Conquering Fibrofog

Yesterday I worked, walked, and slept in a cloud. Everyone and everything felt far away, and I was detached from the reality of what was going on around me. Communicating what I was trying to say was difficult; my mouth felt sluggish and unable to keep up with my brain. In short, I was in the midst of fibrofog.

While I don’t like all the physical manifestations of fibromyalgia, I especially detest fibrofog.  How do I describe this phenomenon to anyone who has never experienced it? In it’s worst form, it is akin to extreme sleep deprivation, when you’re struggling to stay focused and awake, but your brain and body feel disconnected, and every movement or spoken sentence take every ounce of your concentration to complete. In its everyday form, it feels like a morning before you’ve had a cup of coffee to wake up your senses, and you’re still walking that dream world between sleep and alertness. The simplest noise, light or activity will distract you and you quickly forget what you were doing or saying. Multi-tasking is nearly impossible.

I have developed strategies for dealing with fibrofog at home and at work. I write copious notes, especially at work. I write to-do lists and reminders. I keep a detailed calendar which I check every morning. When I start a task, I try to stick with it until it is completed instead of starting multiple projects at once. And when it’s super severe, I find time to rest and nap so my body can recharge.

I have been relatively successful at making my fibrofog invisible to everyone around me. But I worry it will get in the way of my travels. In my moments of anxiety, I play the “what if” game: what if I mix up train timetables and miss my night train? What if I mix up the train carriages and end up in the wrong city? What if I have difficulty counting change in a foreign currency? Will a flare of severe fibrofog derail any sightseeing plans for a day?

These what-ifs swirl in my head, and I am determined to battle them down. If I can still manage to be productive at work, I can handle travel. I refuse to let these doubts and fears dictate what I do. The key is going to be preparation. I am figuring out strategies and contingency plans to handle any fibrofog, no matter how severe, while I travel.

I will carry a notepad to make lists and jot down directions, phone numbers, names, phrases, anything that will be important to remember.

I will follow set routines to avoid losing anything like a passport or train ticket, and to remember to double-check any critical itinerary plans for the day or next morning, such as a train departure.

Everything in my backpack will have a set place. By traveling light, with only one carry-on sized backpack and a small day pack, I will be able to keep easier track of my belongings. I will also carry a money belt to keep my travel essentials safely out of sight and one less thing to worry about.

On severe days, I will give myself permission to scrap major sightseeing plans and rest – sleeping in, afternoon naps, leisurely afternoons at a cafe or at the beach.

Inevitably, fibrofog will occur on a six week trip, but by developing strategies ahead of time to handle it, I don’t have to be a victim. Pacing myself, rest, and a pack full of strategies will empower me to push through the fog as just one more travel obstacle that makes reaching my destination just that much sweeter.

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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