Blog Entries

Travel Syndrome, et al.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
My name is Tracey and I have Wandermania.

It's an affliction that I describe as a deeply-seeded maniacal need to travel.  Those with Wandermania know it as it can be relatively analagous to substance addiction.  After the first trip, you want more.  When you can't travel, you feel jumpy, irritable and sometimes even sad.  When you return from a trip, you're immediately ready for another.  Although you won't steal to buy a plane ticket, you will spend all of your money (discretionary and otherwise) just to travel...even if it's only for a few days.  Sound familiar?

Although I admit to being a little tongue-in-cheek with my description, I do think there is some psychological component attached to people who are addicted to travel, so I pulled out my husband's DSM-IV to see what I could find.  (The DSM-IV is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; the "Bible" for mental health professionals so-to-speak.)  But instead of finding what I was looking for, I got sidetracked and found something else rather intriguing that is applicable more to culture and psychology than it is to travel and psychology.  In any event, I thought you might find this as interesting as I do.  Check this out:

Tucked away in the back of the DSM-IV, there is a Glossary of Culture-Bound Syndromes.  In short, there are psychological syndromes specific to certain cultures.  "Culture-bound syndromes are generally limited to specific societies or culture areas and are localized, folk, diagnostic categories that frame coherent meanings for certain repetitive, patterned, and troubling sets of experiences and observations."  There are 25 syndromes spelled out in the DSM-IV and while I want to make it clear that I am not a mental health professional of any kind, I found the information fascinating and thought it would be uniquely appropriate to share.  Here are a few:
  • ataque de nervios An idiom of distress principally reported among Latinos from the Caribbean, but recognized among many Latin American and Latin Mediterranean groups.  Commonly reported symptoms include uncontrollable shouting, attacks of crying, trembling, heat in the chest rising into the head, and verbal of physical aggression.  A general feature is a sense of being out of control...[and] frequently occurs as a direct result of a stressful event relating to the family (e.g., news of the death of a close realtive, separation or divorce from a spouse, [etc.]).  People may experience amnesia for what occurred during the ataque de nervios, but they otherwise return rapidly to their usual level of functioning.
  • boufée delirante  A syndrome observed in West Africa and Haiti.  This French term refers to a sudden outburtst of agitated and aggressive behavior, marked confusion, and psychomotor excitement.  It may sometimes be accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations of paranoid ideation.
  • falling out or blacking out  These episodes occur primarily in southern United States and Caribbean groups.  They are characterized by sudden collapse, which sometimes occurs without warning but sometimes is preceded by feelings of dizziness or "swimming" in the head.  The individual's eyes are usually open but the person claims an inability to see.  The person usually hears and understands what is occurring around him or her but feels powerless to move.
  • ghost sickness  A preoccupation with death and the deceased (sometimes associated with witchcraft) frequently observed among members of many American Indian tribes.  Various symptoms can be attributed to ghost sickness, including bad dreams, weakness, feelings of danger, loss of appetite, fainting, dizziness, fear, anxiety, hallucinations, loss of consciousness, confusion, feelings of futility and sense of suffocation.
  • mal de ojo  A concept widely found in Mediterranean cultures and elsewhere in the world.  Mal de ojo is a spanish phrase translated into English as "evil eye."  Children are especially at risk.  Symptoms include fitful sleep, crying without apparent cause, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever in a child or infant.  Sometimes adults (especially females) have the condition.
  • pibloktoq  An abrupt dissociative episode accompanied by extreme excitement of up to 30 minutes duration and frequently followed by convulsive seizures and coma lasting up to 12 hours.  This is observed primarily in arctic and subarctic Eskimo communities, although regional varations in name exist.  The individual may be withdrawn or mildly irritable for a period of hours or days before the attack and will typically report complete amnesia for the attack.  During the attack, the individual may tear of his or her clothing, break furniture, shout obscenities, eat feces, flee from protective shelters, or perform other irrational or dangerous acts.
  • zar  A general term applied in Ethiopia, Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Iran, and other North African and Middle Eastern societies to the experience of spirits possessing an individual.  Persons possessed by a spirit may experience dissociative episodes that may include shouting, laughing, hitting the head against a wall, singing, or weeping.  Individuals may show apathy and withdrawal, refusing to eat or carry out daily tasks, or may develop a long-term relationship with the possessing spirit.  Such behavior is not considered pathological locally.
There are more of these descriptors of behavior, of course (e.g., susto among US Latinos and people in Mexico, Central and South America; shin-byung, a Korean folk-label; sangue dormido, among Portugese Cape Verde Islanders and immigrants from there to the US; koro among south and east Asians, etc.) - all equally fascinating.  You could write an entire dissertation on just one of these syndromes, I bet.  (Confession:  Sometimes I want to go back to school for a PhD in Cultural Anthropology.  Sometimes.)  #nerdsunite

In sum, I got sidetracked and never found anything in the DSM-IV that summed up my addiction to travel.  When I finally got around to asking my husband (the expert) if people who travel are accurately described as some type of syndrome somewhere within the complex pages of his work Bible, he smiled (okay, he laughed) and told me no.  Evidently, Wandermania (also known as travel addiction) is merely a personality trait; an interest and passion in learning new things and seeing new places.  Hmpfh.  I think I like my description better.  Now, about my obssession with mermaids...
Kona, Hawaii (June 2010) Photo taken by OneBrownGirl


Unknown on: July 20, 2011 at 5:46 PM said...

I seem to get more comments and feedback on Twitter and Facebook than I do on th blog...but hey, at least people are reading. =)
@lesleyflies sent me a tweet with a link to a travel syndrome called Dromomania. Check THIS out > I knew there had to be something... Looks like it's considered a medical issue as opposed to a psychological issue. Interesting...


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