Traveling with Chronic Illnesses


Just by looking at me you would never know that I am chronically ill. Many posts have been made in publications such as Huffington Posts and Greatist, among others recently about those with “invisible illnesses”. How people assume that because a person looks perfectly normal and healthy that they are. But sadly this is not always the case. I am just one example.

Due to whatever reasons, genetics I suppose, I fall into the category of those with “invisible illnesses“. I can’t say “I suffer” because the definition of “to suffer” is  to undergo or be subjected to (pain, punishment, etc). For the most part what I have causes no pain. Just annoyances. 

  • Since I was young (I don’t remember the exact age) I have dealt with IBS or irritable bowel sickness or syndrome. I’ve just recently had to go back on medication to help mitigate some of the symptoms. IBS isn’t something you can tell I have just by looking at me. So eating in general is always a bit tricky. There is no way to predict how my body will react.
  • Due to many reasons I won’t get into however one of them being my type A nature, I suffer from chronic but thankfully not crippling Anxiety/OCD/Depression. I have learned how to manage it over the years but medication and meditation do play a big role in it’s management. Again, invisible.
  • After playing soccer (football) for almost 20 years and 2 knee surgeries later, plus a nasty run in with a wall…. (both were arthroscopic so the scars look like I cut my self shaving) there are times when my knees (specifically my right knee) just give out. I could be walking along like normal and then be on the ground. It’s more embarrassing than anything else. Less invisible….
  • Since I was 8, I have known I had vitiligo, an auto immune disorder (NOT AIDS) where my immune system attacks random patches of (what little) skin pigment (I have) leaving some areas completely void of any color. It’s really only noticeable if I’ve spent time in the sun (I have quite a bit this summer so it very noticeable for the first time in years). This is probably my only issue that can be both visible and invisible.
  • Due to the fact I have one auto immune disorder, there has always been a higher chance that I would have others, which is the case. I suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (it has many other names) and Fibromyalgia which leave me aching and tired quite a bit of the time. Someone at my age shouldn’t relish going to bed at 7pm because their entire body is sore after a day of doing nothing but many days are spent like this. Ironically, travel and adventure helps ease these symptoms.

It should also be noted that since Auto Immune Disorders are chronic illnesses when the immune system attacks perfectly normal/healthy things, things it should actually be attacking like a cold are often neglected. Therefore I am always 100x more susceptible to a virus or cold than people who’s immune systems are completely sane.

I am lucky. I know my issues and I know what I need to do to handle them. And thanks to whatever powers may be at hand for not making my issues worse, because I am ALL too aware that they could be worse. (That will be a whole post in itself, there is much more to me than meets the eye).

Knowing your issues and taking care of them can at times be complicated enough.  Add in having intense wanderlust and you could be in for quite a conundrum. So my approach in all this self health management is breaking things down into steps.

First and foremost, I know I have to have my medicine. No I will not die without it but I can get very ill from IBS and if I don’t take my medication to help with my anxiety, yes I can go a bit nuts….

Right now all I have to do when I travel for my job is make sure I have enough of my meds for however long I am gone and I always bring extra in case my trip is extended or my return is delayed or I lose a pill in my suitcase (yes this has happened)

My last contingency step, at least in the US is that because we have several nationwide pharmacy chains, if I run out I can always call my GP and get the prescription sent to wherever I am. I know all the pharmacies in Europe have green plus signs outside of them but I sure as hell don’t know if there is a chain. So when I travel overseas, I usually pack double.

As I plan for my departure next September, which is still mostly unknown, I have to keep all this in mind. Will my GP in the states write me enough prescriptions to get filled while I’m abroad? Will those written by her even be accepted in another country? Will these medications be covered by travel insurance? Do they even have these medications in the other countries I plan on going to? How best do I budget for this? These are all questions I have yet to answer but I am currently working on sorting out. yet another step.

So while having an invisible illness kinda sucks, (or any illness really) and attempting to plan for a semi-nomadic life is a challenge, to me, it is definitely not a deterrent. Like with anything else in life, you plan for the worst and hope for the best and carry on with life.

The american health care system isn’t exactly a breeze but maybe just maybe it’s good prep for what’s ahead.


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