Fibro reflections

It has been over a month since I first returned home from Eastern Europe, flush with the excitement of my first time  navigating solo travel with a chronic medical condition. I have been pondering my experiences, especially how successful my overall approach to traveling with fibromyalgia was. I have also endured a few health setbacks that have left me frustrated after so sweet a taste of the empowerment my travels gave to me. That has been the biggest outcome from the entire trip – despite the recent, painful fibro flares, I have returned to my home routine truly aware of what I am still capable of. I know intimately what my strengths and limitations are, when to push myself and when to cancel everything – no matter how insignificant it may seem – and rest. I now know how to rest – a lesson learned from the various cultures I encountered. The Turkish baths of Budapest, the lingering cafe culture of Vienna, and the siesta of the Adriatic. All lessons in resting the body and mind, and renewing the soul.

The most important lesson of my travels is to slow down and notice life. I am experiencing culture shock back here in the States, as my husband and colleagues are moving at a faster, more frantic pace than I am. If I am to remain healthy, I need to remember this lesson. Stress is the number one reason my fibromyalgia symptoms flare up, so slowing my body and mind down, and nourishing my soul should be my top priority. However, as I transition into my routine back home with my husband and back at work, I have become caught up in the relentless current and find myself focusing on to-do lists and the stress of working in customer service, rather than stepping back, breathing, and taking each moment as it comes, good and bad. This stress overload and my breakdown in managing it are probably to blame for my recent fibro flare that landed me in bed rest and caused me to miss two weeks at work.

I am once again sitting at home, nursing swollen and painful feet, and feeling I let not only myself down, but also my colleagues at work. The contrast between being at home and when I was traveling in Europe is significant – how did I manage to feel so incredibly good and alive for six weeks of travel? I have some theories, and it all comes back to my philosophy of focusing on nourishing my body and pacing myself. My philosophy of slow travel worked. I lingered over meals and coffee breaks, journaled my observations, took long afternoon siestas, focused on the painting or beautiful Gothic cathedral in front of me, rather than rushing ahead to everything I wanted to see and accomplish that day. I also got an amazing amount of exercise, without feeling I was straining my body to its breaking point. The first week I would go to bed achy and sore after traipsing all over Venice and Slovenia, but by the second week, my body reaped the benefits of the best form of exercise there is for fibromyalgics – walking. I probably walked on average 3-4 hours a day. When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, my rheumatologist told me the key to managing my pain would be low-impact aerobic exercise. I tried to fit in 30-45 minute walks every other day around my neighborhood, but I always felt crushing fatigue and my muscles and joints complained with every step. Turns out my doctor wasn’t kidding – I’m not sure what the magic number of minutes is for me, but I surpassed it and I felt the best I have since my first flare two years ago! Since returning home, I have tried to keep up my walking, but fitting in so much exercise is difficult and I have lapsed into my old habits. As a result, I am back to never-ending achiness and pain. Now I ask myself – how do I balance this? 4 hours of daily walking is unrealistic. Would 60 minutes be enough? Should I be walking daily for 45-60 mins and not just every other day? I still have a lot of experimenting ahead…

In one week we fly to Portland, Oregon to spend Christmas with my parents. I am ecstatic. I am also a little nervous given the recent bout of health problems. I am going to try to apply the same philosophy that served me so well in Europe – take the day slowly, pace myself and savor each activity and moment as it comes. Walk everywhere and often. And focus not on the overwhelming stress of the holidays, but on spending time with my family and old high school friends.

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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.
This entry was posted in Eastern Europe, Exercise/sports, Portland OR, Staying Healthy, travel with fibromyalgia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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