I am a travel wowser.

The rash began as a series of red lumps on the lower half of my legs and because I woke to it on the first day of our holidays away my son in law who was spending some time away with us became convinced it was caused by bed bugs.

We spent only three nights away but for two of them from the onset of the rash I lay awake imagining the mites digging into my flesh. No one else was affected. In those first few days the rash seemed minor and I decided that as soon as I arrived home it would all clear up in the absence of those bugs. But it did not.

They say it is not uncommon to go on holidays and to get sick, as if your body, which has been driving you on for days, weeks and months decides at last now is the time to collapse.

I cannot say I am sick. I am well enough through it all but the rash has spread further up my legs and onto my arms, and even into the little nooks and crevasses of my body where it itches away and refuses to let me sleep.

Last Tuesday after our return I visited the chemist. Our regular chap is away on holidays and his fill-in thought the rash did not look like bites. He offered me antihistamine and a light steroid cream to help heal the itch.

Another day passed and the rash grew worse so after Googling one night and changing my diagnosis to folliculitis I took my self to the doctor. He agreed with that diagnosis and decided a dose of antibiotics should do the trick. He suspected that I’d had a virus somewhere down the track, certainly unbeknown to me, and these sorts of folliculitis things the doctor said can flare up when your immune system is compromised.

It’s possible, he said, that you had a tiny nick in your skin and the bacteria, which lives on the surface of your skin and gives you no trouble at all sneaks in and starts up a chain reaction.

Fine, antibiotics I thought that will put an end to it, but two days later and the rash was worsening, so back to the doctors and this time he suggested a whack of cortisone.

The dreaded cortisone. I have never been on cortisone – or prednisolone as it’s called here – before but the doctor insisted it’s okay to take it for short spells to block what he now considers most likely to be some sort of allergic reaction and probably a delayed response to that damn invisible virus.

My body feel like it is breaking down, at least my skin is, and the worst of it is the itchiness. I can wear trousers and conceal the spots and lumps and bumps. It’s cold at the moment, too, despite the advent of spring, so a cardigan is necessary at all times. I can hide these blemishes to outsiders, but not to me.

This itch is at its worst in the middle of the night. When I’m snuggled up in bed and heat up, the itch comes to life and moves from one part of my leg, to my arm, to my belly and back again. Always an itch somewhere.

I cannot then stop myself from clawing at my skin as the itch moves around, even when I know to scratch at a itch is not a good thing to do. There is always the danger of breaking the skin and making it worse.

But what can I do in the middle of the night? The doctor did not prescribe anything for topical relief because he said antibacterial or antibiotic ointments would probably not touch it, this inflammation is coming from inside.

Sorry to bore you with all this detail but it perplexes me. I know that it will pass. I hope that it will pass, but in the meantime in my own typical fashion I must analyse why now?

What is going on in my life just now to cause this sort of skin reaction?

Your skin is your greatest protection. It seals in your insides. I think of skin reactions as reflecting a troubled internal state.

It’s holidays, although they’re ending now. I am soon to submit my thesis but it’s under control. I will be sad to say goodbye to my thesis. It has been a loved companion these past seven years and of course there’s then the question of what will I do next? This troubles me, but only a little.

It’s not far from the first anniversary of breaking my leg. I’m about to have a routine colonoscopy, you know the sort we all dread. The last time my husband had one of those he wound up with a heart attack. That’s unlikely to happen again, or to me, but still it’s a fear.

Finally, I took on medical power of attorney for my mother last week, a responsibility I share with my older sister and for some strange reason it feels ominous.

My mother continues to survive. She turns 92 next week and I’m apprehensive about how long she can go one. Although, as the woman in charge of my mother’s retirement village says, she’s not palliative yet. She had been but she recovered.

I suppose these are enough reasons to be troubled. Though I am aware of these issues. There must be one hiding away deep in my unconscious of which I haven’t a clue. Worries do that you know, at least I believe they do, and they sneak out when you least expect them and can often express themselves through your body.

I have a tendency to interpret everything on psychological grounds and it does not suit me to put it all down to a purely physiological response. There has to be something more to it. Of course this notion does not sit so well with the notion that one day we will all die. It is inevitable. We will have to die of something and that something could take multiple forms.

Here I go again agonising over the mind body link, trying to put the old Cartesian spilt in place even when I know it does not exist. Our minds are our bodies. Our bodies are our minds and yet I still tend to think of them separately.

Beyond our bodies there’s the environment.

Last weekend in the tranquil Wartook Valley among the shining kangaroos my body let me down, at least my skin failed to hold me in. You’d think I’d grow from the experience. But every time I go away something goes wrong with my body. Invariably I get constipated. I get things like tinea or cold sores on my lip and now this: bed bugs or folliculitis, or an allergic reaction to a virus and that of course does not include the practical issues of possible plane crashes or car accidents.

