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.