After losing her husband unexpectedly, Englishwoman Kay Morris-Robertson began a road to recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by undertaking a three-year, 80,000-mile road trip across all 50 U.S. states.
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The first place she visited was chosen serendipitously. Albuquerque just happened to be atop the list of departures at Los Angeles International Airport the day she decided living alone in L.A. wasn’t helping and that she needed to get away.
Thereafter, she bought an RV and “just set off with no clue on where to go.” B followed for Bend, Ore. and C for Coney Island. Before eventually finishing at Z for Zion National Park in Utah, she realized the concept of her eventual book, “A to Zee Across America.” Morris-Robertson would: 1) visit towns in alphabetical order, 2) avoid major cities and 3) ask Americans where to go next.
In her words, this often “meant traveling thousands and thousands of miles between where I was and where I was going next.” Votes came in by Facebook, through her Website and by speaking with people along the way.
“Fairly early on, people started to get more involved than just voting, giving me souvenirs from all across America. Hats, stickers, cuddly toys, you name it,” she said. As she got more and more things, Morris-Robertson stuck them to the side of her RV, attracting police patrols who would stop her just for a picture with Morris-Robertson and her famous RV. The memorabilia-clad RV, which she named “Reggie,” eventually found a home at the Lemay Automobile Museum in Tacoma, Wash., where it is exhibited today.
Morris-Robertson’s book is about the places she visited as she zig-zagged across the country, so it’s not the kind of guidebook one can follow, without retracing her arduous three-year trek, though it is full of entertaining observations about the places she visited. Mostly, “A to Zee Across America” is about discovery … discovering the value within oneself and within random, often unexpected, places.
It is also about the recuperative value of travel.
Kay Morris-Robertson’s journey began in 2008, when she was offered a promotion from the Westfield office in London to live and work in Los Angeles.
Life was good in L.A. until her husband died of a heart attack while sailing. Following the funeral, Morris-Robertson returned to work, though increasingly began experiencing PTSD. Months later, the illness had progressed deeply.
WebMD reports that PTSD patients often experience flashbacks, hallucinations, nightmares and other things that remind them of what they experienced. They can feel detached, isolated and lose interest in things they once enjoyed. And, they can have emotional swings including irritability, jumpiness and angry outbursts, as well as physical dysfunctions. These can have disastrous effects on relationships whether they be at work, home or among friends.
PTSD is often associated with servicemen and women who return after experiencing traumatic events in wartime, though the mental health community now knows it can happen to anyone who experiences a sudden loss or trauma.
After Morris-Robertson approached her employer for help, she was reported to have been detained the following day and taken to a mental institution where she was held — against her objections — for 10 days. That involuntary incarceration and treatment led to a successful lawsuit against her employer for failure to accommodate disability, failure to engage in interactive process, disability discrimination and violation of the California Family Rights Act, among others.
Following resolution of the case, a doctor recommended that she would do better if she got away from L.A. near where her husband had died. That motivated the journey and led to her writing the book.
Morris-Robertson discovered what world travelers have known for years, that travel separates us from our everyday concerns. It connects us, as travel journalist Rick Steves says, with the wonders of our world, with nature, with other cultures and with people who appear different, but who we find through traveling are very much like us.
People often are reluctant to travel because they fear its consequences. Though Steves says, “Fear is for people who don’t get out very much.”
In Morris-Robertson’s case, traveling the USA led her out of the mental crisis she was experiencing. She wrote, “One thing I had proven to myself, was that no matter how dark my tortuous battle with mental health issues had been, if I simply kept going, regardless of the path, one day I would get somewhere. Even if it wasn’t where I thought it would be when I took the first step.”
More about PTSD and Kay Morris-Robertson’s journey can be found at ptsd.va.gov www.atozeeacrossamerica.com.
John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.