When I got back from study abroad, I had friends asking me how my “vacation” was.
What they didn’t understand was, “vacations” for me, are no vacation.
Living with a chronic illness means you can’t just “get away from your problems”. They are inside of you. And so every single day, especially while traveling, is a battle for me.
I love to travel, I love seeing new things, adventuring, and vacationing. But every day is a fight to be able to do what others do naturally with ease. Every day is a battle, while I try not to hold anyone else back. A struggle to feel “normal”, and keep up with those I’m with.
In order to go on study abroad this summer, I was preparing more than my suitcase. I was preparing my body, as much as I was able. I would go on long walks to prepare for the 5-10 miles every day, I was figuring out which medications I needed to bring, and pre-panicing so I wouldn’t have to panic on the trip. 😉 As well as a million other little things, I was so nervous that this would be a terrible idea, and I wouldn’t be able to keep up, and would miss out on seeing. . . well, a lot of Europe.
The fact is, even week-long vacations with family can be terribly hard. Last year, we went on vacation, and on the second day my migraine week started. We went to many wonderful places, but I was in such terrible pain I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have at a different, less painful time.
So when I was gone for 6 weeks, with more than one migraine week, it wasn’t exactly a vacation. Yes, I was in amazing locations, yes I was eating delicious food, seeing new places, traveling with friends.
But what you don’t see is that I was also wearing compression stockings, and taking pain killers and preventative medications every day, and holding onto my friends when I could barely stand on my own. I was battling my body to stay active, to be able to stand, to keep up with the others and not hold them back, to not. . . break down, or feel left behind.
I was on the trip of a lifetime. And still I had to fight my own body every single day, just for the strength to persevere.
So when people ask jokingly “have a nice vacation?”, it hurts, just a little bit. Because I am proud of the fact that I went, that I made it through, and was able to do (almost) everything. It took a strength I wasn’t even sure that I had.
When you have a chronic illness, you don’t get vacations away from your problems. Instead, you have to make the best of it, and make the most of the time you have. You might not be able to do everything, you may get frustrated with yourself, but you have to learn. Learn to be strong. To persevere. To take breaks at times, and to push yourself at others. And to give yourself grace, to acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can.