In some ways I put it down to the experience of being born to migrants. I still sense my mother’s pain at having to leave her beloved homeland. I always imagined that she would have preferred to be elsewhere and it left me with the odd feeling that Australia, my home, was not good enough for her. I resolved over time then that I would stay put and now even short trips away unsettle me.

I am a travel wowser.

Fear of Flying

I am in winding-down mode. In two weeks we leave for England.

I do not enjoy this travel. If I were given a choice I would take myself back to Varuna for a writers retreat, me and my computer, meals prepared by someone else, occasional conversations in the evening about the process of writing and none of the responsibilities of home and work. This is my ideal holiday.

As it is I am traveling to England for a conference. Conferences are fun, at least the conferences to which I take myself, the English literary conferences where the focus is on autobiography and biography, on story telling and memory. This will be my third such conference, run by the International Autobiography and Biography Association, the first in Germany, six years ago, the second in Hawaii two years ago and now in Sussex, England.

Already I anticipate meeting some of the people I have met before. There will be the usual array of ‘footnotes’ running around – Philippe Le Jeune, Paul John Eakin, Sidonie Smith, perhaps, Julia Watson, a definite. Michael Holroyd is one of the keynote speakers.

I enjoy the process whereby these literary dignitaries take on ordinary human form at conferences. They are approachable, accessible. When I first read their papers they seem aloof, ethereal. When I meet them face to face they present a mix of personalities. Leigh Gilmore, the godfather of non-fiction will be there. Blake Morrison, writer and memoirist, also. I met him at another conference. A lovely man, every bit as affable as his alter ego Colin Firth in the film of Morrison’s memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?

I look forward to reconnection with some of these people. At the same time, I am aware of how brittle these connections are. During the conference itself we talk. We compare notes. We make good friends. We promise to email after we get home. We promise to keep in touch, but rarely do we do so. I am as bad as the next.

When we meet in the heat and excitement of new ideas – old ideas more likely but often dressed up as new, at least they might be new to my ears – we make good friends. It is like going on a cruise when people travel to distant places with a group of strangers; only at this conference we share a common task, exploring ideas on autobiography and biography. Once over, the camaraderie dies down quickly.

My first such conference was the best. I had no expectations then. I now have expectations and as Gillian Bouras writes: I can already hear the echo of goodbye in our first hellos. I do not like making connections that will end so quickly.

But worse than this, my journey will be sealed in a sandwich of airplane trips. Once we leave the tarmac and Melbourne airport and sit down on the plane, even before it takes off I will find myself settling into a sort of torpor, a surreal state where the only thing that matters to me is that I get to the end of the journey alive.

I have all manner of strategies to help. For long trips to Europe I plug into the movie channel and make a glutton of myself watching as many movies as possible. I try to lose my mind in celluloid.

I travel this time with my husband. I can see him in my mind’s eye. He too goes into a sort of torpor but his is different from mine. He covers his eyes with an eye patch, squeezes in earplugs, pulls up a blanket and goes off to sleep as often and whenever he can.

We have been married for over thirty years but when we travel on these long journeys we become almost strangers to one another. We sit side by side, but we rarely talk to one another during the journey, except towards the end when we are preparing to land. Then and only then do we start to make contact with one another. It is as if we have entered a timeless zone where our normal friendly connections are unwarranted. We enter the zone of survival.

I can and should only speak for myself. I have not discussed this strange state with my husband.

My friend and correspondent, Gerald Murnane refuses to travel in planes. I understand this. One day when I am older, when I do not feel the obligations I feel these days to make physical connections with countries, people and places further a field, then I too might dig in my heels and say, no.

I will not go back inside one of those silver steel monsters, the metal birds of the sky. I will not expose myself to the hours of anxiety, my breath held every time there is a bump, a jump or a skip mid flight. I will not subject myself to the strange airlessness I feel when entombed in the cabin of a plane surrounded by equally fearful people – though most manage in their own different ways to cope with that fear – the fear of dropping out from the sky and crashing down onto the earth, shattered and in fragments.

I have frequent falling dreams, dreams in which I travel on an elevator up to one of the topmost floors in a building only to recognise that the cables that hold the elevator in place, have come apart somehow and the elevator is plunging through the air. In seconds, and what in my dreams feels like minutes, it will crash into the basement.

The sensation of falling, readying myself for the end, stays with me long after the dream is over. Every time we hit an air pocket mid flight I expect the same. The cables that hold the plane firm in the sky have come adrift and we are about to plunge to our deaths.

I can remind myself that statistically we are safer in a plane than in a car on the road. I look around the airport and consider the number of flights scheduled throughout the world. They reach their destination. The ones we imagine are the ones that do not make it.

When I prepare to travel, I leap frog across time in my imagination and settle into thoughts about what it will be like once I am home and all of this is past me. Only then will I be content, when this latest trip is over and I can once again settle into the comfort of home.

Fear of flying, Erica Jong called it – notwithstanding her obvious reference here to sex. For me it is the fear of being off the ground, in the air pulled from my moorings, untethered, falling, falling, falling, with nothing to hold me together but my will to survive.