profound.

  4. For the sea-sickness, we focus on staying warm, staying mentally and/or physically active, and if all else fails, take the helm. Nausea usually goes away within 15 minutes.

    I have been accused of being a worry wart because I “plan” for catastrophes. I think through those “what if” situations. In the few cases where we have been in trouble, I’ve been able to handle them calmly (after, of course, those initial oh-crap oh-crap oh-crap moments.) I was beginning to believe that I was being overly anxious about things, but I feel somewhat vindicated by your post ! Thanks AGAIN ! Great series !

    • So glad you are enjoying it! Failing to plan is certainly something to worry about! But there are times I can take it too far. When the scenarios become dark and unlikely, then I know I have passed the ‘planning’ phase and entered into the ‘anxiety zone’.

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