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Chronic Travel: Reflections on Traveling As a Person With Chronic Health Issues

In recent months, I have traveled quite a lot in a short time frame. In particular, I went to three different cities, each several hours away from me, in three consecutive weeks. It was exhausting, and I had to engage in self-care before, during, and after the trips. After a while, people with chronic health issues will either avoid traveling or become experts in traveling with special passengers: their illnesses.

A person who experiences chronic illness never travels alone, though it may seem that way to those on the outside looking in. She always travels with her illnesses. For someone like me, planning for a trip looks different than it did before I had so many manifested conditions.

At 20, 25, or 30, I was able to grab my backpack, stuff some clothes and toiletries in, and head out rather quickly. It was nice, and it was beneficial to someone who loves to travel on a whim sometimes. It was not too long after I turned 30 that my body began a rapid and terrifying decline. For a long time, I was afraid to travel at all. I still did, because I'm stubborn like that. But in order to do so, I needed to be better prepared when I traveled.

So now, when I travel, I have my clothes and toiletries. And then I have my daily meds, and if I'll be gone when I need to take one of my injectables, I need to make sure not only that I have them, but that they are protected AND that other people are protected as well. I also must make sure that I have a fridge available at my destination, as those meds need refrigeration. I also have to bring an ice pack, a heating pad or Hot Hands, a back brace just in case, one of my hand braces to help with my carpal and cubital tunnel, and extra medicine for other possible conditions I encounter during my trip: allergies; migraine; and anaphylactic shock, to name a few. Add to that what I would need to bring if I were menstruating while traveling, and we've got a lot to carry. I also bring my laptop and planner, because I often work while I'm traveling at least some of the time, and because without my planner I have no idea what I'm doing. Ever.

Speaking of carrying, my health issues require me to avoid carrying too much weight. Rolling luggage saves me a lot. But many times I need to check at least one bag when flying. Before my gift of multiple chronic illnesses, I avoided checking bags as often as possible. The only real measure of baggage checking was how long I was planning to stay somewhere. Now, in addition to the length of stay, I must consider the other items mentioned above, along with my energy levels on the day of travel. I can sometimes barely travel to the gate just carrying myself. Other times, the rolling bag offers some balance for me, which helps me to avoid listing and possibly falling. Over time, I have become more comfortable with performing gentle yoga in public places, to help my body avoid locking up on me. People do sometimes stare at this, but the benefit to me is worth the attention.

In Social Work, we connect with the people we serve to determine what interventions are best for them, given their needs and their preferences. For a person with chronic illness, those needs and preferences can change in an instant. We have to gauge our abilities, our energy, our needs, and our preferences every single day, and multiple times during the day. Even doing this takes energy.

For those of you who are in a similar position of needing to plan and reassess travel vigorously and continuously before, during, and after a trip, I hope that you are gentle with yourselves, engaging in self-care throughout. For those who love people who must do this, perhaps consideration of their unique needs when they visit you would help. For example, if you know someone who requires both heat and cold, sometimes simultaneously, ensuring that they know they don't have to worry about bringing apparatus for either could take some worry off of their minds. Or you can simply ask what would make their travel easier.

Our passengers can be heavy to carry, and even heavier still when we travel far or for longer times. We are never alone when we travel. Our passengers are often invisible to others, but are also ever-present. The stress of travel is amplified by all of the actions we must take and possibilities we must consider. Perhaps we need a better system of support overall for people traveling with chronic health issues. But that's a question for another blog post.


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