Traveling with pain is scary. No doubt about it.
Stuff happens on the road. In Amsterdam, my hotel room was robbed while I slept. On the balmy island of Moorea, a roach crawled into my ear and got stuck. I starved for five days in Tuscany.
All that (and more) happened back when I was under 30 and perfectly healthy.
Now the number of things that can go wrong has increased drastically. An attempt at mid-summer camping found me freezing under a pile of blankets, sleepless and miserable and physically unable to move. Time changes screwed up my med schedule, leaving me dizzy and impaired on the streets of Toronto. Just a few months ago I collapsed in an agonized and incoherent heap on the floor of a bathroom in the Atlanta airport while traveling alone.
So why do I bother to leave my house again? Because it’s fun!
No, seriously. The only thing worse than facing the fears and problems of traveling with pain is not facing them. Traveling is a quintessential human experience. When I’m chatting with my airplane seatmate about the latest TSA idiocy, or standing on a street corner in a foreign city trying desperately to determine whether I’ve been reading the map upside-down AND sideways, or joining a crowd in a world-class museum to spend a few hours staring and breathtaking art, something magical happens. I stop feeling like a chronic pain patient and start feeling like a real person.
Traveling is also the best painkiller I’ve ever used. Nothing makes my chronic pain worse than sitting at home in a darkened room watching insipid daytime TV and thinking about my pain. (In fact, some studies suggest that most pain patients make their pain worse by planting themselves in one spot and doing nothing but contemplating said pain in an endless mental loop.)
Getting out of the house and traveling does all sorts of wonderful things for me, both physically and emotionally. Physically: I walk more when I travel. I change positions more frequently. I spend more time outdoors in fresh air and sunlight and wind and rain. Emotionally: Seeing new things is fun. Even if I’m starting to feel twinges of pain, when I’m traveling there’s so much to see and do that I almost always spot something Bright & Shiny that takes my mind off the twinges long enough for them to subside, or at least be temporarily ignored. Endorphins are my best friends.
Even if you don’t believe that traveling will make the pain better, consider this: you’re going to feel pain, period, whether you’re at home or not. So why not see some new scenery while you’re at it? Even if it’s just the view from the window of a different bedroom than usual, for only one day.
Okay, so that’s why I overcome the fear of traveling. But how do I do it? And how do I minimize the problems and pitfalls?
Traveling with pain is like doing anything else that’s difficult. Plan. Plan some more. Plan for what to do when the plans get wrecked. Then, move one foot in front of the other until I’m out the door. Concentrate. Keep moving. Enjoy the ride. Turn off at interesting road signs. Chat with strangers. Laugh, even when it hurts. Laugh especially when it hurts. Remember that even the worst pain peaks, then recedes. Be liberal with the painkillers when necessary. Have more fun. Eat good food. Sleep lots.
As for minimizing the problems and pitfalls, that’s what this whole blog, and the book inspired by the blog, are about. All those bad things that I described happening to me because of my pain at the beginning of this post? Here’s how to mitigate them:
It’s all a learning experience. Every single time I travel, I gather a few more nuggets of useful information about how to do it better next time. Reading other folks’ blogs and articles helps too. It’s great to learn from other travelers’ mistakes as well as my own!
I’ve made my choice–I won’t let fear keep me from traveling, pain or no pain. Will you make that choice with me?
What do you fear about traveling with pain? How do you overcome that fear? What makes you want to overcome it? Can I post something that will make you want to travel, or travel more, or travel someplace new/exciting/dangerous/amazing?