Travelling With A Long Term Illness
Sickness. To many it is a transitory experience, one that effects the body for a period of time and then leaves you to return to health. It is something that a person can 'wait out', wait out until they feel better, wait out until they feel stronger, they can wait until they are well again. But some people can not. For some people like myself (a seasoned explorer and a sufferer of a constant chronic pain illness called Fibromyalgia) waiting until you feel 'better' to enjoy life's greatest adventures; be it falling in love or travelling the world is a dark idea that can lead to an unlived life.
Making the decision to undertake a long term trip when you already suffer from a long term illness can be absolutely terrifying. Whether you have been coping for many years with your illness or have just been newly diagnosed the idea of leaving any area of comfort for a foreign land when your skin no longer feels comfortable can seem impossible. To use the words of William Arthur Ward that I once read on an fridge magnet many years ago, that were printed upon a hopeful field of water colour poppies ;
"Anything imagined can be achieved ; If you can dream it you can become it".
Is that true? Did I travel the world while in constant physical pain but overcome it because I dreamt, imagined that I was strong enough to cope? Honestly I have no idea. I have discovered that sometimes the very act of doing something can often distract you from realizing and processing that you are actually doing it. All I know is that I bought the magnet and six months later I was standing in a foreign country, my medical condition no different but my mind holding a brand new belief that the combination of physical determination and the desire to live, live, live! - can move even the most immovable forward.
If you are reading this and you currently suffer from a chronic long term illness, I am sitting beside you. I am not you. I am sitting beside you, I am holding your hand. I do not believe that because I threw a heavy rucksack on to a back that has known pain everyday for thirteen years, that I somehow martyred myself for you and proved that "It can be done!!". Or that I would now push or judge you because the furthest you have travelled since you were diagnosed is to the capital of your country, or the house of the new friend you made, or that far away IKEA. I am not you and you are not me, I did something that by all intents and purposes was foolish. I didn't bring enough medication. I once sat for an hour at a Spanish bus stop at 5am in the freezing February rain without a coat because of horribly bad planning. I knelt in the dirt of a French farm while my fingers froze as I planted hopeful blubs.
Why? Why did I do these ridiculous things? The answer is simple because it made me feel alive. And because they were mistakes, silly risks, irrevocable acts and they pushed me to doubt myself, fear myself, hate myself and after they were done; love myself. They made me end my every day exhausted by the dizzy incomprehensibility of life.
And yes travel is beautiful and yes I am glad that I can tell you that even with the weight of physical pain to carry it can be done. But what I really, really want to tell you is that if you get stomach punched by the dizzying drug of life by kissing the person who you never thought your illness would let you meet, or when you hug the babies that you never thought your damaged body would let you create or even just when you leave the house without medication in your system or in your bag ; what I want to say to you is that, that is 'travelling' too and I am so very proud you.
And if you do not have a illness? Then I say to you ; Thank you. Thank you for giving everyone who does have a chronic illness something to aspire to. Thank you for living and making it look like such terrible, awful, beautiful fun and making someone like me want to grab a backpack and let the big wide world love and ruin me in the greatest way possible.